Tips for Technical Support Calls

By Eric J. Perkins

Two people at a meetingI’ve answered hundreds of phone calls and thousands of customer service emails in my six years as a senior scientist at Addgene. Having spent that long in customer service, I've daydreamed about the ideal customer service interaction - one that gives our customers the most utility in the least amount of time. Though I now spend far less time answering help emails and phone calls, I feel compelled to share my years of accumulated wisdom so that you, the customer, can get the most out of your email or phone call. Though my experience is based solely on my time at Addgene, I’m confident that these tips and tricks will apply to any biology-related customer support interaction.

Before contacting customer service

In an age of Tweeting and texting, actually writing an e-mail or making a phone call is a big commitment when you’re busy. Your time is precious. Here are a few things to consider before you commit:

  • Double check to make sure the answer to your question didn’t come with your product - this could save you a ton of time. I've definitely thrown out all the paperwork associated with a product only to realize later that everything I could have wanted to know was just buried beneath someone's lunch. Many times, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that the most crucial information about a product is printed right on the tube itself!
  • Is the answer to your question on your product’s web page, or in the company’s FAQs? A lot of companies and organizations selling biological reagents have a ton of data on the catalog page. It’s not always super easy to navigate the glut of information, but it’s not in the best interest of any company to hide information about their products from you, unless they’re knowingly selling a bad product (in which case, you should probably stop using that company). Frequently asked question pages on website are another great source of information. At least at Addgene, the questions in our FAQ section are really, truly frequently asked by customers (and I expect this is the case at most companies).
  • Always go back to the source. Although many may not realize it, all of the reagents available at Addgene come from researchers, and the vast majority of our plasmids and pooled libraries were originally described in a peer-reviewed scientific publication. We love science, but we don’t have the resources to recapitulate the experiments performed by our thousands of depositors. That means their original articles are your best bet to figure out how to use a particular reagent.  We also have links to later papers that successfully used said plasmids. We provide these references as our way of saying “Hey look! This stuff works!” These papers can be a particularly good resource if you are considering using a reagent for “off-label” purposes.
  • When in doubt, Google it...Or Yahoo! it, or Bing it, but, let’s face it, there’s a reason nearly 70% of all internet searches are done via Google. The “Let me Google that for you” meme is infamous enough to have generated it’s own tongue-in-cheek website.  If you are skeptical about using Google for serious science questions, consider using Google Scholar, which searches scientific articles, patents, and even some doctoral dissertations.

Visit the Addgene Help Center!

Streamline the question asking process

Phone Calls to Addgene Per MonthHaving thought through the above, don’t be afraid send us an e-mail. That’s why we’re here! Below are some pointers to expedite and improve your customer service experience:

  • Make sure you’re contacting the correct company. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it happens more frequently than you might think. The Addgene scientists answering the phone are smart, but they cannot (and should not) answer your questions about an Abcam antibody.
  • Have your catalog number ready. I've attempted to answer several emails that start: “Hi! We ordered something from you and it’s wrong. Can you help us fix it? Please address as soon as possible!” and I always begin my responses asking for more specifics. We can help you faster if we get as much information as possible about the issue. For Addgene support, make sure to mention the plasmid catalog number, or at least the plasmid name in your initial query. This can reduce the number of messages in our thread or remove a good 5 minutes from our phone call.
  • If your concern is based on data you have produced, please share the data. Maybe not all, but many bio companies have real scientists answering their technical support questions (besides Addgene, I know both Abcam and NEB have Ph.D.s answering emails and phones). We can’t be experts on every technique or experiment, but a picture of a gel or a sequencing trace file can go a long way in helping us understand the nature of your concern.
  • Please be courteous. We understand how exasperating it can be to lose time and money on a potentially faulty product. Please remember that the person at the other end of that email you’re writing is probably not directly responsible for the problem. We’re here to help.

You've asked your question, and now...

One of the aspects of customer support that I miss is that you’re never really sure what you’re going to get. There are questions that are answerable in minutes and questions that could take weeks to resolve adequately. Occasionally there are some really off-the-wall questions (perhaps that’s a future blog post?). As a customer, it’s probably difficult for you to ascertain where on this range your question falls. Here are some things to keep in mind after you hit “send” or dial that last digit:

  • An answer should come soon, but not instantly. Addgene tries to get back to customers within 24 hours, and we’re pretty good about sticking to that. If you email us at noon and then call back at 1PM asking why you haven’t received a response, just keep in mind that our customer support scientists wear many hats at this still relatively small nonprofit. If you do go longer than a few days without getting a response, however, consider following up.
  • Ask for a timeline if you are not given one. Though an initial response should be fairly fast, getting the full answer to a complicated question may take some time. If the customer service rep does not tell you upfront how long it will take to get an answer, consider asking to avoid unrealistic expectations.
  • And finally, provide feedback. If you are unsatisfied with the nature or speed of a response, let your customer service agent know (nicely, please!). We can’t improve without feedback. And if you had a very positive experience, also let us know! Sometimes those few “thank you”s are what get a customer service agent through a busy day. Addgene keeps a Document of Gratitude from particularly enthusiastic customers who have enjoyed their experience with us. It’s a great pick-me-up when things get crazy.

Take home message

Answering customer service questions is a delicate balance of knowledge, patience, and diplomacy, and that balancing act is made much easier if the interaction between agent and customer is cooperative rather than combatitive. Not every question is answerable, particularly when it comes to technical questions. BUT, I do believe that scientists who contact customer service deserve prompt, courteous responses. No one is likely to look forward to contacting customer service, but the experience should never be painful. Following the tips above should help you get the most out of your interaction.  

Resources on the Addgene Blog

Resources on

Topics: Addgene News

Leave a Comment

Sharing science just got easier... Subscribe to our blog