"But it's just one reply!" and why you are a moron.

Written by on October 3, 2013

Ever had an angry customer calling in to your support line? The type that screams till your ear drums burst, insults your intelligence and generally makes you question the meaning of your life?

Or had one of those days where you’re so busy cleaning up backlogs that things like shooting out accurate responses, or taking a shower move to the backseat?

In the heat of things, most agents would rather slam the phone down and walk away. It’s easy to brush off just one incorrect reply or a couple of email typos under the carpet. After all, it’s just one reply to one customer, right? How bad could it get?

Ask the guys at Dominos, United Airlines, Dell, American Airlines, Comcast and a thousand other “customer service fails”, and they’ll tell you – it can get BAD. Real bad. But why? Or rather, how could one teensy-weensy reply make your entire support  team look like a bunch of morons?

Hasta la vista, Credibility

In sickness and in health, on warranty or not, your customer expects you to be there for your product. Of course, she knows you are human, and does not expect poetic perfection in your response. But she definitely expects you to set things right when they go wrong.

When you shoot out a hasty, half-researched or broken reply, it’s not just one support query that goes down the drain – it’s your customer’s trust. Shooting out a bad response is like kicking a puppy. You could try and build the relationship from there on, but deep down, he’s just secretly plotting to take his stress out on your carpet (the pup, not the customer). You lose that credibility and trust that probably took you months to build.

When you talk to one customer, you aren’t talking to just one customer anymore

There was a time in history when you could annoy a customer, lose him, and then move on to greener pastures. Not anymore. Today, your customer service team comes with a free vial of the “zombie virus”. Infect one guy, and before you know it you have a billion zombies on Twitter and Facebook ready to chew your brains.

Customers are also twice as likely to talk about a bad support experience. And they are 10 times more likely to point out a typo, or share your callous disregard to grammar and semantics. Like the time my mobile carrier “forgot” to change the default text and called me “dummy” (earning me a few hundred retweets along the way).

The thing is, when you talk to a customer today you aren’t talking to just one customer alone anymore. That little typo you threw in actually ends up costing you way more than you think.

If “terrible” isn’t an aberration, it becomes a habit

Steve Jobs once said “A players hire A players. B players hire C, and C players hire D players”. Your support replies aren’t much different; every answer that goes out sets the standard for the next. Great responses that show your agents took the time and effort beget great responses. And when you are ok with a couple of typos, incorrect steps or a mediocre answer that does little to solve your customer’s problem, you end up lowering your quality standards and encouraging other agents to do a band-aid job.

With plagues, hangovers and the moronity virus – prevention is better than cure

Looking at every single reply as the one that could make or break your business adds a lot of pressure to your support process. And, in the longer run, that’s just not going to work out too well. So how do you put in your quality checks on every reply without slowing your whole system down? Here are a few tips that could come handy:

1. Re-think, Revisit, Rewrite

Before you hit the “send” button, look at the question one more time. Does your response answer the customer’s problem clearly? If you aren’t 100% sure of whether your solution works, try replicating the customer’s problem and try out the solution yourself. And read the answer at least thrice to weed out those ugly typos, before you send it out to the customer.

2. Just pick up the Phone

There can only be so many to and fro’s on email before the chat history starts reading like The Epic of Gilgamesh. Cut through all the clutter and just pick up the phone. Instead of letting the question expand into an ever-growing blob of tickets, you can make sure that the customer’s problem is solved with just one phone call.

Note: Don’t pick up the phone to answer every simple problem. If you switch channels unless absolutely necessary, you will end up committing one of the 7 deadly sins of customer support.

3. Say ‘No’, but say it with grace

There is no nice way to say “No” to a customer. Almost. Before you close the doors on a customer’s request, make sure you’ve tried every bridge, knocked every door and slayed every dragon you could to turn it the other way. And if you still have to refuse, make sure you do it right.

4. When in doubt, don’t

Some support requests can get on the nerves of even zen-monks, let alone your support reps. And everything in you says you should snap back at them instead of taking those punches like Rocky Balboa.

That’s the kind of situation when you should STOP. Take a deep breath. Juice a lemon with your bare hands. Just please don’t reply yet. In fact, you could even ask someone else in the team to take the ticket forward as a favour. Remember: there is no pride lost in reassigns – only in reopens.

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  • Kaushik Sv

    I love that Vodafone Screenshot 😀

  • “why you are a moron”

    Flash news:

    Insulting your potential customers is not exactly a good way to promote your service.

    While I’m sure that was not your intention, being a small business owner, I was genuinely insulted when I read that! You might want to rephrase that.

    • Thanks Alex,
      For off, sorry if the post title offended you in anyway. That was hardly our intention..
      The point of the article was to highlight the importance of quality checks in the standard support process – If a support team thought sending out one bad reply was ok, sooner or later it ends up looking like a moron to the customer. As a small business owner, I’m sure you realize this, and take the time and care to make sure every reply you send is pixel perfect. But imagine the plight of the fast-growth support rep who has just 1 ticket too many to handle. It’s easy to compromise on quality, but when she does, it comes back to bite…

      • Sure, I see what you’re saying.

        While I am the one to reply to this (mildly) offensive message, I’m sure countless others have not bothered to formulate a response.

        Please be a little more considerate in the future.

        • Girish Mathrubootham

          Hi Alex,
          I completely agree with you. I had the exact same feeling myself and we had an internal meeting to be more careful about out titles in future. Thank you for taking the time to tell us. Please stay tuned and please keep the feedback coming. We will listen, learn and improve.

  • Krishnan V


  • I’ve been waiting to read something like this. Nice post tough.