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Setting up Customer Support in a start-up

I find it surprising how often entrepreneurial types come up with an excellent idea, build an MVP and then completely forget that they will need to support their first customers. Answering emails, troubleshooting bugs and writing documentation can take up a lot of time when you just want to be head down in code.

But providing good support to your first customers is crucial. Ignoring their questions or being less than helpful is an easy way to lose customers. When every customer matters, keeping churn rates down is crucial. It’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Secondly, word of mouth is key for early growth. Taking the time to help customers, hear their concerns and resolve their problems will gain you fans for life. And you need those people on your side!

Plus, as a founder, talking to your customers helps you learn what you’re doing well and what you can improve on. Being on the front lines talking to real customers with real customers will speed up your time to product market fit.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you how important it is to provide a great customer support experience from the beginning. Let’s dive into some strategies for providing great support, while not drowning under the volume.

How will customers contact you?

It might be tempting to plaster your cell number all over your website. After all - you want customers to be able to contact you easily, whatever they need. But offering personal phone support quickly becomes untenable as you hopefully grow.

Unless you have a business critical software (ie. payment systems or server hosting) chat or email is a perfectly acceptable way for customers to contact you. Depending on your customer base, you might also have people reaching out over social media for quick answers.

When you start, you’ll probably use a shared email inbox (hello@yourcompany.com) and reply to customers just through your email client. That’s perfectly fine if your volume is low. As you grow, you’ll want to be able to assign tickets to specific people, track how quickly you’re responding, or know what types of inquiries you’re receiving. Using a helpdesk software like Zendesk, Intercom or HelpScout will help you manage your conversations better.

We rely heavily on Intercom. Customers can leave messages or email our team whenever they need. Having answers (and a human) only a click away means customers are never stuck. We’re always there to help.

Intercom also helps us engage with our customers in other ways - from pushing new feature announcements in product to helping onboard customers.

Documentation

Customers love being able to help themselves. Spending time documenting how your product works means that customer can solve their own problems 24/7. Your help center is always online. It also might help reduce the number of customers who contact you. The fastest growing companies depend on great documentation to manage an ever more demanding customer base.

It might seem like you’re ignoring users, or telling them you don’t want to help them. That’s not the case at all. In fact, customers don’t want to have to pick up the phone or email you at all. Zendesk found that 67% of customers prefer self service support while 91% of customers would use it, even if it wasn’t their first choice. It’s much quicker for them to do a quick Google search, find the answer themselves and then carry-on.

Measuring your support skills

At some point, you’ll start wondering how well your support is going. There’s a few metrics you can use to confirm you’re doing a great job.

CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) - to measure customer satisfaction, simply ask your customers how you’re doing. You can either attach it to the end of each email, or send a separate survey after the ticket is closed. CSAT is the percentage of customers who give you a “good” rating. Anywhere above 90 is pretty good.

First Reply Time - your help desk will track how quickly you get back to customers after they contact you. A good First Reply Time depends on your business, and the expectations you set. When you’re starting out, try to underpromise and overdeliver. Don’t promise a 10 minute response time 24 hours a day! You won’t be able to deliver and your customers will be upset. Instead, maybe post that you’ll get back to customers within 24 hours. If you answer faster than that, they will be delighted!

Hiring your first support person

If you’re starting to spend all your time dealing with individual customers, or your first reply time is starting to drag, it might be time to hire your first dedicated support person. We hired our Chief Happiness Officer in October 2014 when we had too many customers for Josh to deal with by himself.

Handing over the reins to a new hire can be daunting, so you want to make sure you hire someone you can trust. For your first support person, you’ll want someone who is:

  • Empathetic - this person needs to be exceptionally good at understanding people and interpreting their needs.
  • Self motivated - they need to be able to uncover, locate and resolve problems all by themselves. No hand holding!
  • Process driven - as you continue to grow, this person will set up your systems for scale. If they aren’t able to create processes for support, you won’t be able to grow as fast.
  • An exceptional communicator - they will be the face of your company externally, and the voice of your customers internally. They need to be excellent at getting their point across.

You can read all about how we created our Chief Happiness Officer position and found the perfect candidate here.

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