Why Founders Shouldn't Delegate Support Too Early
When we launched StatusPage.io in February of 2013, there were only two people on the team. The two of us were responsible for every single function of the company: building product, writing blog posts, doing customer support, and all of the administrative work around owning a company. Today there are four of us and not much has changed. Wearing lots of hats is just a reality of early stage software startups.
If you've ever been part of an early stage software startup, you know what this is like. Wearing lots of hats is hard. There's lots of context switching and you have to do jobs you don't want to do.
Founders want to stick to what they're good at, which is usually being in charge of product. So they look for ways to get rid of these distractions, allowing them to focus on the things that they're good at. What often happens is founders will outsource and hire other people to do all the jobs that they don't want to be doing.
For some areas this makes a lot of sense, but founders should do customer support for as long as possible.
Bad Things Happens When Founders Stop Doing Support
Two things happen when the product builders stop doing support. But for some reason, most people only ever talk about one of them.
The Usability Of New Features Is Bad
The usability of the product starts to wane when the people building the product stop doing customer support. This is because they effectively become insulated from the consequences of their actions (i.e. having to deal with support). The overall user experience goes down, customers are less happy with your product...everyone has heard this story before.
Miss Opportunities To Provide Remarkable Support
But another interesting thing that happens when the founders stop doing support that people don't talk about is this: you start missing out on opportunities to provide remarkable support. I'm not talking about your everyday upbeat, jovial, "here's a link to the knowledge base article" support. I'm talking about tweet about it, tell their friends, you-just-made-them-a-customer-evangelist support.
As founders, we're uniquely qualified to give support experiences that users would never expect to receive. Support reps do a good job in solving easy problems but as you'll see, the reality is they'll never be able to give support experiences that truly qualify as remarkable.
Examples Of Remarkable Support
At StatusPage.io, we occasionally have the opportunity to really go above and beyond to help our customers get the most out of our product. Here's a few examples...
Extensive Feature Help
StatusPage.io customers can add Custom HTML/CSS to create a Custom Header/Footer for their page. As a founder with solid knowledge of HTML/CSS as well as the code that makes up the template for the actual status pages, I'm uniquely qualified to answer any and all questions customers have about using this feature. Not only that, I can proactively help our customers by writing a few Media Queries to make pages responsive.
Fix Bugs In Real-Time
Fixing bugs for your customers in real-time can be somewhat of a magical experience for them. People expect their problems to be fixed in a matter of days, not minutes. All of our application errors get piped into our HipChat room. We're actually able to proactively reach out to people on livechat (we use Olark) when they experience a bug. This allows us to get a bit more information about the problem and we can often fix it on the spot.
Think Of Remarkable Support As A Growth Channel
Organic Growth From Word-Of-Mouth
In the early days of B2B SaaS products, a decent percentage of growth comes directly from word-of-mouth. At StatusPage.io, the person in the organization who initially signs up for our service is usually a developer. Developers are a pretty tight knit community. They know each other, they follow each other on Twitter, they go to meetups together. So when someone from the community talks about us on Twitter, several others hear about it.
Just had and excellent exchange with @StatusPageIO guys!— Mahdi Yusuf (@myusuf3) August 17, 2013
Assisting Sales Through Good Recommendations
The bigger way remarkable support helps fuel growth is it leads to great recommendations. People often hear about us through different channels and ask their friends for more information. If we've given that friend a remarkable support experience, they're likely to give us a glowing recommendation. This is important because recommendations from friends are incredibly effective at leading to purchase decisions.
"Scaling" Remarkable Support
As founders, we wear many hats and can’t let any one become too burdensome. So how can the founders extend the amount of time they can continue providing remarkable support?
It's Important To Filter Low-Value Support Tickets
It turns out that not all support requests have the potential to be remarkable experiences. There are a plethora of low value requests that can be answered in a second or two. These are small questions with a readily available answer. Luckily, these types of requests also turn out to be easiest to eliminate. You should make it a goal eliminate the low value support tickets so you can focus on improving your product and providing those remarkable support experiences.
How To Filter Low-Value Support Tickets
The first thing I would recommend to help reduce the number of low-value support tickets is do some basic usability testing. If you're not doing usability testing, you will be surprised/devastated at some of the stupid things your webapp does. You know exactly what every knob and button in your webapp does, but it's not always immediately obvious to new users what they should be doing. Some copy changes or a bit of context is usually all that's needed to really improve the usability of a feature, leading to a solid reduction in low-value tickets.
The fact of the matter is that some features necessitate a higher level of complexity. In these cases, a strong knowledge base with walk-through videos can be very helpful in eliminating low-value support requests. You should also make sure that you are surfacing those KB articles/videos at the right place and time when the user needs them. At StatusPage.io, we do this by providing links to articles/videos related to the page they're on right in the webapp. For example, if they're on the Components page, we provide link to more information about the particulars of using components.
Applying This To Your Business
I'm not saying every c-suite should drop what they're doing and get on Olark. The reality is, this doesn't scale forever. If you're not a B2B company or you are and already have more than a thousand customers, there are more probably valuable things to be doing.
But if you're an small B2B company, what's more important than making customer evangelists out of your early customers? We're still doing this a year and a half after launch and it's working well for us.