Support AS MVP: The Key To Lean Customer Support
Lean Startups that decide to provide customer support must do it well with limited resources. Lean customer support means seeing customer support as an integral part of product development in order to provide maximum benefit with minimum resources.
It does not makes sense to develop a plan and hire for 24/7 support with live chat and phone support before it’s necessary. You will waste time and money. This is why at LaunchRock we roll out each stage of our support as an MVP.
Not long ago we announced surpassing 50,000 launches and 5,000,000 signups. This post describes some of the tools and best practices that helped LaunchRock offer outstanding service to those customers with just one full-time customer support position.
- Have An Awesome Product (period)
- Pick Your Channel (hint it’s email)
- Support Needs Support (that’s you developers)
- Social is Support (and set your boundaries)
- Scale Intelligently (don’t overreach)
1. Have An Awesome Product (period)
Software breaks. But it will be hard to support a product that breaks a lot and keep your customer support lean.
The first key to our lean customer support was the LaunchRock product itself. During the launch of those first 50,000 sites it did not break very often.
When bugs did come up, our lean customer support philosophy dictated how we dealt with them. The bottom line was this: Bugs that break promised core functionality must be fixed immediately and permanently.
The flip side of this statement is that some minor bugs or UX issues were not fixed right away.
Lean customer support requires startups to carefully weigh each bug’s impact against their product roadmap and burn rate. This “bug triage” should consider:
- the bug’s impact on a product’s core functionality
- the support burden
- the development time required to permanently fix it
Whether you decide to spend time on a permanent fix, or work around recurring issues, bug triage helps your Development Team focus more time and resources on building new product.
The Support Team’s responsibility is to provide users with resolution. Sometimes it falls on them to make manual fixes on minor issues. In others, the only way to provide resolution is with a “No, because” answer. Time and resources are too limited to build every feature or fix every UX issue.
2. Pick your Channel (hint it’s email)
Chat and phone support are not scalable for a single support position. With the volume of email we had over those first 50,000 launches, it would have been impossible to deal with frequent phone calls or live chat as well. So we decided against live chat entirely, and offered phone support on an as-needed basis.
The future of customer care = self service tools. This was a theme touched on again and again at UserConf last October. Customers in more traditional markets prefer phone support but web savvy customers want instant answers from a robust Knowledge Base. When these customers do contact support, they prefer using email.
As a result, support contacts per customer are decreasing but the complexity of those contacts is increasing.
When it comes to complex issues, email is a support multiplier. Especially when you combine it with a well written Knowledge Base to answer questions instantly.
A few reasons email is best for handling complex technical support:
- Step by step instructions are difficult to explain over the phone, but can be clearly and concisely written in email.
- Emails can include screenshots or links to Knowledge Base articles.
- Canned responses for common problems allow team members to focus on personalizing the response without typing the same technical steps over and over.
- Customer Support can spend time investigating issues without putting customers on hold.
Our email support tool of choice is UserVoice. We use it for all of our email support, Knowledge Base management, user feedback and in-app help.
3. Support Needs Support (that’s you developers)
Bugs will happen when a product is iterating quickly. When they do, customers will ask questions your Support Team cannot answer on their own.
To give our Support Team a place to get fast answers from Development we use HipChat instant messaging.
Over our first 50,000 launches, team LaunchRock developed an informal process of escalation for our “Internal Support” chat room.
- All Support and Development Team members sign in and monitor the Internal Support room.
- Team members ask and answer ordinary level questions about our product in this room.
- If need be, the Support Team can direct-message a specific Development Team member in their individual chat rooms.
- If the question is urgent, a message can be directed to @ all in the internal support room so that anyone logged in to HipChat gets a notification.
- The last step in the escalation is to ask an @ all question directly in the Development Team’s chat room.
These general guidelines work for us. We tried more restrictive rules, like no @ all messages in the Development room after Noon, but customer needs don’t work on these schedules.
Giving the Support Team the power to direct their questions using HipChat helps us resolve more customer issues faster.
4. Social is Support (and set your boundaries)
When you are providing lean customer support you will not be able to give support via every social network. That’s why we consider Twitter a support channel while Facebook is community.
