One of the most famous quotes about Steve Blank is: “A startup is a temporary organisation used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” and, crucial, “it’s not a smaller version of a large company.”
When the company still doesn’t know what its product is, who its customers are and how to make money (as Dave McClure used to define a startup), there is an area where she can, and should, act even better of an established company: this area is the customer support.
As Paul Graham wrote in “Do things that don’t scale,” a startup must delight his early adopters. Here at News@me we think that the 5 most important things for customer support are:
- Be professional
- Be nice
- Right tools
Let’s see them in detail.
In the early stages of a startup, usually the offer is email-only support. One of the biggest challenges is to make sure customers get their needs met on time. Today, being a virtual company, allows the Support to work on flexible hours.
The average response time must be not more than 8 hours and you have to answer not later than 24 hours.
2. Be Professional
One of the most important things is to address specific request under the right point of view.
There are two main different areas for the support: Account Support and Technical Support. In a startup, there are always at least two souls: technical and customer-oriented. The two things must be as much as possible integrated. At the same time, you should use a different language and a different approach in different situations. Often in a young company is the same person that fulfils the two roles, but the guidelines are the same.
The tone could be confidential, but it’s important that the customer that has required support feel that the person in charge is committed and able to solve the issue.
Another crucial point is to establish a process inside the company or the team. This begins choosing the people that must take in charge every request, meaning that you should have a defined and clear organisation of the support.
3. Be Nice (Delight)
Always focus on the customer.
This is important for everything you do as a service provider or an entrepreneur. It is even more important when we talk about customer support.
People could face any kind of issues and you never know what happened to a particular person during his day. The philosophy is: “Be Nice.” Customers who get great support will talk about you, and word of mouth is probably the most powerful channels to marketing your company.
And, of course, you will gain Karma points.
You cannot stress yourself enough on this point: always be learning.
You should learn from your mistakes, from your peers, from your mentor.
But what is the most powerful and effective source of knowledge about your products, if not your customers? And when are your customers more sincere, committed in the use of your product, willing to use it more? I guess when they are asking you for help to solve an issue or to have a hint on how to use it better.
So the support requests are a huge opportunity to meet your customers, establish a relation with them and learn what they want or what you can improve about your product.
5. Use The Right tools
What do we consider the first evidences of the evolution of our species into the genus of Homo? Stone tools.
Ok, when we talk about soft-ware we don’t talk about the opposite of hard-stones. But without the right tools we were still Australopithecines.
So you can respond on time, be professional, nice and you can learn a lot, but without the right tools you will find yourself in troubles soon.
One of the first things is to give your customers as much as possible different channels to contact and talk with you.
You should use on your homepage a product like Olark, Livechat or SnapEngage. The products are more or less the same, one offer some minor different options than the other. The choice is up to you. We are currently using Olark because it matches our needs and has a great free plan.
For sure, you have to integrate an help-desk platform. To do this, there is a lot of choices. You can use a product like Zendesk, Desk.com, Uservoice. Any of them can help you to create a knowledge base with a powerful search feature, a Q&A section that your users could use to help each other creating a community. They can offer live chat, but I still advise to use one of the products mentioned above. Uservoice has more social oriented features. Zendesk is maybe more complete. Desk.com has a great backend and gives you the ability to present contents in the most compelling way.
In the end, I want to talk about a product that I love so much and that gives you the ability to be in touch with any of your customers: Intercom.
Intercom is a great product that you can integrate with your web application in minutes. It is able to catch every new sign-up on the website and to create a profile for that user. Through a simple and clean back-end, you can track every activity of that user on your application and send customised messages based on their behaviour. Possible criteria to filter users of your application are how many sign-ups, how many sessions they have done in a specified timeframe and much more.
Remember that none of them can substitute your effort and your care. They help you to manage tickets, conversations and, most important, they help your customer to get in touch with you and to find a solution to their problem.
Customer support is something that every startup cares about.
Done the right way it is not only the necessary complement for your product. It is a huge opportunity for your company to establish her brand and to make her products and her offers evolving through the most useful feedback.
In turn, you can be confident that your users will become passionate fans that will help spread the word about your products and services.
And you, what are you doing to deliver high-class support for your users?