The 5 Customers Your Support Team Meets In a Tech Crisis
Gregory Smoragiewicz

All tech startups are in the business of speed. But moving fast and breaking things is only sustainable if you can stop customer relationships from fracturing in the process.

So before your next crisis arrives (and it will), be sure your support team has a plan for the customers who will inevitably be calling.

THE ARSONIST

The arrival of this customer will be the clearest indicator that you’re officially in crisis mode. Their white-hot rage will ignite your inbox with blistering critiques and set fire to your support lines with searing attacks. Alternatively, a more subtle Arsonist may string together a slow burn of passive-aggressive statements instead.

In either case, your reps need to resist the urge to reply in kind. Catty comebacks or argumentative answers will only fan the flames.

The best way to take the heat out of these tricky conversations is to gradually pivot away from the feelings and toward the facts. Let them vent their frustrations to an empathetic ear — but don’t dwell. Sincerely apologize for their troubles, offer an honest summary of what you know about the issue so far, and promise to circle back when it looks like you’ll have a fix.

THE OPPORTUNIST

While The Arsonist is blinded by their anger, a more composed customer may try to channel their disappointment in a different way. Recognizing that your sudden drop in performance has boosted their bargaining power, an Opportunist will often try to negotiate an unexpected perk.

This may be the most difficult scenario to deal with, as the customer’s well-reasoned grievances can easily trigger an agent’s people-pleasing reflex. However, ending every uncomfortable conversation with a discount or refund is not a precedent your business can afford to set.

The first thing to do is buy yourself a bit of time. Have agents confirm the details of the situation, but let customers know that their request will need to be reviewed by management. Agents can play the role of advocate and pledge to fight for the customer’s case, but this is not the place to make specific promises.

Share what solutions you can in the moment and let The Opportunist know that you’ll be happy to continue the conversation after the immediate crisis is cleaned up.

THE V.I.P.

Once a crisis hits, it won’t be long before a big-name customer starts asking for answers. And when they do, this V.I.P. may not-so-subtly remind you what a shame it would be if they had to take their business (and 27% of your recurring revenue) elsewhere.

The word to remember in this scenario is triage. Like an emergency room doctor, you’ll have to provide care on a prioritized basis. And at a certain point, you have to remember who pays your bills and push The V.I.P. to the front of the line.

This prompt and personal attention will be appreciated, even if you don’t have a specific solution to offer just yet. And once you do, be sure to overcompensate on communication. Describe the root of the problem as best you can while highlighting the details most relevant to the customer’s concerns.

THE DELEGATOR

Tech crises can shake the confidence of even the most capable users. So when critical issues occur, don’t be surprised when a Delegator arrives and asks you to personally apply the recommended solution.

Customer support always entails a bit of handholding, of course, but the price of this individualized attention is exponentially higher in the middle of a crisis. Every extra second spent doing The Delegator’s work gives other customers time to consider slipping into their Arsonist apparel.

Your best bet will be to walk customers through a small first step before leaving them with clear guidance on what to do next. If getting started is half the battle, then The Delegator won’t feel so overwhelmed once an initial obstacle is removed.

THE PROFESSOR

Within the wave of irate and irrational responses that are sure to wash up on your shores, there will always be a few inquiries that stand out for their studious nature. Whether it’s screenshots of technical diagrams or paragraphs of elegant prose, you’ll recognize the work of a Professor when you see it.

Don’t take their good manners for granted, though. The Professor is the last customer you want as an enemy. If you don’t elevate the conversation to their level and offer thoughtful answers, their persuasive writing skills could spark a public relations nightmare.

With that said, it’s always best to address these rare cases as soon as they arrive. The insights gathered from five minutes of genuine conversation with a Professor will be more valuable than whatever you glean from an hour spent sifting through alarmist emails.

And by making them feel like their ideas are an instrumental part of the eventual solution, you could be creating a powerful ally that repays your kindness long after the original crisis.

Greg Smoragiewicz is the Head of Content at Aircall, the NYC startup that finally built a phone system flexible enough to meet the needs of modern sales and support teams. Aircall is also a proud sponsor of TechDay Los Angeles.