5 Customer Service Blogs You Should Be Reading
A huge advantage available to startups is the ability to provide awesome service to its early customers. It’s one of the things that don’t scale that startups can do to learn more about what customers want and totally delight them at the same time.
Big companies operate at massive scale, they’ve gotten lazy about service because of their quasi-monopolies, and they don’t have an ingrained culture of service. All of that adds up to maltreating customers on a daily basis with the terrible service that we’re all way too familiar with.
That’s the startup’s opportunity—not just to offer good service, but to offer what Paul Graham calls “surprisingly good” service. “Go out of your way to make people happy”—they’ll take notice and become loyal customers for life.
It’s not sexy, but amazing customer service sets SaaS businesses apart, and it’s something we strive for at StatusPage.io.
Remarkable customer service is something we've strived for since we started the company -- it's the reason why the founders still do customer service, even though the company is almost three years old. We spend a lot of time thinking about customer service, and we're always reading around the latest thinking on the topic from people that are on the front lines of support.
Here are our 5 favorite blogs that write about customer support, along with insights we’ve gotten from our favorite articles.
SupportOps is a podcast and a video series hosted by Basecamp's Chase Clemons, featuring a cast of customer support pros from the very best SaaS companies—Carolyn Kopprasch from Buffer, Jeff Vincent from Wistia and Chase Livingston from Automattic.
Their manifesto lays out what they’re about— “bringing humanity back to the world of customer support.” A recurring theme is to treat people as humans, not as tickets to be closed. That’s easy to say, but harder to put into practice with the competing priorities and constant pressure that comes with being an early-stage startup.
Keep support personal
Big companies want to ensure that their support agents act professionally and inoffensively, because that’s the easiest way to ensure consistency at scale. That makes sense, until you realize that your support people end up sounding like personality-less robots and you’ve wasted a major opportunity to connect with your customers.
Your support reps need to act and talk like humans.
- Greet customers by name and thank them for using your product. That shows that there are real people at the other end of the email.
- Speak like a regular human being. Don’t use technical jargon or pretentious language—and with quick, sharp, short sentences, get right to the point of the customer's problem.
- Pay attention — if you notice anything special or unique about the email you get sent by a customer, like an alumni email address, use that to reach out in a more personal way.
Establish personalized, contextual customer support early on, and that will be part of your DNA as you scale.
Respond at the right time
Did you know that it’s actually possible to send a support email reply too quickly?
Customers love getting quick responses, that’s why response time is a KPI for many companies’ support teams. It’s tempting to crank that up to 11 and reply as fast as you can all the time.
There’s a hidden hazard, though. In the effort of putting a response together quickly, you may do it by pasting a long, boilerplate reply into your email. The boilerplate reply plus the ridiculously quick response time will make your email look auto-generated.
Take the same response, and wait a little bit before sending it. Give yourself more time, and you’ll find yourself avoiding sending hasty messages and unpersonalized emails, too. With several minutes’ time, your response will come off better—like a thoughtful, helpful email that took some time to craft.
Still, don't wait too long to provide a response. If there's going to be a delay, let the customer know how long (keep it under 24 hours). Get in contact with them and be transparent about whether someone is actually working on it or not and how long a response is expected to take.
Groove’s customer support blog grew out of its wildly popular and incredibly helpful blog documenting their growth from $0 to $100,000 in monthly revenue. Now, they’re on their way to $500,000 in monthly revenue.
They’ve infused their customer support blog with the same spirit that made their startup journey blog so awesome. They don’t talk about customer service in the abstract—they give very practical advice on how to solve support problems for the direct purpose of improving your business.
Break Up with Bad Customers
You won’t notice it at first, but some customers end up costing you more time and money than they’re paying you, given the amount of support they require. Plus, they’ll take a toll on your absolutely precious emotional energy and drive.
It’s a tough thing to do, especially as an early-stage startup that’s grateful for every customer it can get, but sometimes a customer just needs to be let go. Breaking up is hard to do, but pushing unsatisfied customers towards a competitor is the gracious way to do it.
To keep bad customers at bay from the start, be crystal clear in your marketing about who should actually be using your product and don’t be afraid to say who shouldn’t use it.
But don't mistake challenging customers for bad ones. Customers who have issues with your product and tell you about them are actually one of your biggest assets: simply by solving for that one vocal customer, you could be improving things for others who chose not to speak out.
Capitalize on The service recovery paradox
There’s an often overlooked paradox when it comes to customer service—sometimes those customers who have had the worst experiences with your product can become your biggest fans. If you resolve a customer’s bad experience successfully, they’ll be happier than customers who never had a problem in the first place. It’s what’s called the service recovery paradox.
For customer service teams, this means that instead of trying to hide or ignore bad reviews of your product, you should see those negative experiences as a business opportunity.
Reach out to the individual customers, showing that your service goes above and beyond what you would ordinarily offer. Tackle their problems and work towards solving the underlying processes that led to them. Customers will be pleasantly surprised by how far you’ll go to turn a negative experience into a positive one.
If you can demonstrate that you really do care about your customers and have a desire to help them, you can turn unhappy or challenging customers into ambassadors.
3. Help Scout
We go to the Help Scout blog to understand the fundamentals of customer service excellence. They write a lot about the internal mechanics of a top-notch customer support team, and all of the elements that need to be in place to make sure you're providing your users with a great experience.
