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Bad onboarding makes a bad first impression and sets a tone that you don't want within your company.

Edmond Lau, an engineer at Quip and previously engineering team lead at Quora, writes that an inadequate onboarding process can lead to:

  • Missing out on good people who could have become productive engineers given better guidance
  • Not identifying bad hires quickly enough, as you're unclear about their level of work
  • Losing productivity due to it taking longer to ramp up to peak efficiency
  • Increased stress and reduced happiness of new hires

But when does it make sense to define a structured onboarding process? Certainly not day 1, but not year 10 either.

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.

At Y Combinator, back in the heady days of summer 2013, we had this conversation with our designated partner, Kevin Hale:

Kevin Hale: Guys, why the hell are you offering the people the chance to take your “powered by” branding off their status page?
StatusPage.io: Well, once people are paying for the service, we don’t think our branding should be on the page.
KH: Don’t do it.
SP: But we think it will piss people off.
KH: Don’t do it.
SP: Even for our top tier?
KH: DON’T DO IT.
SP: But...
KH: Look, if Desk.com can get away with it, so can you guys.

Kevin was 100% right.

This conversation totally changed the trajectory of our business. It keyed our growth from $5k MRR to $25k MRR and provided a scalable acquisition to grow far, far beyond that. And it all came out of a 5 minute conversation and 1 single line of code.

It's been a little over a year since I blogged about why company founders should do customer support for as long as possible. Here we are, one year later and our customer count has almost tripled! I think we must be doing something right, because honestly, not a lot has changed.

We support $2,300,000 annual recurring revenue with just one full time support rep. That's 10,000 individual users on 1,650 paying accounts!

So that I don't confuse you later, we actually do all-hands support and have one team member working on it full time each week.

Think one person can't pull off that level of customer support? You might be surprised. We've experienced a lot of success, and it's largely thanks to a few simple strategies.

It took us 6 months to get to $5k MRR, and then only 4 more months to 5x that to $25k in MRR.

What drove customer acquisition and awareness around our product to drive growth? You're reading it.

Our blog was the biggest reasons for our initial revenue growth at StatusPage.io. We had occasional, but massive content marketing home runs that have driven huge numbers of sign ups and shares, for a product that people probably wouldn’t otherwise seek out or know that they needed.

Not every post takes off. But the ones that we do strike sweet take off, really fly, hit the bull and win a steak (#bullcity).

This is the first in an on-going series of posts we're going to do called "UX Protips". There are hundreds of little tips and tricks that you can implement to slightly increase the UX of your product. We're doing a series of deep dives on these tips to help you better understand how to make them work for your business. Hope you like it!

Nobody likes to dwell on potential problems, but consider how much trouble we'd be in if a car manufacturer neglected to include a "check engine" light, just because they didn't want to entertain the possibility of future maintenance. Similarly, web pages have their own "dashboard lights" that alert developers to issues and help communicate any problems to their customers. These come in the form of error pages.

Error pages are inevitable on any website–they're the by-product of healthy growth and the occasional website redesign. Unfortunately, SpringTrax found that 74% of visitors leave your website after hitting a 404 error page. Worse still, most of these visitors never return. When broken links riddle your homepage or continuously crop up on search engines, your website begins to feel impenetrable and consequently you lose your client's trust.

What many people don't realize is that when your users encounter an error, it doesn't have to be some terrible experience. It's an opportunity to make them smile. An opportunity to show them that you care about the little things. An opportunity to turn what's normally a frustrating experience into a funny one.

The past two years have seen a huge rise in transparency among startups. Not just transparency within the organization...I'm talking about being transparent with the public about all kinds of things. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to find startups sharing data about their financials. Or their process. Or their culture. Or their salaries.

It's easy to be transparent when things are going well, or even OK. There's no real harm in telling everyone how much your CEO makes or that you grew 8% last month.

But what about when things aren't going so well. Being transparent about your website being down is hard. Being transparent about getting hacked or losing data is even harder. It's embarrassing. You may feel like you don't want to call attention to what's happening -- maybe the problem will go unnoticed?

But being transparent when it's hard is when it counts the most.

Unplanned downtime can strike at any time. We see instances of our customers having downtime that lasts hours or even days! And it can happen for a myriad of reasons: database failures, DDoS attacks, more database issues, and more database issues. The list goes on.

When your website is down, people are naturally going to want to know why. When you don't have many customers, this isn't a huge problem -- but as your grow and your customer count rises, so will the number of inbound support requests. When this happens, your support team can get completely flooded with tickets regarding the outage. Agents get frustrated by the repetitive requests, customers get mad at long response times...it's a bad situation for everyone involved.

The only way to effectively reduce the burden on your support team when unplanned downtime happens is to have some kind of automated way to answer the questions your customers will inevitably have. You need a status page.

This is a web page specifically dedicated to communicating which parts of your site are/aren't working and the reasons behind it. It should be a publicly accessible site that will keep your customers informed when you're having an unplanned outage.

Here's what Aaron Brongersma, a senior infrastructure engineer at Modulus says about how their status page has affected their support load.

"Our first responders are able to quickly create incidents on our status page, alert our subscribers and quickly move on to solving the critical issues at hand. Having this workflow has also helped to reduce the number of tickets related to previously resolved issues that our support team would receive at the start of our normal support hours."

But you can't just create a status page for your web service and call it a day! Here are a few tips and tricks to successfully use a status page to avoid getting flooded by support tickets during downtime.

The unfortunate reality about running a web service is that every now and again, you're going to have downtime. Even the best web companies have the occasional blip in service. If downtime is inevitable, then it's best to plan ahead so that you can be ready. After all, prior preparation prevents poor performance.

Poorly handled downtime will cause your customers a lot of pain which will in turn affect your bottom line. Some of your customers may outright switch to a competitor. You'll lose future customers due to lack of trust. You'll get less word-of-mouth referrals because your customers will just like you less.

Luckily, unplanned downtime doesn't have to turn into a customer service nightmare. It turns out that if you just keep your customers in the loop by communicating what's happening and what you're doing to fix the problem, they'll understand and have a much less negative reaction to the whole situation.

StatusPage.io has been a remote company for the majority of its existence. We started with just Scott in Colorado and myself in North Carolina. About six months after we started, Danny came onboard while living in New Jersey.

We did have one brief stint in which we all lived in the same city. YCombinator started a month after Danny came onboard and we all moved to Mountain View for that Summer. But after YC ended, Scott and I went back to our respective states and Danny stayed in San Francisco.

In the beginning we were very positive about being a remote team. It was going to let us live where we wanted to live, hire the best talent around the world, and work from home when we wanted to. All that jazz.

But over the past two years, the downsides of being a remote team have really started to weigh on us. So much so that we're changing our stance on how we want to build the team. Remote just isn't for us.

StatusPage.io helps companies better communicate with customers and internal teams around downtime.