Pop! The team cracks open the champagne to celebrate shipping its first version of a product to customers. All the product manufacturing and testing are done. One critical piece of the puzzle is missing, though: customer support. It’s easy to underestimate a business' need for a customer-support system.
After all, our company, Phone Halo, underestimated customer-service needs in July when it began shipping our Wallet TrackR devices.
We believed our product was easy enough to use that we would receive only a few support emails each week. After receiving hundred of emails from customers with questions ranging from battery installation to app downloads, we realized we needed to build a customer-support system.
Resource-constrained startups often lack the capital to implement a traditional customer-support system. But there are three easy ways to implement a lean customer-support system that will turn consumers into a company's biggest advocates.
Step 1: Set up a system. This goes beyond signing up for support systems from Zendesk or Get Satisfaction and calling it a day. It's crucial to create processes and rules for handling requests. Entrepreneurs need to create an algorithm for handling support requests similar to how they approach the software-user experience.
Begin by categorizing the types of questions asked by customers. The easiest way to determine these categories is to answer support requests yourself for a while. After you have an understanding of the types of questions asked the most, create simple flowcharts that detail how staffers should handle requests and what information is needed to resolve customers' concerns. From your flowcharts, you will be able to optimize the process by making all the key information readily available.
After our company shipped Wallet TrackR, customer information was scattered between shipping spreadsheets, PayPal data and special requests sent by email. We used a Google Drive to make the information easily available in a single folder. While far from a perfect solution, this method of organization served as the minimum viable product for our staff.
Step 2: Build a support team. Once the algorithm is constructed, start implementing a system by testing it. We hold a weekly “customer support happy hour” and answer requests while eating pizza, drinking beer and rocking out to Pink Floyd. As a result, we have created a customer-focused culture. And we've started a critical feedback process whereby our whole team improves the overall customer-support system.
As your business grows, you'll eventually be able to hire someone to manage your system more consistently. With a clear system in place, new hires will have the tools to be productive from the start.
Step 3: Are things getting better? When creating a customer-support system, think about how you want to define progress. What goals do you want your team to achieve and how will you measure improvement? The metrics for your organization may differ but we use the following three:
1. Average time per support request. The amount of time it takes for a support representative to handle a request is the most meaningful metric. It shows the support team's efficiency and if the available tools and systems are being used correctly to answer the various types of incoming questions.
2. Total number of incoming tickets per week. This is related to the effectiveness of the company's product-setup processes and instruction manuals, as well as the overall ease of use of the device.
3. Average response time for a ticket. If the time it takes before an incoming request is answered skyrockets, we know the support team is unable to handle the current volume of customer requests or something was miscommunicated to consumers.
Creating an effective customer support system is time-consuming and not always particularly fun. But we consider our support team a key asset to our business as it dramatically helps us in shaping our brand, speeding up our review of the product's engineering and guiding executive decisions on key changes to the device and strategy.