customer service

PM’ing the Customer Experience

Last week, I showed up at Week 1 of 5 of Product School, eager and ready to learn. The more time I spend in support, the more I think of myself as a Product Manager of the customer experience and I want to get better at that. 

Photo credit #WOCinTechChat #WOCINTECH Chat
Photo credit #WOCinTechChat #WOCINTECH Chat

You can go nuts with definitions, but in short, customer “touch points” are the sum of each and every interaction a customer has with your brand. What started for me as an Operational project last year (improving our returns and transactional emails), turned into exploring possible customer touch points and making it an aim to exceed customer expectations and over-deliver every time.

Sample Customer Touch Points

customer touch points

While it depends on your company-level goals, resources, and how your organization works, our Customer Advocacy team decided to just start with what we could do #now, with zero help from anyone else. We opted to take every transactional email (receipt, exchange initiated, refund issued, etc), and make them exceptional. 

Some things we outlined before making any changes included:

  • Tasks: What is the user trying to achieve at each stage?
  • Questions. What does the user want to know at each stage?
  • Emotions. What is the user feeling at each stage in the process?
  • Weaknesses. How does the organization let the user down at each stage?
  • Opportunities: How can we make this better?

We took the above, put ourselves in the customers’ shoes, and improved. Something small and actionable now turned out to be better email communications. However, something more aspirational on our “CX roadmap” is to invest in self-service tools, like text message tracking updates, and DIY Return Labels. 

Once I mapped out customer touch points, I discovered I was wearing a Product Manager hat- identifying a problem, an opportunity, understanding pain points, and scoping out #now #next, #later developments. Some changes are scrappy, others are cross-functional undertakings. 

I love the front-lines with customers and I don’t want to lose it, but I’m looking forward to learning more about product management and prioritization so I can get better about preemptively helping users.

Create a Solid Customer Service Agent Experience: Our Support Stack

Photo credit #WOCinTech Chat
Photo credit #WOCinTech Chat

A few years ago, I hated process. I was the queen of scrappy. However, getting to work closely with Operations in the last year and a half, I’ve found myself turning into a process enforcer. People change. I love the trains running smooth and on time, and guidelines on how we operate are a big part of this.

Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat
Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat

Rules and process are not meant to hold me down; they’re here to make my everyday life easier.


We route all of our support inboxes (help@, support@, inbox@, pr@, etc) to Zendesk. It’s our ticket system and Knowledge Base. While I have my grievances here and there, overall, Zendesk does all of the things I need (macros, analytics, knowledge base) relatively well.


We dabbled with HootSuite and Zendesk for managing social media but love the UX of SproutSocial. We run our fair share of paid ads and Sprout makes it easiest to respond to everything from one, single inbox.


I could go on and on about Text Expander, but I like that they are shorter and snappier than saved replies. It’s easy to paste bits and pieces of things I type often, making them super unique and personal.


I like Trello for brainstorming and ideation. For example, our Support team likes to tackle “irritating topics” each quarter. We take things that are frustrating for us and frustrating for the customer and actually do something about it. We can think aloud in Trello, then divide and conquer. We also report bugs here, although I’m not sure how long that will last. We’re feeling a need for a dedicated bug tool like JIRA or Pivotal tracker.


It’s how our company communicates and I emoji it up. We created some channels specifically for support. Our product is complex, so we often ask hardware, software, or product for updates in dedicated #support-helpers channels.


Automation is a worthwhile investment for anything you find yourself doing more than a few times. Any bug reported goes to our #bugs Slack, for example, so that it’s on people’s radars. We also tag certain Zendesk tickets “bookmark” and have those feed into Slack for the whole team to read. The possibilities are endless.


We turn this on when we can, although it’s hard with a small team! Our front end engineer was incredibly helpful and used the Zendesk and LiveChat APIs to customize for us. If we are online and available for chat, you see a “live help” icon. Otherwise, we point them to our Zendesk contact form. It helps set proper expectations.


