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Thanks for calling, can we be best friends?

I ran across a series of tweets today.

I’d like to introduce you to user experience theater. Much like security theater and, well, security, user experience theater is when a company desperately wants to appear as if it cares at all about you. Instead of trying its best to make sure your relationship with them is great, they cook up ways to try to trick you into thinking that you are a valuable customer. Relationships are complicated, though — and there are definitely ways in which both sides can get what they need out of it.

I don’t know what issue @FilmDrunk was having, but we can make some assumptions:

  1. He had an issue with a product.
  2. It’s so bad that he’s actually had to call into the company’s phone support.
  3. That phone support has had some training on what to say to very frustrated customers who would rather do a million other things than troubleshoot an issue over the phone.

Here’s the thing: when someone contacts your company for support, your whole org chart goes out the window. Your user has a problem. They have contacted you, the provider of the product, to help them resolve their immediate issue. Your agents now have the power to change how a user feels about your company. Should both sides be respectful, understanding, and cordial? Absolutely. That should be assumed. Should that take precedence over fixing the damn problem? No. If you’re super nice but can’t help your user do what they need to do, then your user is not going to trust your company. It just isn’t enough. Trust is the foundation of a lasting relationship, and this relationship is between your user and the company.

When a company inherently cares about its customers, it is manifested in a few different ways. Training agents in forced empathy certainly isn’t one of them. Instead, work with support teams to consider context. When a user is interacting with your support team, it’s most likely because something has failed or gone wrong along the way. How your support team responds needs to factor in the user’s context; if the user is showing signs of frustration either audibly or inaudibly, then work with them quickly to try to resolve their issue. Throw your stupid “I’m so sorry to hear that you are experiencing [thing I just told you was wrong], Mr. Bertino” script out the window.

A few things that I feel are important during a support interaction of any kind:

  1. Your user should feel like the person that they are contacting is an expert that can help resolve their issue. If not, get them to someone who can (and fast).
  2. Your user should feel like you are going to do everything that you reasonably can to resolve their issue as quickly as you can.
  3. Your user should feel valued and respected.

It’s pretty simple, yet for some reason it still feels like the customer service agent wants me to be their new best friend. I don’t need your forced empathy, we aren’t going to be friends on Facebook, and I will (if you do this right) never talk to you ever again. So stop wasting my time and help me fix the problem so I can get back to doing whatever it is I need to do.


Of course, if being completely transactional goes against the fabric of your company, where you’ve determined that everyone has a personality (even your quirky front line), don’t be afraid — your agents can still have a personality. I’d even argue that they should. You should trust your agents to consider context and empathize inherently (i.e., without any type of script). But there’s a time and place for quirky and fun, and you have to trust that your agents will switch modes when working with someone who has an issue that needs to be solved immediately.

If you haven’t already, you absolutely must read MailChimp’s Voice and Tone Guide, specifically the section on failures. This guide is wonderful because it encourages a humanistic element to your communications without forcing it. It encourages communications to consider context and to change the message appropriately. Your agents should do the same thing.

I’d like to close with this: having a good customer support team is incredibly difficult. It’s imperative that you get it right, as the perception of your company can be destroyed by a bad interaction. You, the company, aren’t going to win every customer interaction, but your team should try its best and be expedient in the process. It’s far too important not to.

Published in User Experience

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