The year was 2006. It was the year Amazon launched AWS, and Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie topped the charts. The aftermath of the burst dot com bubble left a sour taste in investors’ mouths. Still, a new generation of enterprises was offering something that had already been revolutionizing tech: Software on demand, centrally hosted in the cloud and subscription-based.
The startup world is characterized by its punchy work culture, agility, and ping pong tables. It’s also where novel ideas go to market – often executed as software. Because cloud computing is the norm in our distributed, digital-first world, and startups need digital-first support strategies to help them grow by gaining and retaining customers.
Scaling your startup with customer service
“In the early days of the startup, the founder is often the lead product developer, chief salesperson, and customer service representative,” writes Joseph Pickens in Business Horizons. “When something goes wrong in the hands of a customer – as it inevitably does – the feedback loop from customer service to product development is almost instantaneous, the message comes through loud and clear, and the firm responds promptly and effectively.”
So as SaaS startups grow, how can they keep the feedback loop between customers and the company close? How can SaaS startups ensure they’re building a customer-focused organization – and why should they?
Scaling sustainably, according to TechCrunch, means “[growing] its customer base and maturing to the point of an exit. A SaaS startup needs to stand apart from the herd at every phase of development.”
When startups have growing pains, it can manifest in their customer service strategy – or lack of one. According to CX Trends, more than half of surveyed customers said they would switch to a competitor after just one bad customer service experience. Without dedicated roles, specialized tools, and strategic reporting, bad CX can put startups in a bad position among competitors.
The golden rule of customer service? Treat your customers how you would like to be treated. To execute that, here are the three most important pieces of advice to ensure your startup is providing the best possible customer service.
How to deliver excellent customer service
The SaaS customer journey is a bit different from other services or industries. SaaS users, whether individuals or organizations, often have an ongoing relationship with your product. It’s no coincidence that many SaaS products are subscription-based services.
According to SaaS Daily, “Customers signing up for your subscription-based models are also given premium, pro, basic, etc. Moreover, you also must track whether the customer is a solo user or a big company buying your product for the entire team.” SaaS often integrates into other business systems and software, and setup and maintenance might require extra help.
Service and accessibility should be built into your customer relationships. Don’t fall into the trap of making every employee pitch in to help if it will result in a mess of disconnected emails and calls. Without dedicated roles and an easy-to-deploy customer service solution, both of which we explore below, your customers might be left frustrated and confused when contacting you to solve problems.
1. Work towards building a dedicated customer service team
Giving your users access to timely, helpful customer support is vital for maintaining your relationship, and the best way to do that is with dedicated roles.
Like the founder who plays the role of lead developer, salesperson, and customer service rep, as characterized by Pickens, it’s common for customer service tasks to be distributed among early-stage startup employees. This might make sense if you’re not fielding an exorbitant number of queries, but it’s not where you want to stay.
Pickens writes, “Scaling requires a very different kind of organization–— one with structure, process, and discipline. As the firm grows, the fluid and flexible environment of the startup organization becomes unwieldy. Informal communication and decision-making processes are no longer effective. Functional specialists now assume roles once covered by generalists, and processes and policies replace ad hoc decision making.”
These “functional specialists” – in this case, dedicated roles for customer service – allow the rest of the team to focus on their areas of responsibility. If your devs, or your founder, or the only person on the team responsible for marketing is also fielding emails and calls from customers, aspects of the big picture can be lost. Aspects like data about customer feedback relating to your product or the evolution of your customers’ journey.
Hiring a dedicated customer service point person, whether they’re strictly customer service or have more technical expertise, means all of this critical information stays in one place. Whether you call them customer support, solutions consultants, or customer success, people in support roles have unique expertise and valuable insight into your product. It’s imperative to use tools to help them collaborate with the rest of your organization.
But what if you’re not there yet?
Of course, you may not be in a position to hire a role dedicated uniquely to customer support. That’s fine. Below, we’ll go over the benefits of investing in customer support software, which will allow your team to capture and track support requests in one place, instead of fielding queries from an inbox or across spreadsheets. That way, you’re laying the groundwork for a customer support strategy that will scale as you do.
2. Invest in scalable, intuitive, and flexible customer service software
One of the best investments you can make for your company is an investment in customer experience. Focussing on differentiating yourself by listening to your customers, making it easy for them to contact you, and keeping interactions seamless are all ways to provide excellent, memorable customer service. An out-of-the-box customer service solution that’s easy to deploy and scale is key.
A lot of startups will cobble together their own customer service solution out of a shared email inbox, or in some cases, even individual WhatsApp phone numbers. Fintech company PayJoy had two employees responding to hundreds of WhatsApp messages directly from their smartphones. They integrated WhatsApp into the same customer service software they used to track customer emails and calls, making it easier for agents to track customer conversations and respond quickly.
As your startup grows, Michael Redbord writes, “You’ll shift from the reactive mode of supporting requests as they happen to the proactive mode of fixing issues before they ever become a problem.” In the early stage, it’s important to listen attentively to customers: “Stay focused on using customer support as a learning tool to make your product better, and listen carefully–especially to your most vocal, demanding customers.”
When PoS software company Lightspeed was looking to scale their customer service operation, their VP of Customer Support went looking for a ticketing tool that would meet their requirements for providing excellent customer service. Zendesk Support came recommended to her, and she recalls it was “an easy sale. The way it was designed, the way it worked, was just what we needed at the time.”
3. Work with automation and self-service at any stage
Our benchmark study of over 4000 startups points to a correlation between startup success and investment in customer experience. An OOTB customer service solution combined with dedicated support roles is an investment in productivity. Zendesk consolidates customer conversations, apps, and data into an intuitive, unified agent workspace that’s easy to set up.
In Zendesk, users can automate email templates and workflows to increase efficiency and create a consistent brand experience. On top of that, companies can choose to engage with customers on messaging channels – whether it’s live on their website or from their social media presence – and route all of these conversations back to the same workspace. This also means that customer conversations can be triaged with the help of AI, which can deflect FAQs and surface help center articles – saving time for your employees.
Building out a help center is a great way to consolidate answers to common queries and leverage developer expertise. Help center content could be your startup’s first foray into a blog, or it could be a home for technical documentation. It means you can offer proactive support and create content when you anticipate a spike in customer conversations, like around a product release. It also means you’re helping your customers help themselves – sometimes, that’s all the push they need.
Meanwhile, integrating Zendesk into the rest of your tech stack, like Slack for internal communication, makes it possible for your support team to collaborate with the rest of the organization to solve problems and keep the feedback loop between customers and product teams close.
Stand out from the competition
Back in 2006, Eric Knorr reflected on the trend of software as a service: “All this activity, however, doesn’t mean the SaaS wave is poised to engulf traditional licensed software. SaaS’s share of the business application market today is more like a drop in the bucket.”
Funny, isn’t it? SaaS has become far more than a drop in the bucket. It might be more accurate to say that the bucket is in the cloud too. With so many SaaS products and startups, it’s important to stand apart. For startups, customer service is an investment – and a revenue driver when you are tapping into customer data, giving agents the ability to personalize service and increase customer lifetime value.
Investing in CX doesn’t have to be overly complex. By allocating dedicated resources and investing in a service solution that scales as your startup does, you too can stay on top of your customers’ needs while focussing on providing the best experience possible.