Why Technical Founders Need to Conquer Customer Support

October 16, 2016
Product Insights Support Smarter Knowledge Bases

When we launched HelpDocs earlier this year there were just the two of us.

We ran everything. Product, sales, marketing, support, legal. You name it, we ran it.

That’s pretty much the norm for self-funded startups like ours. If you’ve run one, you’ll know exactly how it feels. There’s always a ton of work to be done, and always too few people to do it.

Now we’re 6 months in, we’ve grown as a company. Our revenue’s grown. Our customer base has grown. The amount of admin we have to do’s grown.

But there’s still just the two of us. We’re constantly switching tasks and switching context. And now it’s tougher than ever.

As founders, we all wanna stick to what we’re good at. More than that, we wanna stick to things we enjoy. For me that’s product. I’m happiest when I’m stuck into code, hacking away, building new features.

It’s super tempting, especially now we have enough revenue, to start outsourcing the other stuff. Things like sales and marketing feel like a distraction.

Hiring people to take over the work I hate seems like a good idea. At least at first.

##Handing Over Support is Bad News

We have some great users. They’re good people, and I enjoy talking to them. But it’s definitely not what I’m best at. Still, I know that handing over the reigns would be a terrible idea.

There’s a couple scenarios.

###Your Product Sucks

Dealing with customer support first-hand gives you a daily reminder of the consequences of your actions.

When you have that reminder, you can’t get away with shipping dodgy features that only kinda work. If you do, you’ll see first hand the impact. And it’ll make you feel terrible.

User experience fundamentally suffers when founders don’t have accountability for product. And when your user experience suffers, so does your bottom line.

###Your Support Becomes Mediocre

OK, don’t get me wrong. There’s some great people out there to help you with support. Agencies, freelancers, full-time hires.

But they don’t love your company. At least not to start out.

They’ll deal with tickets well. They’ll say all the right things. They’ll give your users a good experience.

What they won’t do is go above and beyond. Your users will be satisfied, but not wowed. Your users need to be wowed.

They won’t go tell their friends what an amazing experience they had. They won’t become evangelists for your company.

As a founder, you’re in a unique position to give those amazing support experiences.

##Going Above and Beyond with Support

Since we make support software, we do tend to go above and beyond with our own support.

Not every time, that’d hardly be feasible. But as often as we can.

Here’s some examples of how we’ve give unexpected support to our customers in the past.

###Insanely Quick Bug Fixes

Great as our platform is, occasionally things go wrong.

I’ll get our engineers to take a look at that right away.

You’ve probably encountered this before. You use an app, find a bug, report it, then…nothing.

Sometimes no reply at all. Sometimes a cursory “we’ll look into it”.

As a non-technical support rep, that’s the only option. They’ll loop in the engineers and hope.

As a technical founder, you get to fix the bug right away.

A lot of times I fix bugs and ship patches while the user’s talking to me. That means I can tell them about the fix in the same interaction they report the bug.

###Proactive Support

Real time bug fixes are awesome, but you know what’s better? Proactive support.

We get instant notifications in Slack every time something goes wrong with our app. Once we’ve fixed what went wrong, we can find out which users were affected, and send them a live chat message to 1) apologize, and 2) say it’s been fixed.

Often we reach customers with a fix before they even have a chance to tell us something was wrong. Sometimes before they’ve noticed there was a problem at all.

Customization Support

HelpDocs users can customize their knowledge bases with CSS and JavaScript. That lets our users make their docs theirs, and there’s a ton of use cases.

That being said, our user base is mostly product managers and marketers. Often with limited development experience.

Sure thing! You can do that with Custom CSS. Here’s an article about getting started.

When we get asked about how to do things, we find ourselves saying things like this a lot. Your typical outsourced support rep would stop there.

I’m a developer though. I literally designed the templates. So I can reply with something like this:

Sure thing! You can customize the list styles with some CSS. I’ve written up the exact code snippets you’ll need here. If you need any help getting it set up, ping me a message and I can customize it and add it onto your account.

If they need more help, I can do it for them. If they give me permission, I can even add it straight onto their account.

##Great Support Drives Growth

We make B2B SaaS and sell it to startups. A large portion of our growth comes from word of mouth. Since the startup community’s (relatively) small, word spreads quickly. By making our support really great, we get rave reviews. And people go on to tell their friends. They’re happy, we’re happy, and we’re growing.

thanks for your wonderful support..

A HelpDocs User

It doesn’t have to stop at chat and email, either. We send out physical stickers in the mail, and get some awesome responses.

As a founder, it’s interactions like this that make it worth getting up in the morning.

##Giving Great Support at Scale

Now you’re sold on how founders can give better support than anyone else, you’re probably also wondering how that scales. After all, if these interactions sound pretty labor-intensive, it’s because they are.

Here’s the secret. To make time for our one-on-one interactions, we make our other support options great too.

###A Great Knowledge Base

It’s no surprise that one of our top tips for scaling support is to have an awesome knowledge base. Every startup needs one.

A great knowledge base lowers your support volume almost instantly. Customers can help themselves find solutions to common problems and avoid talking to support altogether.

Unfortunately if your knowledge base isn’t up to scratch you can leave your users with even more to complain about than when they landed there. So try to pick a good one (hint: knowledge bases are kinda our thing).

###Not Every Interaction Needs to be Exceptional

Much as I wish it could, a great knowledge base can’t solve everything. You’ll still get too many tickets to handle eventually.

We deal with that by triaging our tickets, just like emergency departments triage patients.

Our tickets usually fall into a few different categories:

  1. Fuzzy tasks that involve some human element (customizing a layout, etc.)
  2. Bug reports
  3. Defined processes that we have knowledge base articles for (password resets, etc.)

We deal with tier 3 tickets immediately by replying with a polite, super quick message pointing them to the relevant article.

We then use the bulk of our time on tier 1 tickets. They’re the ones we can really excel in.

If there’s time left over after we’ve cleared our tier 1’s, we spend that on the tier 2 tickets. If not, we’ll let them know we’re working on a fix and follow up when the issue’s resolved.

##Get Started Now

Hopefully that’s inspired you to take (or keep) control of your customer support. At least until it’s totally impossible.

Getting customer support right helps you grow faster and have better interactions. And there’s nobody better placed to do it than you.

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