Amy is the Customer Happiness Worker Bee at Updatey. This post is one in a series about the joys and challenges of building customer happiness at a startup.
The phrase 'Customer Service' is one that sends shivers down the spine of many. Images of being stuck on a phone for hours on end or receiving a cold and automated message in response to an earnest cry for help might well spring to mind at the idea of 'Customer Support'.
It doesn't have to be this way, and working hard to make sure you place a priority on your customers' happiness is an incredibly important part of building your business successfully. And there is hope. Companies and startups have begun putting customer happiness at the forefront of their strategies and changing the way they interact with their customers.
For a startup, it is vital to think carefully about how you plan on interacting with your customers and how you're going to ensure their happiness while they learn about and use your product.
If you're working on your own startup, you won't necessarily have a big team to begin with. In fact, you might be the only person coding, marketing, and answering customers' emails. But this doesn't mean it's any less important for you to make time to make the best of your time interacting with customers.
You should be placing as much importance on Customer Happiness as you do on your coding and pricing strategy because customer support is as tied into the success of your business as anything else. Just because it has often been considered a secondary part of a business doesn't mean you can't reap the benefits of understanding the importance of Customer Happiness.
1) Their experiences are invaluable to making your product better
This is perhaps one of the most underestimated benefits your startup can get from having a good Customer Happiness team. For most companies, it seems that listening to customers is a drag on their time and if they hear the same complaint frequently, they add the answer to that issue to their online knowledge base, and that's that.
But listening to your customers is the best kind of market research, the most powerful way to understand how your customers use and view your product. You have a perfect cross-section of people ranging from those who have just started using your product and those who have been using it since its beginning.
A fresh pair of eyes is vital, especially if you're making frequent changes to your idea. Even if you aren't making changes though, you should always be thinking about what the future holds for your app/website/life-changing invention, and your customers' opinions and experiences should feed into those discussions.
When you receive a message from a customer who's confused, your customer support team can do their job and help that person.
If you understand that your customer support team is a direct link to your customer base, you'll be in an excellent position to take real advantage of that when it comes to developing your product.
If you frequently receive the same questions from customers, you - in your deep understanding of your own product - might feel that they simply aren't looking properly or just aren't paying attention. But the most important element here is not that you have customers who aren't smart enough but that you are getting the same question repeatedly. This should tell you that there is something that is unclear in your app or service, something that is not being communicated clearly enough.
Remember that for every customer who writes in to let you know of a bug or something they're confused about there's another customer who doesn't get in touch and simply abandons you.
If you can use the knowledge your team collects from confused and angry customers (who are often much more helpful in terms of finding issues in the usability and clarity what you're developing) to make small changes here or there, then you would almost never have to answer that same question again, and could possibly keep customers who would have been discouraged, even by a small amount of confusion.
Those emails with complaints about something not working, or the dozen or so questions about why you don't have a feature that you know you have - these should point you directly to a discussion about whether or not those features are clear enough.
You'll inevitably receive new feature requests from your customers, but these are slightly different.
This is not to say that they aren't as helpful. You can use these to spot patterns of what your customers feel is lacking, which can give you really helpful clues about how you're positioning your product.
Repeated requests for additions like an iOS or Android app are to be expected, for example. But if you're getting repeated suggestions for something that you don't view as fitting into your goals or road map, then this might be a clue that you aren't making the position of your product as clear as you could.
Of course, a request can also just be a request and something that you would one day love to add but that just can't go in now. Just because you received requests doesn't mean that you have to implement them but neither does it mean you should say 'never' to a customer or treat their request as a nuisance.
Your customers don't know your roadmap so they will often ask for features that you have no plans of implementing or some which you know you want to add but that it'll be a long while before it happens.
If a customer's taken the time to get in touch to suggest something, you should always get back to them and thank them for their suggestion. If it's something you have no intention of ever offering, be honest about it but don't shut them down.
Think of it this way, you don't have to agree with or implement every product feature suggestion you receive but when there's a complaint or a suggestion about what could be made clearer, you should think carefully about the implications of the confusion there. This could be the difference between the best user interface and an okay one.
2) Happy customers tell their friends
Attracting new customers to sign up and pay for your product is not easy. You have to network, use social media, and get your marketing hat on. But think of it this way: if you wow your customers with excellent customer support, going as far as emphasising Customer Happiness, rather than only supporting them when there's a problem, they're more likely to tell their friends about your product.
People are more likely to make purchases if they've heard recommendations from their friends and contacts, and those customers are more likely to recommend your product if they've had an amazing experience with your app or service. Of course, this means having a fundamentally great product and business, but part of that business plan and good experience, is the way you interact with and help your customers.
