You’ve got a good problem. Your product is a hit and customer growth is skyrocketing. You’re getting new customers every day trying out your app, your service, and whatever you’re selling. But more customers means more questions from customers. It’s a good problem but one that you need to solve.
How do you scale customer support?
It’s a question that many teams out there struggle with. To make it a little easier, let’s take a look at the three big areas you’ll need to focus on as you start scaling up your customer support.
1) Setting up a solid help site.
2) Mastering specific support channels.
3) Bringing in more people.
As you grow, these are the ares that you’ll want to look at to make sure you’re scaling an awesome customer support experience.
A solid help site
Your first focus needs to be on customers helping themselves. Customers love the self-service side to a good help site and it’ll free up your team’s time.
Side note – You’ve probably seen some various terms with this. This part of your product’s site is called a knowledge base, a help site, or a support section. I’ll use those words interchangeably.
Routine and repetitive questions are best handled through self-service. The customer should be able to update their card, change their email address, and things along those lines on their own when they need to. Empowering the customer to do these simple tasks lets them have immediate answers any time day or night. Plus, it doesn’t tie up one of your support reps. When you set it up right, a self-service portal is like an employee that can handle thousands of customers at once 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It doesn’t even need vacations.
But how do you know which things you need to put in your knowledge base? The best way is to just look at your data. What types of questions does your team see the most? If 10% of your cases are customers asking to do X, then X should be something the customer can do on their own. That’ll immediately cut 10% of your support case load and free those reps up to focus on those more complex support cases.
On top of your knowledge base should be a solid search engine. Customers don’t want to comb through page after page of questions looking for that specific one. Give them a search tool that does the searching for them.
The last thing I’ll say about your help site is this – videos and screenshots are worth the time spent on them. Some people learn by reading, some by seeing, and some by hearing. Give your customers a mix of written instructions, screenshots, and videos to help them easily understand your product.
Master specific channels
As more customers start using your product, you’re going to get a ton of pressure to expand your support channels. You might have started off with just email but now customers want support through Twitter, Facebook, phone, SMS, live chat, and who knows what else.
Resist the urge to cover everything. When you cover too many support channels, you dilute your effectiveness. You’ll stretch your team more than it can handle. That’ll put more stress on your team during this growth phase.
Instead, become a master of a few specific support channels. You’ll definitely want to nail the email experience. That’s the cornerstone of a solid support setup. From there, you could expand into Facebook or Twitter, since lots of your customers are already there. Or maybe you want to invest energy into a live chat tool. The specific mix is up to you – just make sure you become a master of a few rather than a novice at them all.
Once you have those specific channels picked, you’ll want to use the fastest tools you can to interact with customers there. A good example is a Twitter support tool. Then one that’s hooked into the email support app I use every day is pretty slow. Using it slowed down my flow, which meant I was slower to answer customers. Instead, I flipped to just using the native Twitter web app. It’s super fast so customers get blazing fast replies.
On that same note, make sure to use tools that make you faster. For instance, I use Text Expander. When I get an email, I’m able to type a few characters and have the bulk of it ready to go. From there, I go in and customize the name, add a few other things like “Go Tigers” if they’re an Auburn fan or such. When it’s ready, I send it and move on to the next ticket. It saves me a ton of time from typing the same thing over and over with each new email.
Bring in more people
So far, we’ve looked at the tech side of things you can do. Let’s shift into looking at the human side a bit more. After all, all the technology in the world won’t make up for having the wrong people on your support team.
When a customer emails you, you need to have an actual human respond. As more emails come in, you’ll need more people to help reply to those customers. When your support team reaches it’s limit, call on the rest of your company to pitch in and help.
Lots of companies are taking this all-company support approach. Designers, developers, system admins, and even your CEOs or office assistant can all help answer emails and help customers. Having them work with your support team is the same as hiring on another support-specific person or two, only at no extra cost.
There’s a couple of ways to start with all-company support like this. You could have each person take a support rotation for a day or half-day. Or you could have each person answer a set amount of support tickets a day. The biggest thing is to keep the communication lines open between support and the rest of the team. You’ll want to help others write the best responses they can rather than just throwing them in the deep in to see if they can swim.
Of course, this approach will only help with the growing support load for so long. At some point, you’ll need to hire more support reps. But when?
A good rule of thumb here is to hire when it hurts. This lets you feel the pain of being short staffed. You’ll have a clear picture of what you need to hire a person to do instead of just guessing at what they should do.
The last thing I’ll mention here is to keep everyone fluent with your product. You want everyone on your team able to field any question they might get from a customer. As your team grows, there’s pressure to have people specialize in certain areas like billing, technical bugs, and sales. That’s fine when everything is humming along but what happens if that person is out for the day or week?
When your support reps are fluent in all areas of your product, they’ll be able to provide a better experience to your customers. There’s no weak link then that might break under certain situations.
By this point, you’ll probably ready to try all these things right now. Don’t do it!
Don’t rush it. Your customer base is growing like crazy, which makes you want to fix everything right now. But dumping all these onto your team only makes the growth problem worse.
Pick one thing and focus on getting it right this week. Are you on a million different support channels? Pick a few main ones and start scaling back to master just those selected ones. Is your help site kinda weak right now? Focus on expanding it this week. Concentrate your energy and resources into one of the areas above first and then expand to tackle the others.
What other advice would you have for teams supporting a rapidly growing customer base?