The importance of words and empathy in customer support
When I submitted a support ticket to my hosting provider last week, I noticed an all too familiar message in my inbox. It was an urgent message I received a couple of years ago from the support team. The title is straightforward: Urgent: Website Hacked Abuse Report.
I remember being confused when I first saw it, holding my breath and quickly opening the message to see what it's all about.
This was the message:
"Unfortunately we're experiencing an issue with your website or account and need your help to remedy the situation ASAP. Failing to respond to this notice via email or ticket with our Abuse department could lead to suspension or termination of your account(s).
We have temporarily suspended this account because of a hacking issue. Your website has been hacked, defaced or infected. Please get in touch with us to help resolve this matter so we can work together to get your account back up and running again.
Unfortunately due to the severity of the compromise you will need to remove all data from the account and install from scratch.
Reply back to this ticket with your questions and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.
That sounds pretty scary, right? My account was hacked and with it all my websites. At first I thought this was a mistake, since there was no way I could've been hacked. I mean, I'm conscious of security and use randomly generated passwords (thanks 1Password) just to make sure. As you can see the first step was obviously denial. After that I quietly freaked out for about 5 minutes and then read the email again more calmly. The only thing that stood out to me at this point was their surprising choice of words. That, and their apparent lack of empathy.
Let's take a look:
"[...] we're experiencing an issue with your website or account and need your help to remedy the situation ASAP"
Alright so there's an issue and you want me to help resolve this? ASAP? Not sure how I can help but okay.
"Failing to respond to this notice via email or ticket with our Abuse department could lead to suspension or termination of your account(s)."
Now I could be wrong, but to me this sounds like a mild threat. Why would my account get suspended or terminated though? I didn't do anything.
"We have temporarily suspended this account because of a hacking issue. Your website has been hacked, defaced or infected."
Oh so you went ahead and suspended it anyway. And we learn that my account was hacked (or defaced or infected, who knows).
"Please get in touch with us to help resolve this matter so we can work together to get your account back up and running again."
Look they said "Please"! (Still no apologies to be found though.) This is the first sentence that sounds like it was actually written by a human. I feel a bit better about the whole thing and am happy to find out that we can resolve this together.
"Unfortunately due to the severity of the compromise you will need to remove all data from the account and install from scratch."
Now that's a bummer. I expected them to help me recover my stuff through backups or something. But no. Nada. Not today. They want me to wipe all my content just like that and re-install everything from scratch? It would've been nice of them to take responsibility or at least offer some kind of help to fix this. Instead they basically said "delete everything k thx bye" and that's it.
I ended up replying with a few questions involving backups but had to wipe all my files shortly after. It left a very bad taste in my mouth. Not the issue itself, but rather how they communicated with me throughout this ordeal. In fact, the support team's replies were tone-deaf and didn't take into account how I felt. It was the first time I'd been hacked and I was naturally worried about the inherent implications.
What really freaked me out was a text file that contained 5 account names and passwords, including my own. Maybe this was a trivial issue for the hosting provider to deal with and it might happen all the time. But they could at least use nicer words and consider how customers might feel when they get hacked through their service.
Many of these thoughts came to mind after reading
Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee.
I first heard about it during Kate's talk at Webstock and can't recommend it enough if you're interested in writing for the web.