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Episode 66 - How to Work with Customer Support

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Hey, Scott Austin here.

The Shopify ecosystem is constantly changing and evolving.  Shopify is always rolling out new features.  Themes are also adding new features.  And of course in the Shopify app world, there is also a lot of new features in existing apps and tons of new apps each day.  And on top of that, each one of these three buckets - Shopify, themes and apps - have to keep pace with changes from the internet giants like Google and Facebook.

And because all of these pieces are constantly evolving, documentation is usually out of date.  And even if a particular feature or app was working properly, which lets face it, is just a dream.  But even if they were working properly on their own, mixing different themes and apps together will result in issues in your store.  What this means is that you are going to have to regularly contact customer support in the building and running of your Shopify store.  And that customer support will be with different teams, like Shopify, your theme developer and the various app developers.

There is no consistency in customer support teams.  Some of them are amazing.  They are quick to respond and knowledgeable enough to get things working.  Two examples are, who makes a reviews app, and Boost, who makes a filtering app.  Working with those two teams is usually a joy as they consistently exceed my expectations.

But the reality is that much of the customer support you will come across is not a joy to work with.  In fact, many of them just plain suck.  But I'm not here today to dwell on things we can't control.  All a store owner can do in the face of poor quality customer support is help the team better understand the issue.  This is very much in the only thing you can change is yourself mindset.  So in this episode, I'm going to share my best practices on how to best work with the various customer support teams you'll need to work with in the Shopify ecosystem.

Let's start off with a bit of a reminder.  We all know that Shopify is a massive, organized technology company with 1000s of employees.  But the rest of the companies that you will work with in the Shopify ecosystem are much smaller.  In fact, many apps are built by a team of one.  In other words, most of the time, the support team you are engaging with is not even a team.  It may just be a single person.  And whether it’s a small company or a bit bigger of a company, the Shopify ecosystem is extremely global.  So the company could be located in Canada, or in Brazil, or in the Czech Republic, or in Singapore.  In other words, the customer support team could have very different time zones, language skills or cultural norms from your own.

As a Shopify Expert that has worked on 100s of stores, I am constantly engaging a variety of customer support teams.  It’s a daily occurrence for me.  So over time, I've found best practices that make the support process easier for both parties. So, here are the best practices that I try to follow.  

