Customer Support | 4 min read

Outsupporting your Competition

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A guest post by Brennan Dunn on the benefits of providing amazing support, specifically in early stage companies where growing a happy passionate customer base is vital.

Outsourcing Support

Founders are often eager to delegate supporting their product, treating it as a necessary evil rather than a competitive advantage. After all, there are more important and exciting things to focus on: product development, feature planning, user experience design, fundraising, and so on.

But for a small startup, making amazing support a key feature of your product will help you get more customers, keep customers longer, and increase their lifetime value.

A unique selling point

Lots of products resort to ticket-based systems or other barriers that make conversations between companies and their customers aggravatingly difficult. No one appreciates an auto reply referring to them as Case Number #112173. Great support–where, for example, the founder personally handles complex issues– substantially impacts customer retention. It provides an experience that isn’t easy to find anywhere else.

Even great products need great support

Apple staff their store with “geniuses”. These are approachable people who run classes, provide 1 on 1 tutorials and help customers with any issues they have. The key idea here is that these genii don’t just handle with complaints, their role is to make sure that every customer gets the most out of their products. Apple realizes that done right, support is the emotional bridge between a company and their customer.

Support can be investigative

Visual Website Optimizer

After we got some coverage on Hacker News, Visual Website Optimizer sent me a friendly email letting me know that they noticed I was getting a lot more traffic than I had planned for and that I should upgrade my plan. When my trial ended I got an email from Paras, the founder, wanting to know if I had a chance to fully use his software and if I had any feedback .

We all know emails like this are automatic, but the fact remains that Visual Website Optimizer has figured out for me that I would be better off under a different plan. They’ve also sent out a personalized email signed by the founder soliciting feedback wanting to ensure I had a great trial. This is a company that cares about their customers.

Support can be consistent

The tone of your marketing site, the ease of your onboarding, and the style and substance of support email responses to your customers should be consistent. If a bank’s website talks about experience, safety, security, reliability, and trust that gives you a certain expectation about your interactions will be. If you call to the bank and your case is handled by a scruffy 19 year old in ripped jeans with a bad attitude, that’s inconsistent. Inconsistency in experience cancels out trust.

A great example of a consistent experience is LessAccounting. From their homepage pitch of “we just suck the least” through to their their head of customer happiness Annette, the experience is casual, honest, and fun. Something that competitors like Intuit could never offer.

Support can be lightweight

Customers are used to tolerating ticket desks, case assignments, auto-responders and lengthy response times when they have an issue. What people just want is to talk with someone who can help them. The above customer was still on his trial, and ended up becoming an ardent evangelist for Planscope and converted to paid before he had to. Sometimes, “Sent from my iPhone” says it all.

Support can be proactive

It’s your job to stay in business, and that’s done by keeping customers paying you. You have the data in front of you to proactively reach out to customers who are paying but not signing in, not adding stuff, or otherwise doing something that screams of “beware – cancellation imminent!” A simple “How can I help?” email (as shown above) can go a long way to keeping a relationship.

Great support builds armies

Customers are not used to amazing support. We’re conditioned to think that getting help involves pressing keys, waiting on hold, and frustration. And when a customer experiences something besides that – support that delights and educates – they become happy customers. And happy customers are excellent marketers.

Great support is a small startup’s best asset

When starting out, the last thing you want to do is appear bigger than you really are. When launching Planscope, my project management app for freelancers and consultants, I made the decision early on to drop ‘We‘ in favor of ‘I‘. My customers started initiating support requests with “Hey Brennan…”, they were overly forgiving when the inevitable new-product bug bit them, and most importantly, I learned a tremendous amount about them.

And because I didn’t turn to multiple choice surveys or other superficial feedback methods, but instead had lengthy, meaningful conversations with many of my customers– sometimes about Planscope, and often about their business- I was able to determine that there was a product fit for a book and workshop, both of which I’ve recently released. This has extended my runway of cash and has allowed me to bypass outside investment and stay focused on Planscope.