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According to Brian Covey, Support Manager at OmniGroup, in the world of business, S#!T happens– and it’s bound to hit the fan at one point or another. It is just a matter of fact and the way of life–especially for customer facing teams. Something will go wrong and customer support staff will likely have to deal with it. Of course, that is why there is a specific set of staff to handle customer interactions when it comes to this. But, what exactly is the best course of action when things go wrong? How can support teams best limit the damage done by such a situation and what exactly should the support staff look for? It is all about maintaining a level head and knowing how to work with both the company and the customers to make the correction…without freaking out. Brian shared his advice for navigating issues as a support team during a talk at UserConf Portland. You can watch the full video below or keep reading for the highlight reel.

Not Every Problem is a Critical Issue

There will almost always going be some sort of problem within a business. Often times, it has nothing to do with the company itself, but with outside elements. In Brian Covey’s talk, he points out that his company produces a very specialized Apple application and they had put nearly five years of programming into the application when Apple announced iOS 7, which completely redesigned almost every single app inside of the store. This meant the company would have to redesign their app from the ground up, which is especially expensive. It was then that the company realized they would have to charge customers for the upgrade–which was yet another problem. At the time, other application designers were charging customers two or three dollars for similar upgrades, and received negative press throughout the Internet. Brian recalls hearing about celebrities bashing the company for charging a couple of dollars. Brian’s company needed to charge $20 for the upgrade and really didn’t know how to avoid the terrible situation. So, they decided to go about taking a whole new approach to customer support.

The Standard Customer Service Approach

Most companies today take a single file line approach to customer support. An individual comes up, takes a ticket or provides their feedback through call, email, or text, and they are more or less given a digital number. Then, they wait. It makes sense, but it also isn’t all that efficient considering modern day technology. It made more sense when customers had to wait to speak with a representative, as most reps can only speak to one person at a time–but now it’s easier than ever before to improve customer support efficiency, Brian points out.

A New Approach to Customer Support

“First come first serve” does not always produce fair outcomes in support. Sometimes individuals need lots of help and require extra time from support staff, while others need very little assistance before the problem is resolved. Brian’s example: In an equal treatment support world, there are three people attempting to look over a barrier. There is a short person, a medium height person and a tall person. Each is given a box to stand out. The tall person doesn’t need it but uses it, the medium person uses it to see over the edge, yet the small person still can’t see. When support is the same and each individual receives the same amount of time and resources, this is what is going to happen. A portion of those interacting with customer support is still not going to receive any real help at all and not come to any favorable conclusion other than the support staff is not there to help them out and that they need to turn to some other business.difference between equal support and fair support

In a fair treatment scenario, Brian uses the same box and wall theory, but instead of giving the box to the tall person who can already see over the wall, they give it to the short individual, so now they have two boxes and they can see over the wall. More or less, it takes some of the time from someone who doesn’t need it and has their answer already in sight and gives that time to the person who is in need of greater assistance.

Negativity Outweighs Positivity

The thing about negativity is that it often kills positivity. While someone might experience several positive customer service interactions, it is the one negative interaction that can really weigh down on someone. It’s what that person remembers, even though it is just one out of dozens.

Of course, in support, there will always be that one negative email or phone call to manage every now and then. However, as Brian says, when shit hits the fan, a customer service representative will experience a much higher volume of these negative interactions, which can really weigh them down to the point of burnout. A quality customer support team is a must for every organization, so it is important to avoid these kinds of situations. As Brian pointed out, with the upcoming change to iOS 7, they anticipated a flood of negative messages from customers. He worried this would demoralize his team, and in turn, reduce the quality of support each customer would receive as a burnt out support team is unable to provide the best customer support.

The Solution: Organize the Messagessolution to customer service stress

In a negative situation such as the one Brian experienced, there will always be different kinds of customer interactions with the business. A large majority of customers might be upset, but willing to listen to reason. They might not be combative at all. These individuals most likely won’t demoralize the support staff. and they can still receive positive interactions from the customer support team.

On the other hand, there’s always going to be the select few customers who are extremely combative and negative, who will take the issue and turn it into threats and attack the staff. When a large number of negative messages and interactions are expected, Brian suggests creating categories and having a selection of individuals (a small minority from the support staff) deal with the more or less hate mail while the rest work with the understanding customers. This way, employee morale remains high. Brian and his team did exactly this during the iOS 7 update and it allowed the entire staff to get more work done. Meanwhile, those customers who were more understanding received the time they needed and those who were combative and demoralizing (and somehow have a way of commanding more attention) received less attention. He says lowering the focus on hate mail is better for support team morale and allots more time to the customers who are willing to listen.

Essentially, Brian says customers who help the support staff help them deserve the best service possible. There will always be those individuals who want to attack someone and are not open for support. These individuals should not take away support time from the rest of the customers.

Heather McCloskey

About Heather McCloskey

Heather J. McCloskey, Inbound & Content Marketing Manager at UserVoice, is a former broadcast news producer. When she's not writing pieces about product management and customer support here, she can be found putting pedal to the metal behind a sewing machine or painting watercolor comics.