How to be efficient at Chat Support
Like many websites and apps, RealtimeCRM has its own chat support. It uses tawk.to and allows our users to easily get in touch if they have an issue or a question. But being able to find the right answer is not always easy and it does happen that our reply does not precisely answer what the customer asked. This reminded me of a course I took during my PhD on how to be a better teacher using cognitive sciences. It turned out that the ideas developed in it apply to chat support for a simple reason: the purpose is to transfer knowledge.
How we learn and understand things
The main concept that I learned in this course is called “Mental representation”. The idea is that given a concept or idea, each one of us has a way to picture it. Imagine I ask you to make a calculation, say 15 + 42. We will all get to the same result of 57 but how we get there can differ for each one of us. For example, the way I picture the addition is by imagining the numbers written on a black board, one on top of the other, and I add the units, then the tens and I “read” the result. When we did this experiment in the classroom, we soon came to realize that each one of us had our own way of thinking. Some were seeing a cash register, others were grouping in tens and counting the remaining units. One of the most peculiar was a guy counting very quickly using groups of 5. When the teacher asked him why 5, he explained that being a poker player, he was used to seeing chips in groups of 5 and so was picturing numbers like that, allowing him to quickly do the math.
Teaching is understanding
This first exercise was meant to show us how, among a small group of people, the mental representations could differ. And this applies to everything we learn. The lesson that followed was that to be a good teacher, you need to understand the mental representation of the student before trying to explain a concept. Let’s take another example. Imagine you wanted to explain what a wave is in terms of physics. As a teacher you might simply picture it as a sinusoid like the one you see on a computer. Your student though, may picture the wave as the water moving on a beach. Thus if you wanted to explain the periodicity of the signal, using your mental representation of the sinusoid would leave your student blank. However, taking his representation of the sea, you would be able to explain it efficiently by saying it’s the time between two waves crashing on the shore, and that would be much more efficient to make your student understand.
Teaching is listening
To be able to teach correctly, you need to be able to listen correctly. Trying to impose your mental representation to your students is like trying to fit a square shape into a triangle hole on those children’s puzzles. It simply doesn’t work. What I realised is that the same applies to chat support. When someone comes with a question, they know what they want but sometimes don’t know how to explain it precisely, or use a different semantic than you. Being too quick to respond, thinking you understood what they want, might lead to the wrong answer. The result being that you and your user will have lost time, and more importantly, that your user might not come back if they can’t achieve what they want even though your software does it. To make sure you answer the user’s actual question, the first thing is to rephrase what they asked. If someone asks “I want to do X”, the first reply to give is “Right, you are on page Y in section Z and on there you want to do X, is that correct?“. Doing so, you know that what you picture is what they picture too, that you are using the same referential. It might sounds tedious and a waste of time, but be sure that the 30 seconds you take to make sure you understand the question will lead to much better support and happy users.