It's a natural focus, considering their product is not just about serving customers but about increasing support team productivity and keeping team members on the same page.
hiring the right people
Hiring a support rep is not like hiring an engineer or a designer, and it can’t be treated as such. When hiring people for your customer service team, you need to be hyper-focused on how an applicant communicates with you and handles him or herself during the interview and pre-interview stages.
Typo-free emails and a polite tone are essential, as is a high level of emotional intelligence. One way to identify great candidates is to take them out for a coffee and see how they behave around people that they aren’t trying to impress: natural people-pleasers will have “please” and “thank you “ constantly rolling off the tongue.
How they behave during the interview is important too. A good applicant will listen with intent — never interrupt you while you’re speaking. No matter how studied their answers sound, rude interpersonal behavior — especially during an interview — is a terrible sign for the long run.
But it’s not enough to just hire the nicest person you come across: a critical part of a support rep’s job is also the creation and improvement of long-term, consistently excellent customer service processes. You want someone who, at first, can come in and answer tickets in the company’s voice, but in the long run you want someone who can identify inefficiencies in the system and devise ways to improve it.
self-care is vital
Customer support is a field that presents unique issues relating to employee well-being: customers can be abrasive, and even abusive, while reps are expected to be consistently cheery and helpful, despite what their more human instincts might tell them to do.
It can be a draining job.
American work culture is not very good at self-care: you might not have even heard of it, but it refers to all of the things that you do to maintain your well-being, whether that's physical or spiritual or emotional.
In some workplaces, delegating time to take care of your self is something that's often accompanied by guilt or shame, especially when those around you appear to be working so hard. Reps who are burnt out are more likely to give rote responses and unhelpful advice because they simply can't see past their own exhaustion to the customer's point of view.
But self-care is essential for everyone — and even more so for customer support reps. It’s counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to take awesome care of customers is by taking care of yourself.
Good service requires reps who feel like whole, healthy human beings because so much of the job is about empathizing and understanding, in many cases, what the *real *problem is.
Oftentimes, the core problem with the customer experience doesn’t lie with the customer’s interaction with support, it’s rooted in the product itself.
That means that one of the most important things that a customer service team needs to do is effectively communicate customer issues and feedback to the product team in a way that inspires the right changes to be made and direction to be taken.
At Intercom, they think a lot about building product—plus, their tool is a customer relationship management tool itself, so they have a ton of insight into how best support can work with product to make customers happy.
Not all customer feedback is created equal
If your only customer feedback is happening through support, you’re putting yourself at risk of falling victim to a powerful bias—listening to the vocal minority.
Support complaints only amount to anecdotal evidence that can be non-representative and heavily skewed.
That’s why it’s critical that you think of support complaints as the starting point for investigation, and not the conclusion.
In the words of Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, “Treat every clustering of feedback that you see as a hypothesis, and then don’t build it, verify it.”
- Reach out to customers in a systematic way to verify that the complaints are representative.
- Go deeper with the customer to truly understand the pain points.
- After you’ve made sense of it and you’ve concluded that a change would benefit a significant segment of your customers, then, finally, build it.
using your customers to plan your product
In our heads, we think all of our product’s features are used with the same frequency. In reality, you likely have a bunch of features that no one uses, but you don’t even know about them because no one’s using them enough to complain to support about them. It’s the tree-falling-in-a-forest effect.
That might not sound like a huge deal, but all your extra, unused features are cluttering up your UI and confusing your customers.
To fix this, it’s not enough to just talk to your customers, you need to do a feature audit.
For each feature, you need to do the five Whys. This will get you to to the core issue behind your adoption problem. Once you’re there, you have to decide whether to improve it or rip it out.
At heart, customer service is about community: both that of your users and support reps. That's why UserVoice touts engagement as a primary concern, and why they offer features like the quick creation of user help forums, polls where customers can vote on new features, and a system of “kudos” that can be given to effective support reps.
stay out of small claims court
Even though we spend a lot of time on Twitter, it turns out that only 1% of people actually prefer to get customer support there.
Startups hire people to specifically deal with social media customer support, but Twitter and channels like it aren’t places to resolve tickets, they are places where users go when they feel like they have no other option.
Twitter is, essentially, a small claims court version of your support system.
What you need to do is dig into your traditional support channels and figure out what about it made people go to Twitter, then fix it.
gamify, but not arbitrarily
Gamification can bring a community together in the spirit of friendly competition, or it can divide it with its patronizing “rewards” and forced combat.
Your support team won't be inspired by badges or tokens that are calculated by misleading metrics, like how many tickets they answered—in fact, they might find it hugely demotivating.
The ideal behind gamification is that you remind people — whether it's your customers or your team — why they decided to get involved with your product in the first place. That's what Foursquare did right: their badges are like achievements, little prizes that reward you for doing a lot of traveling, or hanging out at a particular place a lot. They reward you for being yourself and hook into the impulse that motivated you to use the product in the first place.
What You Should Take Away From This Post
When it comes to startups, executing on the technology is rarely the most important factor that will determine the success of the company. The biggest determinator of success for most SaaS companies is their ability to create products and experiences that people love enough to share with their friends and colleagues -- great customer support is at the heart of that.
These blogs give us food for thought and inspire us to make StatusPage’s customer experience the very best that it can be.