Landsman’s 10 Rules of Customer Support

Ian Landsman • January 29, 2014

I’ve been building customer support tools for about a decade now. Over that time I’ve pretty much seen every random thing a help desk can do.

There’s a few core principles though that I really believe all help desks should strive for. We build our products with these in mind.

These have served me pretty well, both as someone running a help desk and a software vendor creating them.

1. Do not require help desk software registration to contact support

This list isn’t really in a specific order… except for this one. I find nothing more rude and inconsiderate as a customer than to be forced to register for a separate help desk website/application when I go there needing support.

There is NO upside to this for the customer. I need help. At that point I’ve probably looked through your self help docs (well if those also aren’t behind registration!) and I’m getting worried/scared/mad. The very last thing in the entire world I want to do is go through a registration process.

Even better, often you will have registered in the past. Years ago. So now you get the fun of going through a password reset process. This also inevitably causes MORE support as people have trouble with the registration, they get confused by where they are and if it’s the correct place and so on.

The most infuriating part is that 100% of the time on these sites if you go to the sales contact form you can submit with no registration. Better yet, very often those emails go into the same system as support. So a customer that’s paid you already ends up with a worse experience than a potential customer asking sales questions.

2. Do not tell the customer “we’re marking your ticket closed”

I get these all the time. These days they’re almost always automated which makes them even worse. I don’t care if my issue is marked “closed” or not. Guess what, I already know if my issue is resolved or not!! There’s is no reason at all to tell the customer about the internal workings and organization of the help desk.

Also, these almost always come several days after the issue has been dealt with. If the issue is fixed I know that already and it’s worthless. If it’s not, then this only makes me angry as you’re closing my ticket and presumably done working on it even though it’s not resolved to my satisfaction.

3. Do not expose help desk data to the customer

In all but a few very rare circumstances there’s no reason to expose the customer to confusing metrics or data points stored by the help desk software. For example, the current “status” of a ticket. It’s category, who’s assigned, the ticket volume, etc.

From the customers perspective it’s all irrelevant. Even worse, it will often be confusing, especially if the status types, for example, are written in a way that makes sense to the staff in the help desk but not to customers.

4. Do not make the customer jump through hoops in order to acquire better metrics

We all love metrics, statistics, anything that purports to give us an edge. I don’t have a problem with that in general, but you shouldn’t modify the optimal experience for the customer in order to get them.

Don’t make me register before I get support so you can track me one extra step, don’t make customer ID required when I have a simple question unrelated to my account (can’t you look that up from my email anyway!) and so on.

Keep the flow smooth for the customer and work on filling in the blanks on your side.

5. Honor the customers time

This one’s obvious. I think we all know about the cable company and it’s policy of arriving between 8am and 6pm.

Just recently we had the same sort of experience with a Poland Spring water bottle setup. They were supposed to come between 9am and 6pm. OK, annoying but I was going to be to the office by 8:20 at the latest so no problem.

What time did they arrive? 8am and left when I wasn’t there. Now they’ve wasted my time by going to the office at all (which I otherwise wasn’t going to do) and having to reschedule and go there and wait again on a future date.

Wasting the customers time is one of those big ones that get people talking very negatively about you to everyone who will listen.

6. Organize self help resources for customers, not staff

It’s just natural instinct for support staff to write self help documentation in the way that makes the most sense to them. Unfortunately, as they have in depth knowledge of the product if they’re not careful it can often become difficult to navigate for customers.

The worse offenders tend to be support portals that are organized into folders as traditional knowledge base software tends to do. Folders are the worst as their nesting makes it impossible for people without fairly specific knowledge of the topic to find what they need easily.

Search isn’t always the solution either as it’s not uncommon for a customer to know what they need but not what it’s called. Whenever possible try to make self help resources easily visually scannable. This way customers can scroll through information without a lot of clicks and navigation.

It’s also a good idea to track the search terms entered into your customer self service area so that you can figure out what customers think things are called and adjust the docs as needed.

7. It’s OK to say I don’t know

It’s much better to say you don’t know then to provide inaccurate information. Usually this isn’t an issue on the policy level of the help desk, but rather staff don’t feel comfortable saying this to customers.

It’s OK if they don’t know. Replying quickly with an I don’t know, but I’ll find out is better than replying very late with an answer in most cases.

8. You will not use Do Not Reply email addresses

It’s amazing how often you still see these. Never ever ever send out an email for any purpose with a do not reply address. There’s just no reason for it. If someone has a reason to reply why would you ever make that email bounce for them?

If you feel like you must prevent replies then I would suggest still using a valid email and have the help desk software automatically reply to any emails to that address with useful information and where to go if they need further support.

9. Listen carefully

In the constant mayhem of the help desk it’s not uncommon to forget to simply listen. Your queue is a mile high, more are coming in, you’re trying to respond in a timely fashion to everyone and you just forget to actually listen (or read in the case of email).

I’ve done it myself more times than I’d care to admit. When it gets crazy try and take a moment and keep your cool. This is only email after all and the vast majority of help desks aren’t dealing in life or death issues. Be efficient, but don’t skim or be distracted while you’re working tickets.

10. Be human, be helpful

When the customer is coming to support they’re often a bit frazzled. Just be human with them. Empathize with them. We’ve all been on the other end of that support ticket. So stay cool and always be focused on remaining helpful.

Bonus #11

Don’t use your support email address for newsletters and other mass emails. This is done all the time and it’s a huge problem. Newsletters and such are much more likely to be marked as spam. That degrades the deliverability of emails which use those email addresses. Then, in the future when support replies from that address to customers they’re more likely to be marked as spam and the customer not see them.

So use an alternate email address or even a different domain ( vs for example) to send newsletters. That protects your deliverability and you can still have your help desk software track replies to both email accounts.