We built Tender for a few reasons, most of them pretty reactionary. We needed a better way than a shared email box or public Lighthouse project to handle customer support, but the solutions out there really didn’t work for us from a user perspective. I personally think that’s because most of them were created by people who came from a customer support or “Big IT” background, rather than coming from “just being a user” background. I think this shows mostly from the concept of SLAs and automated workflows.


(Side note: this is a similar rant along the lines of why we don’t do priorities in Lighthouse. We do actually have priorities, but I stand by the assertion that priorities don’t work).

Here’s how it generally goes:

A customer opens an issue; they get an automated response back along the lines of “You are customer request number #425. We will respond to you shortly”. Conveniently turned into a number, the customer now can be conveniently turned into a trackable metric. We can start judging the performance of our employees based on the speed with which they deal with this request.

Next, a support workflow kicks in, and a support operator has a limited amount of time to respond to the query, or they (presumably) get into trouble. The operator responds, and presumably they do the support dance with the customer until there’s something to track down, a question unanswered, or there just isn’t a suitable response.

A while passes, and the support workflow again kicks in, re-escalating the request or performing some sort of automated action on the ticket. Generally, this is “close the issue after a week of no replies.” An automated response goes out informing the number, I mean customer, that their issue has been deemed solved.

I don’t agree with this at all. It’s a technical solution to a human problem. That being said, I also don’t think we’ve solved it in Tender, either, from a human OR technical standpoint.

We’re not perfect when it comes to responding to our own customer support discussions, and we’re not fully there in providing tools to our customers to help them solve this themselves. But we do get responses like this, and it makes everyone on the team happy:

"Check the Tender forums for an example of how to engage with your customers in a genuine manner."

But we’re working on it, in a few ways.

Step zero is to be authentically human and not pretend otherwise.

Next, we choose to not offer SLAs. They make everyone feel worthless and under pressure. (We may implement this at some point in the future, but that will rely on the successful state-changes outlined below).

We also got rid of all mention of support “tickets” or “issues” and made it uniformly “discussions”. I feel that the nomenclature is important, and that the way you refer to your customer interactions actually colors the tone, emotion and ultimate success of the conversation.

Finally, we’re modifying the discussion states, so you can have something that isn’t strictly “resolved”, but also isn’t necessarily “open”, either, so it doesn’t weigh on your conscience.

So, if you’re coming to Tender from a service where it encourages you to treat your customers like machines, it’s worth taking a moment to to consider turning your intrahuman communications into something a bit more fleshy.

Post written by Courtenay Gasking, Art by Josh Piles

  1. entpblog posted this