Customer service guide for startups

Know your growth opportunities, your customers, how they convert, why they cancel
Startups are well-known for innovative ideas, healthy chaotic processes, burning eyes and sleepless nights. And at the same time - no dedicated customer support department.

But being a startup never prevents you from building an outstanding customer support service.
startup meme

Get to know your customer

We advise you to take care of the following aspects:

Publicly available comments
User comments and reviews are crucial not only because your potential customers will google (and compare) you. It can also tell your marketing/sales teams where most of their hot audiences crowd.

Tip: Look up social media monitoring tools like Mention, Hootsuite, HowSociable and others.

Treasure hunting
Your customers know the market best, they know your product, they know your competitors. They know exactly what makes them angry or loyal for life.
All you need to do is to collect, track and analyze as many feedbacks as possible. It is valuable and it is free.
How you can gather feedback
* ask your support team to report it (and gather on regular basis if possible)
* surf social networks and popular forums to look into what customers point out
* dig deep into web-site analytics (to see where they click, what they read, what they drop etc.)
* make feedback process easy (for example, add short pop-up survey forms)
Company image
It is not enough to listen - to engage into social part of the internet you also need to talk! Spread your voice over platforms you find most benefitting to your business. Giants like Medium, Quora, Reddit can help you promote your product by adding value. Think about contribution you can make to such communities, and utilize their audience to the max.

Helpdesks, unlike humans, never forget answers.
Set it up properly and it will also give you metrics and insights. Saved replies, articles, tags, rules, macros, integrations… It's high time to make the most of "ctrl+c -> ctrl+v" !

Tip: Read Zendesk, Intercom, Groove and more help desks reviews and comparison.
Quality control / improvement
What makes your customers happy? How to calculate it? Only If you have the metrics - the "smart numbers" - you'll be able to count, analyze and improve the processes.
Reply time
A must. It's an indicator of the company growth. Once it grows accordingly, please refer to the coverage and peak hours/days/months.

Avg. Reply Time, Avg. First Reply Time, Avg. Handle Time
A healthy Avg. First Reply Time: live chat - 1-2 min, email - up to 12-24h

Resolution time
(Avg. Handle Time, responses/ticket)
How many steps does it normally take to solve issues? "Pen-friends" is not the name of the game, even with the non-typical issues. To make this number smart, you'll need to make sure the conversations are getting closed properly. In the case you decide pay per reply, you'll be also able to check if a freelancer/a company is farming replies you pay for.

Some ticketing systems provide this metrics, some do not. Even in the case you are dealing with the live chat replies, you can find out the average replies/conversation index by dividing the number of replies by the number of conversations.

Customer satisfaction
If your customers are really happy, they will generate more customers. You need to find out if they are happy. And why. The options:
1) You can ask them. Using emails, surveys, popups, calls and channels you can find floating around the Internet. Your team can do it, or an agency can do it for you.y
2) Satisfaction score - if your customer can tag each conversation with "+" or "-" depending on his final impression and mood, you'll get the metrics and the general idea quite soon. The team can also do it before closing the chat.
3) Wow stories - a detailed reply from your customer expressing his gratitude and astonishment by your customer care. As they say, "it was so good they couldn't stop talking about it".
We have like 6 wow stories on average for a person monthly. Yes, there are blue weeks and downtime, but we must see really really happy customers frequently, otherwise there is an issue to be fixed.
Lena Sidorenko, Dream Support hero

What happens when you grow

Hardly anyone can treat a customer better than the founders.
If you were lucky enough to witness the early days of a company, you saw this scenario:
customer service meme
But as a business grows (which is wonderful!), support duties may take a very unpleasant turn - you start spending more and more hours answering emails rather than running the business.
And slowly, but inadvertently, the scene changes. One day you may wake up here:
customer service meme
The day the "open/new tickets" folder reaches the size of a young whale is when you are most likely to consider the options.
It is heading us towards the "resources / quality" balance.
As more and more people signed up for our service, Sanjay and I realized that we needed a lot more help, both on the customer service side of things as well as with computer programming. In addition to convincing friends who were visiting us from out of town not to go home and instead help us answer e-mails, we also started looking for more computer programmers...
Over the next seventeen months, all of us slept very little. We were growing very quickly and hiring people as fast as we could. We had pretty much exhausted our network of friends for hiring employees, so we started hiring almost any warm body who was willing to work for us and hadn't done more than six months of jail time.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Choosing between in-house and remote

Most certainly, you will need more people. Yes, they won't be as good as you are, they won't be fixing minor issues and approaching leads properly. For the first couple of months.
It was impossible to imagine I could delegate my tasks to anyone ever. And indeed, it appeared to be one of the hardest struggles I've ever faced.
But this is the only way to have hands and head free from routine.
Veronica Grushko, Dream Support hero
Here you have two options: to hire an in-house specialist or to find a remote professional (or a group of them).
A person in-house
* Easier team building and company culture adoption.
* Great communication and management (cultural context, no language barrier).
* You see if your teammate is unhappy.
* It's easier to build trust and confidence in someone you meet daily.

