A while back on Quora someone asked “Which startups have the best customer support and what tools do they use?” I couldn’t answer that, as there are countless small/niche startups, and there is no practical way of selecting the best. But I can answer HOW a startup can provide good support.
To contain the question, we’ll consider a product that is sold only online. My answer would be entirely different if this was not the case.
A Startup is Different than an Established Company
You want your customers to have the best experience possible. This is extremely important in the early days, where you are building a reputation.
But, as a startup, you’ll have too many things to do, and not enough skilled people, money or time to do them. You can’t afford to spend time on the phone with even a subset of your customers.
Minimize the Need For Support
The first step is to minimize the need for support wherever possible by:
- Making the sales experience and product self-evident as possible
- If possible, provide a demo so they can get familiar before purchasing
- Giving the customer what they need so they can help themselves
Provide a Self-Evident Experience
Making the product self-evident means that a new user can dive in and start using the product without additional guidance. Any opportunity to remove options and choices that could generate customer questions should be taken, especially if those options would be of use to only a small subset of your market. If it’s software, it should require minimal or no configuration to get underway.
Use Demo to Determine Customer Fit
If the product is a bad fit for the customer, the likelihood of that customer needing heavy support goes WAY up. Once they’ve paid for it, they and you have to make it work. Better to let them have a demo, and discover that the product is not right for them. Of course, even if the product is a bad fit, use the demo to get market and product feedback.
Help Customers Help Themselves
In the online world, customers are more self-reliant than customers using traditional channels. This is especially true for customers of startups, who knowingly take a risk on something new.
So, give them what they need to support themselves. Create instructional videos, provide FAQs and user forums, and give tips and guidance wherever possible within the application itself.
What Does Support Look Like?
In terms of support, online companies typically do the following:
- On the web site and on YouTube, they have videos that will answer the “what it does” and “how it does it” questions.
- The web site will offer chat to answer any of your questions during the sales cycle. If onboarding presents challenges (which can be unavoidable with some software products), then having someone available though chat through the onboarding process is a good idea.
- Once you are a registered customer, email support is the default channel.
- Feed back what you learn through support into an FAQ. This knowledge can also be used to eliminate support inquiries by changes to the web site and product itself.
Customer Support Tools
There are (way too many) customer support tools that are designed for this model. They range from simple/lightweight to flexible/complex/feature rich. For a startup, I would choose a tool that was simple and lightweight. You won’t have time to figure out or support the advanced features of a more flexible platform.
Help Scout (Help Scout | Simple Customer Service Software and Education) is an example of a simple/lightweight platform. Zendesk (Zendesk | Customer Service Software & Support Ticket System) is on the feature rich side.
A search for “alternatives to Help Scout/Zendesk” will reveal the many other options, along with reviews.
Don’t Offer Phone Support
Unless you absolutely must, don’t offer phone support. Do everything you can to drive support to chat and email. Remember, though, I’m talking about a startup with a product that is sold only online.
Don’t Get A CRM
For a support tool, I would not choose a general CRM that has a support add-in (i.e. not Salesforce), nor would I choose a product that came out of the call center space. For the former, you’ll need to invest in major CRM project. The latter do the phone handling better, but at last check, they don’t handle the online email/chat/ticketing model well. There will be a time and place for both – but not at the startup stage.
A Final Thought
Have you had to call Amazon, Netflix, Uber or Google for support? I’m betting no. They have designed out the need for support, and they would not have been able to scale to their size without doing so.