When you’re starting a new company, customer service is everything. Startups make or break based on their earliest customers and if you can’t get those early adopters to stick around as you’re muddling through the inevitable mistakes that happen in an early-stage startup, you’re going to end up in the huge pile of startups that fail. Additionally, traction is one of the most important factors that VCs examine when they’re deciding whether or not to give a company money. Bad customer support equals lost customers, which means crappy traction.
But good customer support? That can make all the difference.
“At HappyFox, we once won a deal with a Fortune 50 company based purely on the quick response time they received,” HappyFox founder Shalin Jain tells Startups.co. “They reported a small bug, our product team and support team collaborated to deliver a resolution within hours. They were pleasantly surprised by our continuous demonstration of quick turn around time and led into us winning the deal.”
Then again, if Shalin and his company failed at providing good customer support, they’d be failing even harder than most companies. That’s because HappyFox provides help desk software to companies who are looking to provide excellent customer service. Making your customers happy, then, is really his job.
With that in mind, I asked Shalin about his top tips for startups who are looking to improve their customer service. Here’s what he told me.
“It is important to get everyone — from founders to the support staff — to be part of customer support communication. Customer emails can contain valuable insight and feedback that will help your company scale. Every employee should be exposed to the the voice of a company’s customers to help improve startups in making better decisions, more quickly and efficiently.”
“It is best to build a knowledge base as early as possible. Once this is established, add new content on a weekly or monthly basis, based on existing interaction with customers. Customers no longer use your app or shop on your site just during regular business hours and a well built knowledge base (an FAQ page, for example) can come to the rescue when a stuck customer might give up because they assume he can’t reach anyone with your support team.”
“Don’t shy away from providing support, either. Some companies make it extremely different to find the support page or relevant points of contact. Provide a clear link or button to support from your website or app and make it easy for customers to get in touch. Provide all relevant channels like phone, web form, email and chat for support. Online fashion retailer Zappos.com has done this particularly well and Tony Hsieh has done a great job of making it easy to connect across multiple channels.”
“Data gives directions — use it. For customer support, data can provide valuable insights on staffing, training, routing and resolving issues more efficiently. Using critical data points like First Response Time, average time to close, and Customer Satisfaction Scores make it easier to evaluate and measure success.”
“Once you have received a customer’s support request in your helpdesk system, focus on sending a valuable first response, as soon as possible. Resolving the issue in the first response is extremely valuable and is often the best experience for the customer. If you organize and triage your customer support data aptly, a great first response time metric can easily be achieved. In our experience, we have found that response time is perhaps the most important metric for customer satisfaction. In fact, Forrester Research says that 41 percent of customers expect an email response within six hours. Really, you should aim for less than half that time.”
“The best way to scale a support team is not just by adding more people, but adding more automation. More often than not, people get to this too late or ignore it entirely. Automation can send messages to the right person, perform timely escalations and even automatically respond to customers with a very relevant resolutions. All too often, this is not done.”
Shalin says that if you’re providing poor customer support, it will be obvious very quickly. You’ll lose customers quickly — which directly impacts revenue. And if customers are particularly turned off by your customer service efforts? They’re going to talk about it.
“When customers are dissatisfied with the quality of support they receive, they’ll tell many more people about it,” Shalin says. “A negative word of mouth and really drive a business to the ground. People that experience poor customer service are 50 percent more likely to share that experience on social media than those that enjoyed their interaction. Overall, 95 percent of customers will share a bad experience among family and friends. By dealing quickly and efficiently with customer queries or complaints, these risks can be mitigated.”
So don’t let them get to that point. Provide excellent customer service from the get-go because without customers, your startup is worthless. Never forget it.
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Emma McGowan is a full time blogger and digital nomad has been writing about startups, living with startup people, and basically breathing startups for the past five years. Emma is a regular contributor to Bustle, Startups.co, KillerStartups, and MiKandi. Her byline can also be found on Mashable, The Daily Dot's The Kernel, Mic, The Bold Italic, as well as a number of startup blogs.
Follow her on Twitter @MissEmmaMcG.