Support Guidelines

November 4, 2013 by

In addition to my duties as designer (and sometimes office manager) here at Q Branch, I also handle our support inbox. There are several benefits to doing this myself, including some interesting implications for product design and road map planning. I also noticed pretty early on that the emails we were getting had a common theme of being written by smart, thoughtful people, which got me thinking: Contacting support is part of the experience of using Vesper, so how can we design this part of the experience with the same care and consideration we put into the software itself?

Here are the guidelines I use:

Use Names

For a customer to email us is no small thing. They’ve taken time out of their day to ask for help, report a bug, or just say hello and tell us how much they like our work. The absolute bare minimum I can do is start my reply with their name and end it with my own. Our customers are real people, and in 100% of cases they want the same thing we do: to make Vesper better.

Everyone Gets a Reply

If a customer writes to Q Branch support, they get a reply. No exceptions. This may require a dedicated support person down the road, but for now the volume is low enough that I only spend — tops — an hour a day talking to customers. A very small price to pay to let our users know that we’re real people.

No Arguments

Opinionated software attracts opinionated customers. I don’t agree with every question or complaint, and while I’ll sometimes follow up with probing questions or some thoughts on why we do things the way we do, it doesn’t benefit anyone to pick fights with users.

Sometimes an opposing viewpoint is just what we need to jump-start a new idea. It’s easy to be defensive about the decisions we’ve made, but I’ve never once regretted setting aside my own ego to ask someone why they’re making a particular suggestion. Most of the time their core reasoning is totally valid, and I get the opportunity to brainstorm other potential solutions with them.

Keep Records

Most of the email we get falls into one of a few categories, and I use IMAP folders to account for how popular a given request or bug is. When we create tickets I’ll adjust priority based on user demand (as you might imagine, sync is by far the most popular request). While it’s true that we make the software we ourselves want to use, our users are part of the conversation.

Be Honest

Recently we hit an unfortunate bug in iOS 7’s UITextView. Brent has written about it, but the short version is that weird things happen when you write notes long enough to bump up against the keyboard. Even more than sync, this is the single largest generator of support email right now. While we’ve already filed radars and chatted with the engineers working on the fix, it feels disingenuous to tell customers that this isn’t our problem. The best course of action, I think, is to simply explain what’s going on and apologize for the hassle. Because whether the bug is ours or Apple’s, it’s in Vesper. We own the hassle.

We also get a lot of people asking about future product plans. Everything is subject to change, so our general policy is to not talk about unannounced anything. Still, that’s a tough line to sell to someone who asks a point-blank question. Rather than be evasive, I prefer to honestly address the spirit of their question. Is X a feature we’ve thought of? Sure. In fact I may be hoping for it myself. No promises, but stay tuned.

Sooner is Better

I generally try to reply to everything within 24 hours. There are exceptions, of course. If I’m traveling, I take a little longer to reply. But since I’m compulsive about reading email as it comes in, I make sure that nothing urgent waits any longer than it has to.

This is obviously a service level thing, and that’s great, but just as important is my own sanity. I like to keep a clean house.

Ask for a Favor

Recently I decided to try an experiment: If a customer requests a feature that is at least under consideration, I’ll reply that we accept bribes in the form of App Store ratings. I make the same suggestion if the customer seems generally pleased, or if I was able to satisfactorily answer their question or solve their problem. And it’s working: Most people are only too happy to write a review or leave a rating. One reviewer even commented on how pleasant their support experience was.

My take is that folks like to feel involved and connected. Getting the request directly from a real person feels more personal than in-app nagging, and results in more enthusiastic ratings.

Say ‘Thank You’

You may not even believe some of the emails we get: Bug reports with in-depth videos showing steps to duplicate. Annotated screenshots. Feature suggestions with well-considered ideas for implementation. On my birthday, a handful of customers (who I assume follow me on Twitter) began their emails with “happy birthday”.

“Thank you” is less about the words than the tone. People will often send followup emails to thank us for answering their questions. When they do, I like to crack a joke or sometimes even offer up a promo code to share with a friend. But no matter what, I make it a point to let people know that their time is appreciated.

Vesper customers are the best people. Getting to talk to them is one of my favorite parts of my job.