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InfoQ Homepage News Bringing the Humanity Back into Customer Support

Bringing the Humanity Back into Customer Support

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Treat your support team well and they will treat your customers well. Support teams need to be trained and trusted, they deserve autonomy and ownership over their work. Bots shouldn’t be used in customer support to help people solve problems; people need to help people even if it’s more expensive than hiring robots.

Kristin Aardsma, head of customer support at Basecamp, spoke about bringing the humanity back into customer support at Lean Digital Summit 2018. InfoQ is covering this event with summaries, articles, and Q&As.

Support/service roles don’t garner as much respect as they should. If your company doesn’t culturally *and* financially respect your support team, then you can be sure that your customers aren’t being respected, either, argued Aardsma.

Chatbots and other automation should never be used to help a person in need. Aardsma stated that "your customers simply do not want to talk to a bot; your customers want to talk to you."

InfoQ interviewed Aardsma about the major issues in support for service roles, using chatbots for customer support, and what Basecamp did to change the culture to one that prioritizes and values customer service and support, and what they learned.

InfoQ: What are the major issues in the support for service roles, and how do they impact the service to customers?

Kristin Aardsma: Support teams need to be trained and trusted. They deserve autonomy (that means no micromanaging) and ownership over their work. They deserve competitive salaries and not meager hourly wages. Your customers will be able to tell that you don’t respect your support team when they don’t receive respect themselves. Treat your support team well and they will treat your customers well.

Earlier this year, InfoQ had a Q&A with Anamita Guha from IBM where she explained how chatbots can support developers:

Anamita Guha: Chatbots can be used in a variety of ways to support developers: documentation (use it like an index); personal assistant (develop chatbots with a schedule to eliminate users’ daily routine); and ultimately, make lives easier by automating systems. Developers are all about efficiency and will hack together code motivated by making their lives and everyone’s around them easier. I know developers who have created bots to generate powerpoint status decks for executives. Cases like this help to free up their time to work on bigger problems.

InfoQ: The title of your talk mentions "People, nor Robots". What’s your view on using chatbots for customer support?

Aardsma: Bots are great for helping developers with code or enduring manual labor that a human might otherwise endure, but they shouldn’t be used to help people problem solve. People need to help people. There’s no way around that.

InfoQ: What did Basecamp do to change the culture to one that prioritizes and values customer service and support?

Aardsma: We talked to our customers! We asked them how we were doing, and we weren’t doing well. So, we adjusted and became better listeners; instead of saying no to requests, we started asking for more info on how our customers were using Basecamp. Then, we tried to incorporate those workflows into our product more. Your relationship with your customers shouldn’t differ much from your relationship with your neighbors; you are in a community together and should be listening to each other.

InfoQ: What have you learned?

Aardsma: I think an important thing for us all to keep in check is how much we let late stage capitalism influence our morals and how that manifests in our treatment of others. Capitalism has made the bottom line more important than people, and we need to resist the temptation to let that continue. People are more important than profit, and it’s our responsibility to live that truth and hire people to help our customers, even if it’s more expensive than hiring robots. Remember that your customers want to talk to you; they do not want to talk to your android.

InfoQ: What’s your advice to companies that want to improve on customer support?

Aardsma: Talk to your customers and ask them how you’re doing. Then, talk to your support team and ask them the same question. Once you’ve got solid feedback, work with your support team to improve their quality of life at work, their autonomy, and trust so that you can pass those onto your customers.

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