* Editor's Note: IVR refers to Interactive voice response (IVR) - a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF tones input via keypad.
A guide for startups: giving your users the customer support they deserve
At Hotjar, we firmly believe that the user always comes first. Online startups can no longer get away with offering a mediocre product or a sub-par customer experience. Users expect a great user experience and responsive, quick customer support and the companies that will succeed are those who can provide exactly that.
As soon as customers get good support somewhere (regardless of the industry), anything less is sub-par.~ Chris Duell from Elev.io
The way your customer support is delivered is playing an increasingly important role in determining how quickly your product can grow and scale. Why? For two simple reasons:
- Improving your customer support makes your users happier – resulting in reduced churn and a higher LTV. Your customers are less likely to stop using your product if you constantly deliver excellent support. If you reduce churn, you grow faster and more sustainably.
- It’s useless offering incredible support if you need one support agent per customer. Your product simply cannot scale. You need to be able to use your resources effectively by offering great support to those who need it and creating the framework needed to reduce the amount of support needed in the first place.
This can be especially challenging for new startups that have very few resources and limited budgets. How do you provide the support your users expect? To help us answer this question, we asked some startups in the customer support market how they thought customer support has evolved over the past few years and what startups need to do to keep up.
Users expect multi-channel support that’s easy to use
When users seek support, they may expect to find it in different ways: some might start by looking on your social media channels, some might prefer doing live chat straight away. Users who don't find what they need straight away might not be willing to look further.
Jack Plantin from SupportYourApp.com highlighted that there are now multiple channels we need to use to be successful at customer support:
Customer support has definitely evolved from painful automatic IVR responses, to much more efficient tools like live chat, self-serve knowledge bases, and social media. The most successful companies we've worked with (unsurprisingly) are the ones that utilize every channel possible.
This all comes with added costs, but in the end customer happiness is always the priority in any business. If you want to be successful in the customer support area, you need to cater to every audience.
Whether it's an 80-year-old woman that needs to be carefully coached over the phone to install your software, or a 19-year-old university student that tweets @ your company about a tech issue... customers expect you to be there on all platforms, at all times.~ Jack Plantin from SupportYourApp.com
Offering as many channels as possible shows your users that you care enough about them to accommodate their preferred method of communication. You need to make it clear that you're willing to go the extra mile to help.
Fast response times, going the extra mile, avoiding robo-speak, and actually helping your customers. Support isn’t about sending templates until the customer gets tired and gives up. It’s about really wanting to solve problems for those people by showing genuine care. And never hide yourself behind ticket submission forms - make yourself available by opening as many channels as possible: email, skype, toll-free number, live chat, webinars, social networks, etc.~ Miha Ambroz from SupportYard
It’s pointless having a customer support solution if your users struggle to contact you. Your users should be able to speak to you effortlessly.
Customers are providing feedback over an ever-increasing number of channels. Support tools have simplified customer support agents’ workflows by letting them triage this outreach from a single platform.
An already frustrated customer should not need to jump through hoops to provide feedback, and we have seen an increase in the number of tools that make it easier for customers to communicate with support teams - oftentimes directly from the company’s website.~ Ranee Bhutani from Frontapp
Users want fast and honest feedback
Social media has seen a meteoric rise in the last few years. And with that rise, online users have become accustomed to receiving almost real-time responses. Giving timely support is important because it lets your users know you are actively listening to them and willing to help.
Jack Plantin from SupportYourApp believes that the best way to get word-of-mouth recommendations is by offering immediate help.
There's nothing a customer appreciates more than immediate help, especially when they expected help two days later. Situations like these lead to great reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. Invaluable.~ Jack Plantin from SupportYourApp
And of course, support tools are also evolving to make this easier. You're no longer restricted to offering help from your desktop device. Most customer support tools are now multi-platform - making it possible to speak to your customers on the go.
Technology has reduced the expected and accepted time-delay between a customer requesting and receiving support. Support tools now not only make it possible to quickly respond to customers from the office, but also on the go - regardless of what device you use.~ Ranee Bhutani from Frontapp
It's good to be aware that even if your product is having issues, few users will actually bother contacting you - more than 9 out of 10 people won't let you know if they're having troubles (Chris Duell, 2016). It's important to be appreciative of the fact that they are taking time out of their day to communicate with you.