Asking the customer to write a bug report for you is lazy. Be proactive and use tools like MixPanel to do some detective work yourself. Here, I find information like device, OS, app version, and I can see logs of specific events the user went through in-app.

Internal tools

On that note, tools can help empower your team. It reduces friction so they can solve their own issues autonomously. We made an internal RMA tool so we can generate return labels with a click of a button. We also got our Research team to build some queries to check for product defects. Invest in tools so your support team can resolve issues quickly, without friction or long waits. Sure, reducing time to resolve is a nice to have (ours sure went down with these snazzy tools) but you’ll get a happier customer, and most importantly, you improve the “user experience” of your own Support team.

How to set up email auto-replies that are actually helpful

Have you ever emailed customer service and wondered:

Oh my gosh, did they actually get my email; maybe I should email again!?”

I recently emailed a yoga clothing company because my order confirmation had the wrong items listed and for a minute there, I panicked.

I should have sent the email from my personal Gmail rather than their “Contact Us form!

I thought, because this way, I’d have proof that I contacted them immediately. This was especially worrisome because they had a “no returns or exchanges” policy. It all worked out okay; the rep was awesome, but it took about a day of uncertainty until I got their reply.

This is when an “auto-reply” email comes into a play. It provides an opportunity to assure the customer you got their message; it’s not lost in some black hole, and you can even set expectations as to how long you’ll take to get back to them. It might even be an opportunity to point them to some resources in case it’s an issue that’s easily solved by having them read a blog post or Knowledge Base article.

I’ve been part of some young companies, and sadly, the support crew can’t always keep up! If you hit a really busy time, say, the holiday season when you work retail, you can write a blurb to let customers know that the wait time might be a little longer, but that you are working hard to reply to each and every single one.

I found myself managing support solo for a couple of months, and my first response time got to 48+ hours. Nowadays, people expect replies in under a day, so I set up email reply to relay the following:

Yes, I got your message

Thank you so much for taking the time to email Support. This is an automatic response, just to let you know that your message ({{}}) hit our inbox safely.

It’s going to take about X amount of time to get a response back.

We make every effort to get back to you as quickly as possible and we’re striving to keep our response time under 48 hours during our regular business hours, Monday-Friday 9AM-6PM PST.

I really appreciate you, but I am a human so I’m sorry that I’m a bit slow! I will respond to each and every message as quickly as I can.

Thank you again for bearing with us through the wait. You’ll get a personal email as quickly as humanly possible!

The example above is a bit more apologetic than something I might use now that we’ve gotten the first response time down to ~13 hours, and I might even tone it up again if our team was to be away for a long weekend. However, it alleviates the anxiety that the customer is forgotten, tells them what a “normal wait time” might be, and assures them you will be there to help soon!

BONUS: If you have a helpful Knowledge base, blog posts, or video resources, you might even link there, allowing the customer to help themselves.

In my #dreamworld, I’ll be as badass as at team at Basecamp, who I really admire and I can turn my auto-responder off! They really reflect my #goals and respond in TWO minutes (not days), no auto-responder needed. In the meantime though, I’ll be leaving it ON!

Talk about support #goals. The time at BaseCamp responds in 2 minutes!
Talk about support #goals. The time at BaseCamp responds in 2minutes!



Why the heck do you need a support ticketing system, and which one is right for you?

If you are a founder doing support, or still in the early days of customer service at your company– perhaps you’re replying to everyone straight from Gmail still– you may be curious about the benefits of a customer service ticketing system. Maybe you are wondering what the benefit is, or which one to pick? New ones are popping up all the time too.

Support happens across various channels, whether you like it or not. Pick a tool that can handle all the channels your customers need.

In the beginning, you may have just a few emails to manage (,, and You and your co-founders reply directly through email, you do your best to respond via Facebook, and you answer the occasional Tweet hours later.

