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How to handle support at your startup

Most small startups avoid hiring for support as long as possible. After all, support folks don't directly make you money or grow the business. However, a dedicated support person (or team) can free others up to work on the product and/or go out and acquire customers.

Here are three tips for handling support in your startup.

Invest in documentation early

One of the best ways to handle a heavy support load is to avoid it in the first place. Most customers want to find the answers themselves. Even a great response time of an hour means they have to wait. So give them the do-it-yourself option and create some help docs already!

If you're not already swimming in tickets, don't wait until you are, invest the time now and start answering the questions you see most frequently. However, chances are that by the time you realize you need to invest in building out some robust help documentation, you're already pretty overwhelmed with support. This requires a bit of short term pain for long term gain.

It's incredibly difficult to scale people, especially if you're a cash strapped startup. But excellent help documentation works as well for 10 customers as it does for 10,000 customers. So spend the time now. You may need to work some late nights and weekend to make it happen, but it's worth it.

Keep it short and polite

Somewhere along the line, support emails started to look like this.

Hi there! Thank you so much for writing in. My name is [Insert name] and it will be my pleasure to assist you. I assure you that we'll get your issue resolved right away.

I see that you are having an issue logging into our website. My sincere apologies for this. I recommend clearing your browser's cache and cookies and then trying again. Should this not resolve your issue, please write back.

Thanks again for writing in, and I apologize sincerely for the inconveinence. Please let me know if I may be of further assistance.

Best,

[Name]

Not only is this kind of writing robotic, you're actually wasting your customer's time. They're forced to parse through hollow-speak to find the information they actually want and need.

Some folks worry that writing short responses can seem inpolite or terse. Emoji is your best friend here.

Hey there! Try clearing your browser's cache and cookies to sort this out. If that doesn't work, let me know and we'll try something else. 😀

Same message, one-third of the words. You just fixed your customer's issue that much faster.

Make yourself accessible

When you're a small team overwhelmed by support requests, it can be tempting to close off one or more communication channels, or make it a little bit harder to contact you. Don't do it! Here are a few dos and don'ts:

Don't

Refuse to do telephone support entirely

Make your email address hard to find

Force customers to complete self-help options before being able to send a message

Do

Allow folks to schedule telephone calls (May not be feasible for B2C)

Set expectations around response time and availability (ie. We usually reply within a couple of hours M-F 9-5 PST)

Respond quickly with "We're looking into this! Hang tight." to issues that may take you a while to resolve. Let the customer know they've been heard.

Closing thoughts

Your earliest customers are your biggest fans. They'll bring in more new customers for you than any amount of marketing will nab you. Treat them well! A little extra TLC in the early stages can mean wonders for the future growth of your business.

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