FAQ WTF BBQ
Sometimes the most difficult challenge to providing a customer with a solution is understanding what the problem is.
Often I’ll receive an e-mail with a vague description that a feature “doesn’t work”, or something like, “Why can’t I log in? Help!” It’s common to see me with both hands grabbing the hair on my head, as I try to decipher a strange mix of shorthand, freestyle grammar and typos. My initial response is, “WTF are you talking about?”, and of course I can’t say that. And I don’t even want to hint at the fact that their effort to communicate was a complete waste of time. I wont say, “help me to help you” because A) it sounds lame, and B) that implies, “I have all the answers and you just have to come up with a dead witch’s broomstick to get what you want from the great and powerful Oz.” Seriously, support is playing the role of the Wizard of Oz. “HOW DARE YOU ASK ME THIS QUESTION IF YOU HAVEN’T EVEN TRIED REBOOTING YET (in the mean time I’m going to look up the answer in the manual).”
You want to tell them that you don’t have enough information to help them, that they need to try again by giving more detail, that they have a communication problem. Instead, let them think that you are the one with a comprehension problem. It’s not entirely untrue!
Here’s how I try to encourage someone to articulate an answerable question. First, temporarily give up any notion that you’re the authority on your product. Then turn the tables and make them into the supportive ones—start asking them for help. Only the customer knows what they’re talking about, they’re often pretty righteous about it too, so they will enjoy giving you the information you need if you acknowledge that they’re the authority on whatever the hell it is they’re talking about:
Hey, I’m really sorry you’re having trouble with our product, but I have to say, I’m stumped at the moment. I don’t have a clue. Let me make sure I understand: here’s what I think you described… is that right? Let me know if I’m on the right track or if you think I need a more detailed explanation about the steps you’re taking so that I can better understand.
Honestly, it’s not easy finding the right words to do this on a case by case basis. But the idea is:
Is this what you wanted me to understand? If not, what else could you tell me to help me out?
Just remember to take responsibility for not understanding and let the customer know that you need their expertise about what’s happening to them. Most of the time when I give people this treatment they reply with an apology for being vague, confusing or angry, normally followed by a pretty clear description of the problem. And then I look up the appropriate scripted reply and they think I’m a genius. Wish granted!