As you acquire more & more customers, this is going to get more complex. You may add and You are getting more and more questions on social media. Can you just get them to email you instead? This is getting crazy; can’t the dang customer contact you through the right channel (i.e. the easiest one for you!?) Most of the times, the right answer is NO.

I’m a firm believe that the customer should be able to contact support from wherever they choose. Don’t you dare tell the customer, “uhhh I know you already told us the problem on Facebook, but you actually need to re-write this to us in an email or we can’t help.” You have the unique opportunity to stand out with world-class, personal service, so find a tool that can handle all the channels your customers like to use to get in touch– Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your growing amount of email addresses, live chat, phone, etc.

Not only do customers want to be able to get an answer on from their channel of choice,
they expect a consistent experience. They want to be able to reach out on social media, live chat with you to troubleshoot (you should know the back story already– not ask them to repeat it), and you should remember them the next time they email. Let them start an interaction in one channel and complete it in another.

Welcome to the world of support software

Now, since you are still managing your support through email, I’m going to make the assumption that you are interested in a Hosted (SaaS) Solution, that you can just log into via the web, versus a time and resource intensive on-premise solution that you set up yourself (let’s be real, we mean your IT crew). Building your own help center is like starting a whole new side business, so unless you have significant resources and engineers to help you, it’s probably not the way to go. If you’ve been tasked with this and you have to set it up mostly yourself, look into some of the top solutions like Zendesk, HelpScout, Intercom, FreshDesk, or

The huge plus to using a SaaS tool is that you can login from anywhere, just like with your email address! The downside is that no solution is going to be a silver bullet. I’ve used Zendesk, HelpScout, and Intercom, and while in the end I chose Zendesk, there are definitely little annoyances with each tool. It’s about choosing the best overall one for you & your customers too, #obvious!

Time to shop. Creating your must-have feature list

Being that this is the first time you are setting up a help center, your needs are likely going to be on the simpler side– or maybe you are already planning big– all the more power to you, just keep it real! The folks at Fresh Desk did an amazing job creating an entire white paper on picking a ticketing system. I’m emending just piece of it here, which is about creating your feature list, but the whole paper is worth a read.

Guide to Choosing an Online Helpdesk

Do some support soul searching. What really matters here $ 🙂 ?

A major difference between the main players is pricing. This is a big thing to plan ahead for. Some plans (Intercom) charge per app user. If you plan to conquer the world an get to a bajillion users (I hate that word! — try community members), this may get pricey. On the other hand, Zendesk charges per agent. As our support team is getting more cross-functional, we have to loop in hardware, software, sales, and people for help– and it’s turning into a huge pain point. Collaboration with people that aren’t actual support agents is suddenly important, but buying accounts for a bunch of folks that might need to jump in to help once a month, if even, doesn’t make economic sense. You can’t predict the future, but try your best to pick a pricing model that will (fingers crossed) work for a year or two.

It’s also a really good idea to try each tool as a customer. Try using the in-app messaging on Intercom and see it in action. Search the Zendesk Knowledge base; do you like how it looks and works? Email the teams. Do they respond in a timely manner? Do their agents provide refreshingly good customer service. I just can’t trust a customer service company that doesn’t live and breathe good service; put them to the test.

Does using the Help Desk make you happy? This sounds silly, but your agents are going to live in this tool. Pick one that’s enjoyable and easy to use. If it’s not intuitively easy, make sure there are training sessions or resources. The goal here is to make life easier for both your agents and customers, so talk to the front-lines folks and ask their opinion too! Include them in the free trial/ testing stage.

Just my personal tidbit here- I actually used HelpScout at my first gig and it was a great tool for a newly founded CS team. It didn’t have the automations, triggers, and fancy stuff, but we didn’t need it at the time and the pricing didn’t break the bank.

I hope this gets some of you off plain email support, and if you have any comments about how you picked, what you use, or which is your favorite, I’d love to hear about it!

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