Our Facebook description includes a short redirect and link “For support please visit http://support.launchrock.com.” Customers still ask support questions via our Facebook page from time to time. When they do we politely request they email email@example.com with their account information and support needs.
Not surprisingly, people are very cooperative and grateful to be pointed in the right direction. Support via Facebook is hard to monitor and lacks the rich context and history that the UserVoice ticketing system provides. Customers appreciate knowing where they will get the best, most expedient support.
To do lean customer support well on social networks, you need to manage expectations. Avoid disappointing customers by not promising more than you can deliver, and be active on the channels where you do offer support.
The Prime Directive of Twitter support: Pay attention.
The reason customers turn to Twitter is because they want your attention, and frankly, they want it now. If you are not monitoring what people are saying and asking about your brand, you’re missing opportunities to foster customer relationships, improve satisfaction and enhance communication. Instead you’re letting unanswered questions, doubts about your product, and sales opportunities go unaddressed. Twitter support helps you turn dissatisfied, confused or angry customers into delighted ones.
In developing our Twitter support strategy, we followed the example of Zappos by creating a dedicated Support Team account, @LaunchRockers. Responding to customer support questions about LaunchRock from LaunchRockers has two key benefits: we are able to keep noise on Twitter about @LaunchRock to a minimum and keep our own tweets focused on sharing great content.
At LaunchRock, our Twitter tool of Choice for fulfilling the Prime Directive is TweetDeck.
TweetDeck’s customizable columns give you the ability to
- easily monitor direct messages, tweets & feeds
- review conversation histories
- track key word searches in real time
By setting an audible alert on critical columns, our Customer Support can focus on the email queue and still know when a customer has mentioned LaunchRock on Twitter. TweetDeck is a powerful lean customer support tool that lets you monitor and respond from multiple Twitter accounts at once.
Its also important to keep in mind Twitter’s support shortfalls – the clearest one being the 140 character limit. Most support issues are too complex for that. Let’s also not forget the public nature of the medium.
These two factors are why the Secondary Directive for lean customer support on Twitter is: Move it off of Twitter. Monitor tweets by customers or leads, offer fast answers whenever possible, catch complaints early, and funnel more complex questions back into the email queue where your lean team can provide the highest quality support.
5. Scale Intelligently (don’t overreach)
As your customer or user base grows, so will your support requests. You can be certain they won’t all occur within your regular support hours. If you don’t have the resources to hire more Support Team members, do not expect the one or two you do have to be super-human. Support requires deep product understanding, patience, tact and clear, concise communication. All of these become scarce as an individual burns out.
When it comes to lean customer support, response time is a better benchmark than total support hours. A common first benchmark is responding to all support requests within 24 hours. Your next step might be to answer all requests within the same business day. Whatever you decide, monitoring response times and keeping those aligned with your overall support goals will help you know when it is time to scale.
As you extend your promised support hours, you can still remain lean. You might develop a Support Driven Design plan and call upon developers to adopt some support duties. You could stagger your support hours between two support positions to cover a longer window. You could even provide support 24/5 with three full time positions. In the end, lean customer support comes down to old school economic concepts like cost benefit analysis and diminishing marginal returns.
For example, if 70% of your support requests occur within a 12 to 16 hour window, it might not make sense to hire a third support team position to cover 24hours a day. You already provide the same level of support to 70% of your customers with two full time paid positions. Your approach in these situations will depend on your product and business model.
Lean Support Matters
Even if a product is free, if a user depends on it you can bet they will expect support. This is especially true if they use it for business. This is why at LaunchRock we refer to our “Customers” not our “Users” – even though our product is free.
If you want your customers to depend on your product, approaching support as an integral part of your development strategy from the beginning is crucial.
Lean customer support does not mean lower quality support. It means maximizing the benefit to your customers with the available resources. Hopefully these proven strategies will give you some ideas on how you can provide support that is outstanding and lean.
How do you amplify the power of your customer support team? Share you lean customer support tips in the comments!
Launching a new idea, project product or company? Launch it today for free with LaunchRock