Huge plus - you'll find out much faster if he is a misfit.

Remote options
* Saves time and money.
* Different time zone, multilingual.
* More candidates, more skills, quick start.
* It is the future of work.
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I make photos, everybody does that. Usually I take pictures on my own. But I will definitely turn to a freelancer/ an agency on my wedding day, or the other day when I need high quality photos.
Kate Kazimirenko, Dream Support hero
There are two variations of remote:

1. A single freelancer. Needs to be hunted, hired, trained and supervised.
2. A remote company, whose specialists are already hunted, hired, trained and supervised.

Main differences between a freelancer and a company:
The company will take the heat if the specialist "resigns due to personal reasons".
The company will provide more professionals as you grow.
There are many more freelancers than the companies you can choose from.
A little test to find out best option
Below are the questions designed to help you with the outsourcing option
(just bend a finger each time you pick a blue one, and, please, let us know if this test is useless):

1. Need to handle Level 1 (mostly general questions, FAQ, Helpdesk ) or Level 2 (mostly tricky/techy questions) tickets?
2. Spend time on hiring or training (or ready to delegate both) ?
3. Spend time on management or ready to delegate it ?
4. Go through all the previous steps again as you grow or ready to delegate it ?
5. Need someone with the industry expertise or it is not that important ?
If you've got at least 3 blue - please, consider an outsourcing company (they will take care of hiring, training and supervision for you).
Our story
One of our beloved clients once woke up in the situation from the picture above.
Though Hidrate Spark has an in-house support team, the company experiences an immense growth. Thus they decided to try a remote option. This is how Dreamsupport met Hidrate Spark.
Considering the fact both companies are huge fans of great customer support service, we started with getting the most out of geographic advantage. Part of support team covers inquiries during US primetime, part is busy on EU peaks.
The support team also happened to become the "users' voice", many ideas and improvements were put forward and implemented.
If you've got less than 3 blue - a freelancer/or a couple of them will suffice
(you will have to spend many more hours on hiring - training - management and, probably, will do it again down the road).

If you've got zero blue (all green) - in-house is the best option :)

How they convert and why they cancel

Leads convert because they are hoping to solve their problem using your product/service.

How they convert
By bringing you money your customers do not simply buy your product - they buy a solution to their problem.
What makes them believe your solutions suits best? Let's cover some variants:
You boast impressive case studies (so customers can start dreaming about similar results).
You quote long testimonials (because long walls of text work for you here - they look authentic and convincing).
You invoke herd mentality (because people are more likely to copy an action already performed by numbers of others than make their own decision).
You show off famous logos (of brands that are related to your business in any way).
You optimize your web-site for lightning fast load speed (because the longer they wait, the higher your bounce rate).
Why they cancel
If your product did not solve customer's problem, it is a straight reason for cancellation. Other major reasons can be found below:
Anger / dissatisfaction with your customer service.
Quality problems (that picture your product as not ready for marketing).
Financial inefficiency (they found same value for lower price OR they see no increase in ROI).
Lack of features (that they can find in products from your competitors).
Some more reasons
* Unforeseen emergencies.
* Friends' advice.
* Bad reputation (unattended negative comments and reviews found online).
* Wronged expectations (that you've created by misleading positioning).
* Time delay (you failed to deliver your product in time).
* Steep learning curve (it is hard for them to learn your product, so they bail out).
* Lack of value (sometimes people fail to understand how much value your product gives them).
What to do
But you'll never know for sure why they cancel until you ask. So put an effort to collect feedback and learn from it. Only personal and authentic opinions matter.
customer feedback form
What are your initial steps that follow cancellation?
Dig into reasons.
If you can solve the problem and give the customer what he wants - do it (that usually means customized offering tailored to this particular case).
Offer a special deal (free offer, a discount, special conditions, promo codes.
If you have something or someone who can help your customer - give a free advice.
This sums up our customer service guide for startups. We will dig into these topic deeper in our other articles. This long read should serve as a reference for step-by-step organization of your customer care department.

Valentine Grishkevich
Support Rock Star
About the author
Valentine has joined Dream Support as part of Hidrate support team. Responsible and serious, thoughtful and silent, Valentine finds great inspiration in helping people and digging into the nature of things. She is also keen on writing structured articles. No lyrics, just facts in bullet points.
In free time Valentine listens to music, drives her car and pets any animals she can get her hands on.
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