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Mastering the Support Side: A Playbook for Shopify App Developers

Sam Henning

In the pre-pandemic Shopify ecosystem, there weren’t a lot of customer service solutions for developers. That’s because this specific type of app support presents a unique set of challenges, even for people who have built their entire careers in customer service. Finding individuals who possess (or are capable of acquiring) the myriad skills and talents required for the job at a reasonable cost is no small feat.

Nonetheless, given the level of competition and the increasingly complex demands of a growing merchant base, support has proven to be one of the areas that can make a game-changing impact on both the user experience (and therefore, retention) as well as on marketing, since your support inbox is usually one of the first touchpoints of the prospecting customer.

We’ve been specializing in Shopify app support for over three years now, and 42 apps and tens of thousands of tickets later, we’ve gained a bit of knowledge and wisdom, which we think will be helpful to you as you navigate the long, winding, sometimes rollercoaster-on-espresso road of Shopify app development.

Navigating your Internal Customer Dynamics

Customer-centricity starts with employee-centricity.

“Support agents are storytellers in the sense that they help your customers co-write their narrative of what it’s like to use your app,” says Carlos Lengeman, HR Manager at The Support Heroes. 

First things first. Your support team, whether in-house or outsourced, makes up your internal customers, and as with everything in life, what appears on the outside is merely a reflection of what’s inside. As dieticians would say, “You are what you eat.” In much the same way, the people, values, and policies you take in directly impact your customers’ experiences.

Based on our observations, three attributes shine through among high-performing support agents: critical thinking, agreeableness, and empathy.  

Since the nature of SaaS lends itself more to customization and investigation than your average product or service, previous customer service experience doesn’t always translate to excellent app support. When building your support dream team, you’ll want to implement a skill-based recruitment process built around tests and interviews designed to identify and measure these qualities. 

A series of language and logical reasoning tests and support simulation tests with a time limit are indispensable tools for screening applicants. 

Continuous education is the secret to success.

Of course, enabling excellent support requires more than just hiring great talent. Continuous training and empowerment are a must. A team of highly engaged agents is more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty to help customers. And just like your dev team, your support must be on top of all the internal and external updates.

One way to encourage further education is by opening up different avenues for career development. For instance, by funding your support agents’ efforts to take courses related to e-commerce, Shopify, web development, and even AI, you can attract top-tier talent from all over the world.

It's no surprise that across all industries, people are looking for an entryway to tech, either as a way to adapt to the evolving technological needs of their profession or to shift careers altogether. By being flexible with hiring and promoting a learning environment where people can expand their toolbox or relevant 21st-century skills, you can attract– and keep–highly qualified professionals from around the world.

More apps, more exposure

Compared to agents specializing in one or two apps, those working on multiple platforms and interfaces develop a more robust practical understanding of the Shopify admin and a better conceptual grasp of Liquid and basic programming. This allows them to provide more detailed explanations to merchants and, at times, stretch the limits of the team’s service. 

“Handling multiple apps is better for us. We get to learn so much more in less time–more opportunities to practice our coding, research, and critical thinking skills,” says Jared Sy, Tier 2 Support Specialist.

This is why we don’t limit our teams to just one or two apps. Instead, we challenge them to be more well-rounded and technical by assigning them multiple apps to handle.   

“Good support is not always about having perfect solutions; it's also about giving alternatives, insights, knowledge. That's where having a really good understanding of Shopify and its multiple niches comes in handy, and that's something app users definitely value,” adds Andrés Miranda, Tier 1 Support Specialist. 
While this opportunity might not present itself in an in-house setup, you can always encourage your team to scope out and try various other apps in the ecosystem, especially those that compete with or complement your own. 

Equipping your team with support tools

Once you’ve built and empowered your support team, you’ll want to go the extra mile and equip your agents with internal tools that will allow them to go the extra mile in their support. 

By creating a tool that mirrors the app’s dashboard and contains crucial information for the investigative process (e.g., plan, install status, theme, etc.), agents can troubleshoot issues faster and provide accurate solutions without too much back and forth. From our experience, this kind of service inspires five-star reviews.  

You can even give your team clearance to offer discounts or trial extensions. These two things can quickly de-escalate a sticky situation and even turn an otherwise negative user experience into a good interaction. Just make sure to establish clear, logical internal procedures, so your team can act with minimal supervision. You’ll be delighted to find how even agents with little to no technical background, given the proper tools, can push the boundaries of Tier 1 support.  

Navigating your External Customer Dynamics

If your support team is your internal customer, then the merchants will be your external customers.

Based on our experience, over 90% of five-star reviews originate from significant support interactions where an issue was solved in a timely, responsive, and friendly manner. 

“Developers are constantly fighting in the competitive Shopify App market, trying to get more reviews, more installations, and handling the rising expectations of merchants. Customer support plays a key role in that,” says Alvaro Bahamon, Marketing Lead.

Set realistic expectations

While everyone agrees that customer expectations are higher than ever, your support team has the opportunity to set the tone from the first touch. Like in any relationship, taking the next step requires being clear about what you can bring to the table. 

For instance, if you’re unable to build a 24/7 operation - the gold standard for app support - make sure you’re setting the right expectations and being transparent about what you can commit to regarding availability and response times. 

How terrible would it be to receive a negative review because you said you offered chat support but didn’t? On the other hand, what a pleasant surprise for a merchant to receive a response from you on a Saturday afternoon when your support hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. That’s what we mean by exceeding expectations when possible. 

We love email support because, although we don’t promise response times, we constantly exceed expectations. Merchants don’t usually expect a resolution in 20 minutes or less when they reach out via email.

Communicate proactively

For a merchant, it can be really frustrating to be left hanging, especially when dealing with complex issues that disrupt the flow of the store’s daily operations. As an app developer, these critical, high-priority tickets can make or break your business.

In these situations, proactive communication can go a long way in easing merchant frustration. Don't wait for complaints to escalate. Take the initiative to provide regular updates, or have your team do it for you while you work on the solution. Be as transparent as possible about the challenges and constraints of implementing a fix while assuring merchants that work is in progress.

Remember that every ticket, regardless of the technical outcome, is an opportunity to shape the customer’s perception of your app. With great support, you can create highly satisfying experiences without necessarily developing the perfect app.

Complement support operations with a solid knowledge base.

You can never have too many help articles. These serve a dual purpose since they empower both your merchants and your support team to address issues efficiently. An extensive knowledge base lays the foundation for a smooth support operation, whereas an inadequate one causes a lot of trial and error for the merchant and, at times, long back-and-forths with your team. Be generous with the information; don’t skimp!

Building relationships that last with a fantastic Support Team

Apart from offering customers an interactive, tailor-made experience, a support team allows you to form genuine bonds with your merchants. Support inquiries can easily morph into conversational surveys, and previously closed tickets become opportunities for follow-up discussions that strengthen your connection with your users. As you invest more time and resources into getting to know your customers and their specific needs–and address these on the development side–they reciprocate by giving you their advocacy and retention. 

Considering the advantages of retaining customers versus acquiring new ones, it becomes evident that, contrary to its traditional role as a cost center in business, great customer support, when enabled and ultimately delivered, creates highly satisfying user experiences that translate to Shopify app success.

This article was written by The Support Heroes, an international team of Shopify app support agents and technicians providing round-the-clock customer service for over 40 apps in the ecosystem.

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