Do NOT fail at customer support

As I use more and more startups, customer services shootI witness many forgetting the importance of user support, to the extent that it hurts.

This post is to promise myself that my startup won't suck at user support.

Startup stage

It seems by definition that the smaller company is, the better support they will have. This is mostly true thanks to the fact that in this stage you will usually get support directly from the founders.

And nobody gives better support than people who gave all their life's energy into creating something.

Developers and other people who were with them from the beginning also tend to give great support as they are very passionate about your product.

So usually there is no problem with support at this stage, unless you are so busy with your startup that you completely forget to offer support in the first place.

Growth stage

So over time, as the company grows, the magic of founders talking to early adopters slowly becomes a support annoyance that needs be taken care of. Checked in the list of things to do.

Trouble starts at the moment you start hiring dedicated people to handle support.

In most cases these people will have nothing to do with your startup, and their primary motivation, at least in the beginning, will be only the salary.

This is the moment when you need to lay out the base for user-friendly support for the time that may come in the future, and this is where most companies fail. They get too busy with growth, marketing, acquiring new customers, developing new features. I am sure it is very hard to resist.

Late stage

So what happens at the end is that the company engages in outsourcing support to third world countries, where they can get massive resources for low price.

What matters is to close every support ticket, as this gives a perception (albeit a wrong one) that the  job is successfully done.

How the user feels is often neglected.

This is of course bad for the business, as the product/service is sold and used by living and breathing beings and not meaningless robots.

Support is at the core of every business

Good support goes a long way. Bad support will cost you your business.

But it seems that handling support was never solved in a scalable way. You simply can not clone the founders.

Here are some random tips to make your support team better:

  • Have multiple ways of people contacting you (email, tickets, twitter, forum, contact forms, more the merrier).
  • Don't wait for users to contact you, actively engage in getting feedback back from them, especially in the early stage
  • It's easy to go crazy when asked 1,000 times the same question.¬†Treat every user as your first. Because it is usually their first time contacting you. If you can't do that, then you should not offer support at all.
  • What ever you do, be polite and courteous. Imagine you are helping a granny in your neighborhood.
  • If the user is still not sold on your product, never point them to the documentation in order to resolve a support question. Do what ever you can to make them feel comfortable using your product: make screenshots, draw diagrams, go on Skype with them, dance if you need to. Referring the potential user to the documentation is like a car salesman telling the buyer to check the user manual when asked about the engine. Remember that user guides are made for people who are already your customers.

 


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