  1. Make customer support part of your decision making process.  If you are going to make a choice for, let's say, an affiliate app.  There are many possible solution providers.  A quick search for the term 'affiliate program' on the Shopify App store has over 150 results.  No doubt, you'll be comparing prices and features between all of the providers.  I recommend that you also evaluate the quality of support that they provide.  And by support, I mean documentation and support tickets.  One way to judge the quality is to look at the reviews.  See what customers say about the support they receive and also notice how the support team responds to negative reviews.  Also check out their website for documentation.  Some apps, surprisingly, provide no documentation.  And see how easy it is to contact customer support and create a ticket.  A team that has a ticketing solution in place is more customer focused than a team that just handles issues with email alone.  So in the end, you may want to avoid apps and themes that demonstrate poor customer support.  Many of my app recommendations are driven by the quality of support that I get.
  2. Be nice.  Now this sounds obvious.  But when I look at customer reviews, I can easily find store owners that are not being nice.  And this is a common issue on the internet.  Its not just store owners - its human nature.  We become the worst versions of ourselves when we can't see the person we are dealing with and are just communicating through text and email.  Remember there is another human being on the other side of the process.  And customer support staff are generally more junior people.  So, while the quality of the support that you are receiving may be very poor, the cause of that may be a poor support process.  Not character flaws of the person trying to help you.  So be nice to them and treat them with courtesy. 
    Now, I get how it can sometimes be a challenge to be courteous.  Here's one of my pet peeves.  You know how many apps have online chat.  It drives me nuts when I'll start the chat with a long description of the issue I'm having and all of the steps that I've taken to troubleshoot it so far.  I've given the support person all of the information that I think they need to get started.  But then they come on and say 'Hi, I'm John and I'll be helping you.  How are you doing today?'  No acknowledgement of all the information that I've provided.  And they are waiting for response to their generic question.  Like I said, I have a hard time with this.  But I take a breath and remind myself that John is just following the process set up by his company.  And John is probably not empowered to improve that process.  So I try to be nice to John as he's a victim of this just like I am.
    And to drive the be nice point home, because its so needed in all we do on the internet, another way of saying be nice is 'assume positive intent'.  Here's a quote from Indra Nooyi, who is CEO of Pepsico on the benefits of assuming positive intent:
    'My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, “Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.” So “assume positive intent” has been a huge piece of advice for me.'
  3. Avoid slang and abbreviations.  Remember that the support team may not be a native speaker of your language.  Or they may be in a different culture.  So try to avoid slang and abbreviations in your communications that they may not understand.  Be a little more formal and spell things out.
  4. Do not use pronouns like this, these, that, those or it.  We all have different types of logic.  So what is obvious or common sense for one person may not be the same for another person.  As such, I recommend repeating the name of something throughout the conversation and avoid using pronouns to refer to it.  For example, if you are having an issue on the product page for your 4-slice toaster, always refer to it as the 4-slice toaster product.  While writing long emails, this process may seem awkward and redundant, it will make it clear what you mean each and every time.
  5. Similar to #4, this one is to call a thing by the exact term that anyone would see on the screen.  So if you are using an app and referring to an input box in the app that is called promo description, I'd recommend always referring to it as promo description and even putting the term in quotes.  And avoid calling it promotion description or the description.  Using the terminology that is already in the screens that both parties can look at is like having a common dictionary.
  6. Always provide a URL when possible.  Whether referring to a page on your website or a part of the app you need support on, if there is a unique URL, include that URL in your message.  Sharing the URL will ensure that both parties are on the same page, literally and figuratively.  If you don't know what a url is, its the full text in the browser address bar that takes one to an exact page on the internet.  And you can easily copy it from your browser address bar and paste it into whatever communication you are drafting. 
  7. Provide screenshots.  As you know, a picture is worth a thousand words.  And that's true in customer support too.  Providing a screenshot can help the party on the other side understand what you are seeing.  I use a screenshot service called Gyazo, which I'll link to in the show notes.  And there are plenty of other providers to choose from.  This service comes with a Chrome plugin that takes a snapshot of the current web page and stores it in the cloud so I can easily share it with anyone.  I can even edit the image with arrows or boxes highlighting a particular part of the page.  I use this process constantly and have over 2,000 screenshots that I've shared.
  8. Record a video.  Just like photos being better than words, videos can be better than photos.  I frequently record a video about an issue that I'm seeing to bring the customer support team up to speed as quickly as possible.  I record my computer screen as I narrate what the issue is .  To do the recording, I use free, open source software called OBS.  I'll include a link to it in the show notes.  I don't edit the video and just add the raw file to my YouTube account to share with others.  I usually add them as unlisted videos so that only people with a link can view them.  I've currently got over 400 such videos in my YouTube account as I'm creating them every week.
  9. Explain how your store is setup.  Let the customer support team know about the particulars of your setup.  Like what Shopify plan you are on, what channels you are using and what apps are installed.  Especially highlight any recent changes.
  10. Explain the technology you are using for testing.  Different operating systems and different browsers act very differently.  So if you have found an issue, be sure to let customer support team know the particulars of your setup.  For example, let them know that you are experiencing an issue on Safari on a iPhone 12.  This year, I had a client who  kept showing me an issue in her store.  But I could not replicate the issue.  I did testing on Safari on multiple iPhones as the client was using an iPhone.  In the end, through much testing, we discovered that the issue only existed on a iPhone X.  I mention this as being very specific can help the support team quickly replicate the issue.
  11. Explain how to reproduce the issue.  Let the customer support team know the steps you take to see the issue you are reporting.   Recording a video can make this task much easier.  Too many times, the support team will simple be told it doesn't work without any further explanation.  For the support team to help, they need to be able to replicate the issue on their own.  So help them do that with a detailed explanation of the steps you take to see the issue.  As I record my videos for this purpose, I'll actually narrate what I'm doing with the mouse and keyboard as the video doesn't provide that information.
  12. It is what it is.  Getting angry at customer support because a feature or app doesn't work the way you think it should, does not make the support process any easier.  Support teams are designed to help you work with the existing technology.  Though they may be able to push requirement to the product development team, that is not going to help you anytime soon.  So accept the limitations of the technology today and find ways to make it work the best for you.
  13. Sometimes, things just don't work.  Because the Shopify ecosystem is open, not every combination of apps will work well together.  My clients and I are frequently pushing the boundaries of the technology available which means sometimes what we are trying to do just isn't possible.  The most common place this happens is between two apps.  Some apps just don't work together well.  And my recommendation when this happens is to decide which app is more impactful for your business and get rid of the one with less impact.

So I've just given you a whole bunch of best practices.  And they probably require a bit more effort than you are currently putting into your customer support interactions.  And you may be saying, why should I put in all this extra effort?  In my experience with customer support, quality in is equal to quality out.  In other words, the more quality you put into the process by providing as much information as possible, the higher the quality of support you will receive.  By showing the extra effort, the support team will also provide the extra effort.  This is just human nature.  Would you rather talk to a person who is screaming that you are an idiot or would you rather talk to the person who is informative and thankful.  Remember, you can't change the customer support staff or process.  All you can do is change how you treat them and then see how they respond.

The pace of change in the Shopify ecosystem is only increasing.  This means that contacting customer support is going to be a regular part of running your business.  So follow these best practices to ensure a smoother support process with more positive outcomes.

Thanks for listening.

JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.