For that 1 out of 10 people who do put in the effort to reach out and contact you, you need to respond to them as fast as you can, even if it's to tell them what you're currently thinking, so they know there's something happening. It's all about throughput.~ Chris Duell from Elev.io
Honesty is also incredibly important. Don’t fall into the trap of making promises you cannot keep. If an issue they mentioned won't be fixed, tell them - be upfront and transparent about everything.
People can smell a white lie from a mile away, and it's not the image you want to present.~ Chris Duell from Elev.io
Be honest - but also show users you are doing as much as you can do to fix their problem.
Make meaningful apologies. Let your customer know that their problem is your problem, and show them that you are doing everything you can to address the issue.~ Ranee Bhutani from Frontapp
Users expect a personalized experience
Users don’t want to feel like they are one of many. The best customer support experience is one in which your users feel they can communicate with a human on the other end who genuinely cares about their concerns. Ranee Bhutani from Frontapp believes it’s important to build empathy with customers:
Don’t forget that there is a human on the other side of the computer! Be a good listener, treat your customers like individuals, and make them feel important.~ Ranee Bhutani from Frontapp
Making the effort to make every interaction thoughtful, personal, and creative can help you earn life-long customers. There's an interesting story by Jack Plantin from SupportYourApp that demonstrates this:
Jim Shuky, an auto shop owner, sends personalized, hand-written letters to every one of his customers. As a result, a Reddit post from one impressed customer ended up getting thousands of hits. Viral stories about extraordinary customer support pop up all the time, it's your job to create those extraordinary experiences.~ Jack Plantin from SupportYourApp
At Hotjar there are a few simple rules we follow which help us provide the personalized and honest customer support we believe our users deserve:
- Always say thanks. Few things feel more gratifying than gratitude – and few services express gratitude as much as they should.
- Manage expectations. Be honest. Don’t over promise.
- Never say ‘Impossible’. Show them you are listening and take the time to understand.
- We are guilty – until proven innocent. Do not be defensive. Always apologize in advance.
- It’s ALWAYS our fault. Since we built it – it’s always our fault.
- Mind your language. Nothing makes you look more unprofessional than stupid spelling mistakes.
- Answer quick – update often. Don’t wait to find a solution… reply as quickly as possible.
- Always be reading – learning. Reading helps you improve your language, communication, and personal skills.
Personalization is not just about giving your customers a personal touch. It’s about becoming proactive and understanding how your users are interacting with your app.
In the world of SaaS startups, customer support has become an integral part of the product - a “feature” if you will. Customers expect blazing fast response times and a personal touch to boot - just like immediately being greeted by a friendly clerk when they walk into a store. Makes sense - that’s why they chose you and not a faceless corporation.
The tools that make it happen are still adapting - but it’s definitely going towards proactive communication which is fully personalized. Basically, you’ll want to collect as much info as possible about your customers and tailor your message accordingly. For example, if a person failed to log in to your app three times, it’ll auto-start a live chat message right on the spot “Hey Bob, having trouble logging in?” - and a support agent will take it from there.~ Miha Ambroz from SupportYard
By focusing on offering contextual help and figuring out what your users’ pain points are, you can actually reduce the amount of customer support required. Chris Duell, from Elev.io, believes it’s important to understand what help your users need:
Support is more than being on the receiving end of people reaching out, it also reaches to how you've laid out your site to make it as easy as possible to instantly get the help they need for the task at hand. In short, you need to be able to provide timely, contextual help to your users, before they get to the point of them knowing they have an issue. It shouldn't get that far. In the perfect world, the only emails and phone calls you should be receiving, would be for service (requesting a refund etc) rather than guidance.~ Chris Duell from Elev.io
Giving great customer support on a tight budget
Giving excellent customer support is becoming a great way for new startups to stand-out from their competition. Unfortunately, most new startups have very limited resources and budgets. What can they do to use those resources effectively and still meet their customers' expectations?
Ranee Bhutani from Frontapp says there’s no need to use an expensive tool:
Excellent customer support should be a priority for your startup. You don’t need to invest in an expensive customer support tool - there are plenty of lower-cost alternatives out there, and the value will greatly outweigh the cost. The relationships that you build with your customers can make or break your startup. If your customers have an unsatisfactory interaction with your team, not only is there a high likelihood that you’ve lost them forever, but there’s a good chance that they will share their experience online.~ Ranee Bhutani from Frontapp
Having a great knowledge base and focusing initially on the channels that your customers are most likely to use, also makes a big difference.
