Why working as a support engineer made me a better person

Categories Personal, Work

The terms support engineer, happiness engineer, support team member and many more all refer to the same thing – someone who is there to help you out with any issues you’re encountering with a product, be it physical or digital.

My first introduction to the world of WordPress plugin development came from support. I started working with WordPress as a content writer on a part time basis, as a freelancer. From there, I joined our plugin support team to handle basic, non-dev related questions. That led to my role as a Team Lead that I still enjoy today, and I now manage the plugins themselves day-to-day.

The experience of working in support

It’s not easy at all. Having to sit there and read through some of the comments that come through can be tough, as can working long hours answering people’s often unclear and sometimes downright ridiculous questions. Some customers might come to you with honest concerns or misunderstandings, but others come at you guns blazing, full of hatred and vulgarity. That is not an overreaction.

Having to learn how to handle vulgar language, rude messages and personal insults was not easy, and I still struggle from time to time today. That being said, it was the exposure I had to it that helped me grow as a person and as a professional.

You have no choice but to face these comments head on, without dropping to their level. How do you do that? Beat them with honesty, kindness and understanding. That’s not meant to be some cliche or fantasy belief, it’s the truth.

One of our recent reviews for the WP RSS Aggregator WordPress plugin – His support was handled by our awesome support engineer – Eric

Countless times I’ve seen customers come to us with a first email or chat that isn’t even fit to share on this site, and many other times I’ve had customers insult me and my work personally. A couple of times that was even taken a step further and they would find my personal profiles on social media, posting negative and harmful comments there for no apparent reason.

How do I deal with it?

For one, I remove those comments from my social media account immediately, take a step back, and see what caused the person to take things that far. Most of the time it’s either a misunderstanding or a lack of understanding on one person’s part.

Once that’s done, it’s time to either bring that customer around or send him on his way. There’s one simple way to determine which is best, and it starts with one question – Is this guy going to take on my offer to help him out, or will he reject it outright and continue to be problematic? If it’s the latter, just cut the cord. Yeah you might lose a customer and a few dollars, but his money is not worth your time at this stage.

There have been many cases where myself, and the rest of the support members I’ve worked with in the past couple of years, have managed to turn around a 1-star review and convert it into 5 stars while gaining an ambassador for our product. It’s all about patience, staying calm, and finding the best way to cater for each individual’s needs. You need to understand what that customer really wants, whether you can offer that in any way, and what frustrated them in the first place.

Don’t let it frustrate you (but it will)

Now, I say staying calm, but I’ve had times when I wanted to reach through my screen and grab some guy by the throat when I read the disgusting messages some people are capable of writing. Not because I get offended, but because I know that this won’t be the first or last time this person will do this, and you never, ever know what kind of a day, week or month the person on the other end is having, and what a devastating effect a message like that can have.

Just to give you an idea of how frustrating support can get, below are two replies from a real customer we came across this year. He would not tell us what was wrong, would not allow us to help him out, and immediately opted to go on the attack before consulting us for help.

This came after he refused to even consider our help.

This guy did end up finding my personal Facebook account and the posts I had published on WP Mayor, and he commented on every post he found, attacking me personally and our company. That’s the kind of customer you just cut loose.

What I learn from it each day

Having worked in this role has not only helped me understand how support works, but it has shown me what I need to do to better our products, our level of support, and our interactions with customers. It’s what led to the changes in our documentation and support systems, the introduction of new tools such as live pre-sales chat and cart recovery, and much more.

Above all else though, the biggest thing it has given me is a massive appreciation for those working in support roles. We currently have one person handling most of our support, Eric, and he’s an absolute god-send. He’s an honestly great guy who works hard, loves to help others, and does his best to solve everyone’s problems. I trust him so much that simple don’t worry about support. That’s when you know you’ve got someone special. The only time I worry is when the support load increases, and I worry about him, not the support itself (well, I worry a bit about the customers since they’re not getting our immediate attention, but that happens from time to time, we’re only human).

When he gets rewarded with a positive review, I get rewarded with a sense of happiness and pride. When he gets offended or attacked on a personal level, then I take it personally and step in. I know what that’s like, and I don’t want to ever see it happen to anyone.

If you ever consider doing that yourself, reconsider, then decide not to.

To come to a conclusion…

If you have the chance to work in some sort of support role, do it. You will be a better person and a better professional because of it. If you learn something from it, share that with your team and encourage change wherever needed.

If you think you’re above doing support, you’re not. In fact, many companies work with a support rotation system whereby even lead developers spend a week here and there working on support. This keeps them in touch with their customers to get to know where their frustrations lie and what could be done better.

If you need the services of a support staff, be patient and understanding, they’re there to help you out, and solving your problems is what will actually make them happy. Being offensive will only make things worse for you and possibly ruin their day. (That’s not to say that there aren’t support staff who are horrible at their job, ‘cos there are.)

PS. If you’re wondering why I’m proud of our plugin’s support, just check out the number of 5 star reviews mentioning our support team : https://wordpress.org/support/plugin/wp-rss-aggregator/reviews/

Tenga un buen día!

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