Hospitality in Software: Buffer’s Approach to Customer Support

Feb 9, 2024 7 min readOpen
Photo of Åsa Nyström
Åsa Nyström

VP of Customer Advocacy @ Buffer

How can we keep creating a unique customer support experience even as we get an increasing number of messages from customers? This is a question that is always on my mind. 

Delivering exceptional customer support has always been at the core of Buffer’s mission. Over the years, we've taken pride in our unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and our dedicated support team's ability to go the extra mile. 

What we have found is that as your volume and team size scale, it can be trickier to continue to really see and hear each customer reaching out over email, live chat, or social as the volume keeps building. An important aspect of customer support strategy at the stage we’re at is to keep being focused on our direction and the quality bar we are aiming for. 

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to our CEO, Joel Gascoigne, about our vision for customer support and what it looks like to go above and beyond for our customers. In these conversations and brainstorms with our team, we take inspiration primarily from hospitality organizations. There is something magical about the service experience you can get at a great restaurant or in a smaller retail shop. That magic is something we strive to create over emails or social messaging. When looking at 75,000 customer conversations per year and ambitious response time goals, it's not always easy to balance speed with personal connection, but it's worth the investment. 

In this blog post, I’ll share more about how we add hospitality to our own customer support approach at Buffer. 

What is a hospitality approach? 

A hospitality approach in customer service means that we strive to create standout, above-and-beyond, and personal experiences in every customer conversation. 

Think about how, at a smaller boutique or five-star hotel, the staff takes a personal interest in their guests. The staff tends to notice particular needs someone might have or dig a bit deeper to see if they can make a guest’s stay more memorable. 

Or, think about a great experience you’ve had at a restaurant, where a waiter or waitress did more than just provide excellent service but engaged in conversation, asked you about how your day was going or tried to get you a personalized food or drink recommendation. 

If you're in support at a tech company where customers often reach out to you about bugs, you might also find drawing inspiration from a standout mechanic helpful. This reflection came from one of our team members, Dave Chapman, as we brainstormed ways to better support our customers. These experiences are often really memorable when you have someone meeting you with a high level of empathy, listening to your concerns, and then going above and beyond to make sure your car gets fixed and even sort out a few other things as they do so.

These types of experiences are clear examples of a person being seen and heard, and these encounters stick out, where you leave with more than just your needs met and have a distinct impression of how great the experience was.

For us to keep this approach top of mind, we start by being curious and intentional in every customer conversation, plus we look for ways to personalize and connect during each interaction. We don’t simply answer customers’ support questions, but we also suggest additional ideas for how they might, for example, use Buffer or social media. We attempt to fix when something is broken, and where we can, we try and connect on a personal level. 

Our framework for ensuring a hospitality approach to customer support

The foundation of a hospitality approach to customer support is a team who are passionate about helping others and providing a standout customer experience. To provide the level of service we strive for, we need to be product experts, and we need to approach every conversation with awareness, clarity, and empowerment. We have a framework in place to support this mindset that we also use for quality reviews. 

Our review process aims to evaluate whether a Customer Advocate has approached the customer conversation with awareness (I understand and see you), clarity (I want to make sure you understand me), and empowerment (I can help you).

Here are the three categories, as well as the evaluation metrics:

1. Approaching our customers with awareness

We are so grateful our customers are using our product and also for taking the time to reach out to us. While we want to ensure we remove any product friction that leads to the need to reach out, we are thankful for our customers getting in touch. We want our gratitude and care for our customers to be reflected in our communication—every conversation matters. 

We are intentional about taking the time to listen to our customer, and when we reply, it is clear that we’ve understood all of their questions or that we are seeking more information to understand them better. Our communication and care shows need to show a comprehensive grasp of the complete picture of the customer's situation and next steps. 

Taking the time to really see the customer enables us to look between the lines for areas of frustration, opportunities to empower our customers further, or doorways to build a deeper relationship.

2. Communicating with clarity

To create that hospitality feeling in written communication, we need to be bullish about our writing. Our communication is our only medium to show our personality and ensure our customer is looked after. 

Our writing reflects a playful professionalism, capable of having fun without sounding sloppy. We avoid jargon, insider language, or using concepts that are familiar to us but may be unfamiliar to the customer. 

We provide the clearest path toward a resolution possible, focusing on how we can make it simple for customers to get to an answer. We make action steps and requests clear so customers don’t miss any required next steps.

We make every effort to make sure our replies move the conversation forward and get the customer closer to a resolution without unnecessary back-and-forth.

3. Our team is informed and empowered to help our customers 

We want to lead our customer service experience with a high level of enablement, both from the Advocate themselves and to enable our customers. For our team to reach this level of empowerment, we all must be highly informed. We aim to be experts, not only as customer service professionals but also as experts at our product and how our customers can successfully use our product.

We will go above and beyond to find information for our customers to provide the best possible experience, and we use the tools we have available. We always avoid asking the customer for information that we can find, and we’re always looking to improve customer insights through our tooling. We’re neither afraid to ask for help nor lean on each other to provide an above-and-beyond experience. We can better serve our customers by leaning into our experience as a professional and as a team. When uncertainty creeps in, we won’t be able to provide the level of service we aim for. We have found confidence and enablement to be foundational aspects of delivering a great experience, and we must continue to foster an environment of learning and coaching.

When we review our customer conversations, we’re looking for Customer Advocates to deliver on all three of the above categories, and we will simply score out of three. Each team member receives a monthly score and additional coaching notes from their manager. This is one way we keep growing and improving Buffer's customer service and experience.

Here's a screenshot of what a Customer Advocate will see in their monthly scores. IQS stands for Internal Quality Score and is the result of conversation reviews.

The questions we ask to support this framework

We recently introduced more specific guidance in terms of how we approach conversations with a hospitality approach in the form of questions. 

These are questions that any Advocate should have top of mine when they are engaging with customers. 

  • With what emotions has the customer reached out to us? 

Did the customer use any language to express emotion (frustration, joy, excitement, anger, sadness, etc.)? If so, could we try to meet them there and make sure our reply acknowledges the place they are coming from?

Again think of that experience as you walk into a hotel, are you stressed or just excited to be at your destination? You’ll often find that the staff sees you, responds immediately to your cues, and initiates the experience you seek. Stressed - let’s be efficient, Delighted - I am so excited you’re here, Overwhelmed - how can we improve your situation today.

  • Did the customer give us any information about what type of business they’re running or what company they work for? 

Is there anything we could help the customer with based on that information? For example, if they’re working for a non-profit, we can look into their work and encourage them!

  • Is there anything in the customer’s message we can relate to personally? 

Sometimes, sharing a small anecdote or brief story to relate to something on a personal level can leave a big impression. We often find that there is something in almost every conversation we can connect about. We look out for these nuggets!

  • Are there any aspects of the customer’s message that are “beyond Buffer” where we could go the extra mile to help them out? 

Our team has a lot of knowledge about Buffer, and that’s great, but we’re also pretty knowledgeable about other topics the customer may be curious about. Or, at the very least, might be able to point them in the right direction. We call this “yes, and..”. We allow the customer to engage further where we don’t simply answer their question, we aim to provide more information that could help them use Buffer and social media to it’s full capabilities.

This is the chance to make someone’s day 

Having the opportunity to reflect on a hospitality approach, I think the team agrees that it has opened up a lot more opportunities for personal connection with our customers. We have the chance to make someone's day special.

We are still in the first phase of what a hospitality approach to customer service and experience can look like for us and we are always looking for opportunities to build on our connection with our product team to further enhance our customers’ experience. 

We’d love to hear from you. What is great service to you? Where do you find it?

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