Negative reviews can have an even more powerful effect across social media than positive ones but you're almost certainly going to get complaints and unhappy messages posted on social media so if you have a large number of happy customers whose great support experiences are visible, you're better prepared to mitigate those negative comments.
Don't think of it necessarily as a means to an end: you shouldn't want to make your customers happy only so that you can get their friends on to your service. You should want to make your customers happy so that they enjoy using your product and want to share why they love it with their friends.
3) You will almost certainly make mistakes
Every new business will have bumps in the road and there will almost always be a time when you have to apologize to your customers when something goes wrong. If your latest update contains an unexpected bug that's causing problems for your users, you should always apologize for the problems that they're seeing and keep them up to date about a solution.
But imagine if you could build such a great relationship with your customers that when something does go wrong, they understand that you're genuinely sorry that it happened and that you're doing your best to fix it. They might even write in, happy to let you know about the problem because they feel invested in your product and part of the process rather than simply another statistic on the screen.
Making sure you put customers first means that you'll react in the best way possible when something does goes belly up. Your customers will be able to tell if you're not being genuine with them but if you are open and honest with your users, you'll be able to earn their trust, and if you have a good customer happiness team in place for reacting well in the worst of situations, you'll be able to overcome those moments and keep your customers happy and your business intact.
Buffer is a great example that's often used in cases like this. When they were hacked in October 2013, they immediately went to work with not only fixing the hack but ensuring that the priority was keeping their customers up to date with what was happening.
Some customers had a drop in confidence in Buffer around the time of the incident but the majority of their customers were so pleased with the transparency and genuinely apologetic and helpful nature of their responses to the problem that it reinforced their trust in the company and the drop in 'Sentiment' that the Buffer team tracks was temporary rather than longer lasting.
Buffer had shown its customers that they were sorry for the problem in the first place and that they wanted to do everything to fix it, both on technical level and on a customer level. They've even gained more trust from users who saw the press about the amazing way they dealt with the incident!
If you build a great relationship with your customers early on, then they'll let you know when things go wrong not because they want to complain but because they care about you and your product. And when the bugs and security issues arise, you'll be better equipped to communicate honestly with your customers.
4) You want them to stick with you
Chances are, your startup will charge customers by the month, or at a stretch, per year. This means that, rather than tracking down and making a one-time sale then locking your customer in for a long-term contract, your job is too keep your customers paying for your product month by month.
Your continued income is dependent on a customer's continued use of your product. This relies on your product working well for them but in the event that something does go wrong, your customers will want to know that they can rely on you to get the help and advice they need.
Take Netflix for instance. One of their customers had such a great experience with one of the Netflix support reps that the interaction made its way round the internet.
Netlflix offers a great product that people pay for monthly but if a customer was having real technical difficulties and finding no help from the Netflix customer support team, then they can show their displeasure very easily, by simply cancelling their account. The customer holds real power.
This is not to say that you're trying to trick your customers into giving you their loyalty. It means that part of your job in building your startup is to provide a customer support experience that is above and beyond what they're expecting. You have to earn that loyalty and in return for your customer's money and patronage, you can earn and gain that loyalty by treating each customer as well as possible.
Putting your customers' happiness during their experiences with your product first will go a really long way to making sure they feel like valued customers rather than another username on your Stripe account.
5) You want your customers to enjoy your product!
Last but not least, if nothing else, you want your customers to enjoy using your product! Part of that is making sure they feel that they really matter to you, which they definitely should. Providing a friendly and helpful team to deal with any problems, questions, or ideas is a great way to make sure your customers know you have their interests in mind.
Even if they want to tell you how much they love your product, you can add to your customers' happiness by making sure they know how much you appreciate them taking the time to get in touch. Your customers are as busy in their every day lives as you are working and dealing with other customers, so when they take time out of their days to say hi, letting them know you appreciate it shows that you're a group of motivated and happy people who thrive on their kind words.
With all these reasons, you can see how important Customer Happiness is to your business and how valuable it can be.
When thinking through your own team's attitude to Customer Happiness, remember to think about your personal touch! There are a lot of great resources out there to learn from, but remember to tailor what you read to your own startup and values. Just because one company does things one way, doesn't mean you have to. You can fundamentally disagree with what one startup is doing as part of its customer support but that doesn't mean it can't inspire you to change how you're interacting with your customers.
It's no longer about creating a power divide between you and your customer where you provide a product for which you feel they should be grateful. Great Customer Support is about making sure that you keep learning from confusions of past customers so that your current customers don't have to get in touch or be confused.
But if they do have to get in touch, make sure you treat your customers just as you would want to be treated. Not as a faceless email address on a screen, but as a customer in your local coffee shop would want to be treated.
What's your experience of building a customer support team? Have you had an amazing customer experience lately? We'd love to hear from you so please do say hi in the comments below or send us an email!