Before joining the tech community, I spent many years at a local bike shop. Customers would come in all the time looking for help with their equipment, and eager to learn how to get the most out of their experience. We sold much more than just cycling products, we enabled a lifestyle and supported an entire community of users that sought us out for guidance. Because they could come into the store, look us in the eye, and start the conversation face-to-face, there was an inherent confidence on the part of the customer that they were in the right place and going to find a solution. In the tech industry, we can take lessons from this experience to make our modern support just as charming and effective for the user.

When a customer comes into your space, not only have they broken that fourth wall, but they are doing so because they expect a favorable outcome. That is certainly the case for a main street shop, but is it so clear when submitting a support ticket remotely? The answer is that it needs to be, and we must make it so.

Most of us, no matter what side of the consumer-producer equation we are on, are unfortunately familiar with contacting support and never hearing anything back, or having a stock reply that doesn’t instill much confidence that the experience is going to yield a solution. This has two effects on users’ attitudes. Sometimes this diminished sense efficacy makes users reluctant to contact support in the first place. Other times users will shoot from the hip as soon as they are confronted by challenge without a completely obvious solution because, well it’s just an email after all.

When the expectations are so low, it’s easy to meet them. We should be doing much more than that, however, as this paradigm is shifting. Consumers now make purchase decisions based on the support they hope to receive. If your company can build a strong reputation for taking an interest in individual user, then you will do better selling your product and enjoy stronger customer retention. This is especially significant if you rely on a renewable subscription to keep the lights on.

When a customer breaks that fourth wall, contacting support, they are coming into your space. Just like when a customer walks through the door of a shop on main street, this is an incredible opportunity. If the user is the type who comes through the door with low expectations for their support experience, then you have someone that you can really make an impression on. If the user is the type who shoots from the hip for their support question, then you’ll get them familiar with the level of support they can expect. This will help mold their behavior when contacting support, and will smooth out the support process for them by setting expectations.

What you do with that process is yours to decide, but always keep in mind the incredible opportunity posed by a user contacting support. They have broken down the barrier between user and service. They want to learn. They want to use your product. What more could you ask for?