Delivering great customer service with a minimal customer support team
By Scott Voigt, co-founder/CEO, FullStory
Name a company that isn't preoccupied with customer service. You can't. Because we are all preoccupied with customer service.
As a growing company with a small team, providing top notch customer service on a shoestring budget can feel like a losing game. How do you keep up?
I'll tell you how: empathy.
Empathy, putting yourself in your customer's shoes and truly understanding what it's like to be them, doesn't cost you anything. And yet, it's easy to lose, especially as a team gets bigger. As a small-but-growing team, your ability to stay close to your customer, to empathize as you strive to understand your customer's experience, is your competitive advantage against businesses 10 times your size.
Early in a company's life, everyone cares about every single input from every single customer. This can be a great advantage because you'll start to see patterns developing in the kinds of questions being asked and the problems that bubble up. As a result, it's easy for anyone to quickly respond to a customer and fix broken or confusing parts of your site.
But as a company grows, it's easy for people who aren't on the front lines of customer support to prioritize other things over their connection with the customer. As a result, you lose visibility into those patterns that helped guide your product's evolution. You also lose the empathy that made your frustrating UX or buggy experiences feel urgent to address. That leads to a decrease in customer satisfaction and a degradation in the customer's overall experience.
So how do you keep your support quality high and your costs low whether you're a small team or a large one? Here are four things we do to prioritize the customer experience that enables us to deliver better, more efficient customer support (and happy, more effusive customers).
One of the things we did early on was resist the temptation to create a silo for support. All-hands support means that everyone serves in a customer support role, regardless of whether they're the CEO or a writer on the marketing team. We saw that there was great benefit in dividing support among employees from every job family. It keeps everyone close to the product, and more importantly, it keeps everyone close to how customers feel as they're using the product. It's easy to get distanced from your customer's experience if you don't actually talk to customers on a regular basis. We see the efficiencies in this approach play out in everything from bug-fixing to marketing copy, to the number of dedicated support people we need to hire. When everyone is close to the product, the customer (and your bottom line) will feel the benefit of that.
Use your product regularly
All-hands support provides a great avenue for staying in touch with your customers and their experience with the product. But we all know that in the vast majority of cases people don't even take the time to write into support. Their problems and frustrations go unreported as they churn. What can a small team do about the stuff that they don't know they don't know? How can you stay on top of your product as it develops without the time or budget for large scale customer interviews or expensive third-party survey solutions? Here's a suggestion: have your entire internal team use your products and services. We encourage everyone to use our product on a daily or weekly basis; to go through one or two common user flows and note where they hit road blocks or points of confusion. If you depend on your customers to let you know where issues are, then in the best-case-scenario you're on the reactive end of things. Using your own product means your team is going through a constant quality control / continuous-improvement- through-practice exercise.
Pursue relentless humanity in your communication with customers
Sometimes great customer service comes down to your choice of language. As a customer, when you're making a customer service call or starting a live chat, you're having a problem. You're stressed. Then, you hear the support agent using the same words you've heard from every customer support agent who can't actually solve your problem. "We're sorry you're having this problem. We've noted your issue and the team will address the situation at some point in the future." Because so many teams lean on those rote phrases, you've come to feel they really mean "I don't actually care about your problem at all and I can't help you." You become frustrated and full of anger. This is another time when empathy comes in handy.
Instead of taking the easy route and leaning on those tired old ways of delivering bad news, we make sure to take a few minutes to put ourselves in our customer's shoes and respond from a place of real humanity. Whether it's using a word like ‘alas' in place of the oh-so-overused ‘unfortunately' or taking a sentence to say ‘I totally understand your frustration and as the CEO I'm embarrassed this is happening to you,” writing like a human rather than a robot make a BIG difference to your customers.
Respond quickly even if you don't have the answer
This may seem like common-sense, but so often we feel like we need to have the final answer before we respond to a customer. However, long gaps in communication make people assume the worst. Instead, respond as quickly as you can to let the customer know the situation. If you can quickly solve their problem, that's great. If it's going to take a little while, shoot the customer a response as soon as you've figured that out. Even if you're just saying "I'm looking into this and I'll get back to you with some information before the end of the day," it means a lot to your customer and stops them from worrying about whether you've even seen their outreach.
It can feel like a losing game to compete with large corporate teams, especially when you're just starting out. They've got deeper pockets, better infrastructure and years of experience under their belts. And yet, we can all think of examples of terrible customer service from very large companies with very large customer service budgets. Why does this happen? In this particular case, we believe that bigger isn't always better. Keep exercising those empathy muscles. Keep your product close and your customers closer.