Startups are everywhere. You might’ve heard of a lot of success stories – Snapchat, Panda Express, Uber and many others. But still, there have been countless more that ended as failures.
Many creative people out there have great ideas and create products or services that the market has never seen before. In many cases the teams working at startups are proven individuals and driven like to no other. Yet startups that have great potential still fail and fail often.
What are the reasons for these failures? In some cases startup culture is part of it, sometimes founders are too entranced with product, growth and celebrating success. Sometimes this causes customer support and prudent financial management to fall by the wayside. And that could be fatal.
Growth is important and we know that startups that fail to grow fail. But when is the right time to put efforts into growth? Often when an MVP is ready, founders invest to soon in boosting growth. That’s why they perform growth experiments, focus efforts on high-performing campaigns while reducing focus on brand, product/market fit, and often on customer support.
If your startup is moving towards that direction, maybe it’s time to turn the wheel around and take a good hard look at customer support.
Customer Support Isn’t Just For Your Customers; It’s For Founders Too
Customer support is one of the least interesting and most tedious parts of a business, once you've set up a system where customers can contact you and get a response thats enough right?
Yes, in a mature business, customer support is about the queries customers or potential customers have starting from getting to know the products to the time when they actually use your service and even past that. It seems like it is your customers that needs help, right? If you’re a startup, the roles are reversed – it's likely you need their help more than they need yours.
Let me explain.
Whether you're still building your product or you're moving on to focus on growth. You've likely got issues that you still need to fix: your website design isn't perfect; your product has bugs; and your value proposition is probably less than ideal. Improving on those issues is something you may think you can leave to your employees. But it's likely that only the attention of the core team and customer feedback can achieve the results you need.
And where's the best place to look for that? Your customer support system.
Stop Focusing On What You Think; What Do Your Users Want?
Usually startup founders think they know better, if they didn't the startup would never have happened. But underestimating feedback from customer support could lead you terribly off track. Your customers don't share the same vision as you and often the assumptions you make about them are inaccurate. Diving deep into customer support is the best way to validate those assumptions.
Truth is the feedback from customer support can give you way more insights than you would originally have imagined. Perhaps people are using your product in a way that you never even imagined. Wonderful. But as is more often the case, you'll find out something is not working. Like your verification email is not being sent reliably. Yikes!
Another possibility is that you won't get any information at all. If you think that you can just find your power users and email them for feedback think again. Getting an answer when asking for feedback can be as hard as trying to get people to reply to your Marketing emails.
You would think that people will at least contact you when they have trouble understanding or using your product. That is most certainly not the case, if you are a B2B SaaS platform like we are, confusion will just lead potential customers straight into the hands of the competition.
So how do you do it? You're a start up, maybe you're close to growth how do you set up your customer support system to help yourself and help your customers?
Learn To Steer, Before You Automate
It's a natural thought, we're going to be growing quickly soon, we should automate so customer service doesn't kill us. We're just a bootstrapped startup, how can we possibly afford to do it manually? Automation is a fun thought, but automating without first at least getting a taste of what is coming is a bad idea.
We live in a consumer world and it's likely that no matter how important your startup is for you, it's not that important to your customer. Maybe you would think just simply by adding your user's first name to your customer service and feedback emails are a way to provide dazzling customer service. But truth is even the blind can see that it's just another all-the-same marketing emails that's being blasted to them. To dazzle and receive the feedback you so desperately need you have to give more than that.
A personalised email starts with a lot of research about what your customer has done and hasn't done. How did they find you? Have they already had any personal interactions with your team? How much of your product have they actually used? And which places did they get stuck?
Without that information it's going to be hard for you to craft a message that tugs at the heartstrings enough that you at least receive a one line answer written off someones mobile. And that becomes your chance to start a conversation.
You should do customer support in a way that you understand the needs and pain-points of each of your customer and be authentic. No one wants to be treated the same way as everybody else. You'll, make them feel special.
Self Service & Automation in Customer Service
Go out on the internet, read about customer engagement and you'll find these same two terms over and over again, automation & self-service. In startup terms this results in a chatbot and a knowledge base. These seemingly solve all problems for both users who want to talk and for users who want to read. But is it the best way to go?
Let's start with knowledge base. If you're a SaaS company, chances are you might already have deployed some sort of knowledge base or even something simpler like a FAQ page. It’s one of the ways to provide information about your products or services to your users so you don’t have to waste all the time answering the same questions over and over again when customers can solve those problems on their own.
Is that the right way to go?
That depends what step you are on. Building a professionally written and easy to understand knowledge base takes up resources. It’s not as easy as just putting an article out there on the page of your knowledge base and hoping everyone understands. You'll have to get feedback from the team, rewrite or you might even find out the only way to get the point across every time is a video. These type of resources should only be spent once you know that your business is on the right track.
That doesn't mean that knowledge bases don't work. But imagine spending 3 months writing a beautiful knowledge base and starting to grow only to realise your product market fit isn't ideal and the needs you thought your customers had don't actually exist. To save that ship you're going to have to pivot and you're going to write that beautiful knowledge base all over again.
I won't go deep into chatbots, but suffice to say it's a similar story to the knowledge base except with much more resources involved.
Customer Support for Startups
If you're a startup and you've just launched your product start small and start manual. You need to have conversations with your customers so use a conversational interface. We chose to go with Facebook Customer Chat Plugin for our website and a broad selection of Messaging Apps for mobile.
The reasons are simple, we know our customers find us through the web, we are a customer service platform after all. But we also want the conversation, especially with our early customers, to develop into a long lasting one. We want to be able to make a platform tweak and engage right away with the customers who we know will find it delighting or be affected by it, so we can learn and grow together.
If you do choose to do some automation, make sure you do it step by step. Don't try and automate the entire customer journey as once, because the more you automate the less visibility you get.
Before You Leave…
If you're a startup, remember never to lose touch with your customers. That is why we created Rocketbots. Our platform enables you to serve your customers manually and gain insight. Instead of automating all at once we've created a progressive self learning AI system. This is AI that is not on or off, it responds to your chat history. If you're so sure about the solution to an issue that conversations with your customers repeat themselves over and over our AI will pick up on it. It will automate just those conversations for you so you can focus elsewhere, where your personal efforts are still needed.