First of all invest in a knowledge base and fill it with answers to commonly asked questions. This will cut down customer support requests drastically. You rarely see customers that would rather speak on the phone than look up a solution online. Luckily, creating one is pretty cheap if you use help desk software like Zendesk, Freshdesk, etc.
The second solution is to straight up ask your customers which channels they prefer and start out by using those. More than often it's phone and email, which are relatively cheap to implement.
Finally, if your customer base grows and you need 24/7 support or multiple channels, there's always the option to hire third-party help to take care of this. Virtual assistants, freelancers, and outsourcing firms are available everywhere at reasonable costs.
In-house support is almost always better, but in the case your company grows too rapidly, outsourcing is a great option for scaling.~ Jack Plantin from SupportYourApp
Miha Ambroz from SupportYard thinks it’s never a bad idea to invest as much as possible into your customer support team:
Hire as many support people you can afford and get good 24/7 coverage. The benefit might not appear immediately, but delighted customers definitely get you your ROI. Also, don’t forget to arm your support team with relevant help articles - and Hotjar is really helpful here. We improved our help page readability by seeing where people click, tweaking the layout, and cutting out anything irrelevant. You’d be surprised how much work you can offload to a well-written help page.~ Miha Ambroz from SupportYard
Chris Duell (Elev.io) stresses the importance of providing contextual guidance to avoid needing too much support in the first place.
Giving excellent support shouldn't be your differentiator from your competition, and shouldn't be a selling point. You should just be doing that, because know that if you're not, your competition damn well is. What separates you from your competition is making sure that your users easily understand your site, and if they have the slightest confusion, that the exact guidance they need is available immediately. It's all about providing timely, contextual guidance, so their question of support never gets raised.
Once this is setup, it's something that doesn't need additional resources as you inevitably grow, since your users are able to help themselves, and the only "support" you need to provide is high-level service based support. This means a huge saving in both time and money, which can be crucial for startups of any size, not just the cash strapped and time poor.~ Chris Duell from Elev.io
Ultimately, your startup cannot afford not to give great customer support. It's what your users will remember. If your users have a great experience when asking for support, they will remember your company fondly. And because of that, customer support reflects heavily on the rest of your business. Give your users bad support and it will be easy for them to think you offer bad products. However, give your users great support and they could easily turn into life-time customers. It's time to start caring!
Customer support has evolved along with how the web itself has changed. Not too long ago, the web was a simpler place, and as a result, the support required was also pretty simple.
As things have evolved on the web, and things are getting so much more complex, every site has a different user experience, right from the onboarding experience. Add to this the huge growth of SaaS over the past few years, and it's easier than ever to move from one supplier to another, so providing top-notch support has been more crucial than ever, otherwise your customers will go where the grass is greener.~ Chris Duell from Elev.io
Special thanks to the startups who were part of this research:
Frontapp: Front’s platform transforms your email into a help desk solution. You get the look and feel of email with the tools you need to reduce response time and measure agent productivity - all without relying on impersonal auto-responses and ticket numbers. Front lets you respond to all of your customers from the same place, regardless of whether the conversation is happening over email, text, Facebook, or Twitter. Front also provides detailed analytics that measure performance metrics, including first response time, average response time, and handle times.
Elev.io: Elevio has a simple premise, let users access the exact help they need, where and when they need it. It's timely, it's contextual, and it's awesome to use. Providing on-site access to your entire knowledge base, support system and more, rather than needing to go looking for help offsite, results in a measurable improvement in user engagement and education. We let your users help themselves, so you can get back to working on your business, rather than in it.
SupportYourApp: Based in Ukraine, SupportYourApp brings a fresh European face and voice to replace entrenched stereotypes of Indian call centers. We are the first startup to provide customer support solutions exclusively for Mac, Windows, Saas and IoT apps.
SupportYard: SupportYard is perfect for entrepreneurs and small business who can't keep up with all the customer emails they receive. Now you can keep all emails in one place and assign your team members to answer from the shared email account.