How to respond to those mysterious email customer service requests

bri hillmer | April 17, 2014

Written communication with customers can be challenging. This is especially true when you have international customers with whom language might be a barrier. The mysteriously worded email ticket is about as ubiquitous in SAAS customer service as, say, hippies in Boulder.

How you approach unclear requests says a lot about your approach to customer service.

The gut reaction to unclear requests is to ask the customer to give you more information or otherwise clarify their request. The problem with this is that it guarantees at least 4 back and forth emails before the customer has a solution. While I’m not an advocate for the one-and-done approach, assuming that any ambiguous ticket cannot be resolved with a single response is, simply put, wrong. This assumption causes support volume and creates a less-than-stellar customer service experience.

(I’m not sure that this is actually a thing, but the one-and-done approach I’m referring to is where reps try to resolve an email request with a single response, in all cases. I think that this can be as off-putting as a back and forth where the customer feels that they are being put off for the sake of support volume and response time stats.)

So how can you resolve a mysteriously worded ticket in one response you ask? Easy! Guess!

I’m serious. Make an educated guess. Most of these tickets will include at least a clue or two about what feature or area of your application they are inquiring about. So, make an educated guess. If they are asking about a particular reporting feature, ask yourself, “What are the most common sticking points for this report?” Then re-read the request and try to determine if any of these might apply.

Why Guessing is Great Customer Service

Even if the request is so ambiguous that you can’t be sure, taking the time to compose a response where you give it a shot is a good idea for three reasons:

  1. The odds are in your favor. A rep with about 3 months of experience or more should know both the tool and their customers pretty well. If you guess, you’ll probably be right more than half the time.
  2. Taking the time to try to understand is 100% better than shooting back a quick response asking for clarification. It demonstrates that you care and that’s at least 50% of what makes great customer service great.
  3. It’s an excellent opportunity to introduce a customer to your knowledge base without risking them feeling put off.

Recipe for responding to mysterious email tickets

So here’s my recipe for responding to mysterious email tickets:

  1. Read and determine what areas of the application the customer is asking about.
  2. Think of the common confusion points of this area of the application.
  3. Respond with a guess or two.
  4. Include some supporting documentation if available.

A thread might look like so:

Customer: Gobbeldygook gibberish show a question garbage nonsense mumbo jumbo.

Support Hero:
Hello there!

Thank you for contacting SurveyGizmo Customer Support!

I’m not 100% that I’m on the right track but I am here to help! You mentioned “show a question” in your initial requests so I’m guessing you are looking to set up question logic within your survey. This can be a little tricky to set up the first time. The important thing to note is whether your target and trigger questions are on the same page.

Check out our Question Logic tutorial to learn more:

Please do let me know if I completely missed the mark!

Have a great day!

Customer: Thanks! This was exactly what I needed to get this set up!

Here’s an excellent real world example courtesy of SurveyGizmo’s lovely Full Service Survey Salon Stylist.

Customer: Why would I choose the likert scale option in setting up my survey when I can simply enter the responses manually? Does selecting the likert option ensure that the data gets reported differently than if I just entered it manually?

Support Hero: Thanks for contacting us today! I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure what you mean here. Do you mean to ask the difference between choosing a “pre-made list” of answer options, and entering your own? If so, there’s actually no difference — they will report the same way! Otherwise, can you clarify for me what you mean?
Thanks so much!

Customer: Hello, thank you. You answered my question perfectly!

Well done Full Service Survey Salon Stylist. Well done indeed!

About the author
bri hillmer
Bri Hillmer

Bri is a Sr. Technical Writer at Alteryx. An Ohioan at heart, Bri now lives in Colorado where she spends her time reading, hiking, and spending time with her dogs.

Find her on LinkedIn.

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