• April 20, 2016

How Startups Should Handle Customer Support

How Startups Should Handle Customer Support

“You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to make them happy.” – Paul Graham, Do Things That Don’t Scale

Is customer happiness a priority for your team?

For many emerging, high-growth startups, there is a focus on acquiring users in the most automated and scalable way possible. However, numerous studies show that it’s possibly cheaper to keep customers happy than it is to acquire new ones. While this can obviously vary company-by-company, and user acquisition is an incredibly important activity, it’s surprising how customer support is often reactive and an after-thought for businesses.

Customer support should be a multi-faceted strategy at all stages of a business. For younger startups during early growth stages, why not surprise and delight your customers with support strategies that stand out from the competition. It’s a great reputation to start out with…

In Paul Graham’s article, he highlights many ways that startups can operate in ways that don’t scale, but the Delight section is interesting for the purposes of this discussion:

“Another reason founders don’t focus enough on individual customers is that they worry it won’t scale. But when founders of larval startups worry about this, I point out that in their current state they have nothing to lose. Maybe if they go out of their way to make existing users super happy, they’ll one day have too many to do so much for. That would be a great problem to have.”  

Indeed, it would be a great problem to have. So how should you handle customer support at your startup?

Say thank you. Your prospects have so many different products & services to choose from, and they opted to sign up for yours. While your online onboarding flow might welcome them to your product, it doesn’t hurt to also shoot them a note and thank them for giving you a shot. Provide further resources to simplify onboarding and make their life easier. Personalize it, automate it – those details should be worked out as you scale. It’s a simple strategy but it will have a positive impact.

Be fast & responsive. If consumers have a question, concern, or complaint, they expect a response or answer almost immediately. In fact, according to a study by Lithium Technologies, 66% of consumers expect a response to their query on the same day, and over 40% expect a reply within the hour. Further, Forrester data shows that 77% of US online adults say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service. To keep customers happy, you must demonstrate your availability and reliability. How can you make this an actionable goal? Put in place a process with your customer-facing team that puts onus on responding – whether it’s by day of week or time of day, your team should know who is responsible, when, so that no one sits waiting. If you receive a lot of comments or questions at odd times of the day, you can buy yourself some time by automatically letting a customer know that their complaint is being reviewed and that they will receive a response within 24 hours.

Be human. While it’s okay to automate some aspects of your customer response & support, your users want to know that they are working with real people who are actively trying to solve their problem. As a small team, if your customers have a problem with your product or your service, it should be your number one priority to fix it and the best way to quell any concerns is to handle it directly. Be transparent about why the problem is a challenge for your team, what you’re doing to fix it, and when you expect it to be fixed if it can be. Always use your best judgement as honesty is the best policy.

Show your personality. Tone and personality differs by business, but once you figure out your brand voice, let it emanate through all customer communications, including customer support, creating unified experiences your customers can count on. Whether your copy & product experience is light, funny, serious or professional, you should always let that personality shine through in the way in which you deal with unhappy (or happy!) customers.

Be channel agnostic. Customers want to reach you in the ways that they prefer to communicate. Some users might prefer to pick up their phone to get in touch – others might cringe at the prospect of a support line. Most small teams should be able to handle incoming support requests via phone, email & web/app chat – and giving customers the choice will make them happy.

Optimize as you grow. When you have a small number of customers, managing support is a piece of cake. But as you grow, you don’t want to suddenly feel out of control and unable to get a firm understanding of customer satisfaction. If you have the capital, look into issue trackers, CRM or customer relationship solutions – most have free trials & freemium tools – that help you scale your customer support. Tools like Doorbell.io, Intercom, DriftZendesk, Help Scout, Desk.com and more will give you access to customer data to enable you to make smarter decisions.

Show improvement. If your customers are sharing feedback and you’re acting on it, let them know. They can’t read your mind and they don’t have a keen understand of your roadmap. Even if it’s a few months after they’ve commented – the fact that you’ve followed up on their concerns and put a solution in place will create a memorable user experience that brings them back to your business again. Write a blog about it, email them, have their support team member follow up personally to remind them of how your solution is improving their business & life. Let them know that you’re listening.

Leverage tools to help you understand. Determine the score system (Net Promoter Score, Customer Effort Score, etc.) that will keep you aware of issues and will help you define, measure, and use it to accelerate company growth and customer loyalty. As we pointed out before, these score systems are critical to startup growth, and there’s no shortage of excellent platforms than can help with implementation such as Delighted and Promoter.io.

Outsource when necessary. As a small team, you always want to have a firm grasp on your customer satisfaction so that you can understand where they are coming from and how to make them happy. If you are growing quickly and feel ready to outsource your customer support, work with a company you can trust, like SupportNinja or Scale.Team, that has experience in your industry and with customers like yours. Your customers should have no clue that you outsourced support – so make sure the customer support provider you work with shares your values & expectations and is an extension of your team.

Write it down. Once you have a customer support process that works, turn it into a formula that your team and new hires will implement to improve ongoing customer retention and happiness. This can always be tweaked and reassessed as you grow.

Do you need help with your startup’s customer support? VentureApp can find the right solution for your business based on your goals, growth strategy, budget etc. Fill out this quick form to get started.