Keeping customer service at the top of mind for your business is key to scaling your startup. But how do you scale a customer service team to match the growing business?
Customer service is more than just answering phone calls and emails—it’s the front line of your business, and we should give it equal importance as any other part of running a company. Think of your customer service team as an extension of how you want customers to feel about your brand. It’s critical that they embody everything you would want in terms of professionalism, friendliness, and helpfulness.
First things first: what exactly is “customer service”? The term encompasses both front-line employees who interact with customers directly and support staff who assist them internally in their roles (like account managers). We often organize customer service teams in one department but they may also exist across departments depending on how big or complex a company is; for example, Zappos has separate departments for online sales and phone sales (besides other teams such as fulfillment).
Get Feedback Early and Often
Customer feedback is the most important tool for growing your team. Whether that team is your entire company, or the customer service group, open feedback from your customers is critical.
Every aspect of your business can improve because of feedback. The data that you gather can help you make informed decisions about your products, how you address customer needs, and of course, your own management decisions. This same data is what you will feed into your marketing automation systems to help your company stay in touch with the right people at the right times.
How do you get feedback? Start by asking questions at every conceivable opportunity—and then ask more questions as soon as possible after that. Regardless of where a conversation happens, make sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to do next before that talk ends. Further, make sure to directly ask the customer if there is anything that they need from you. Their answers can help guide your next moves and your longer-term plans.
Educate Your Customers
In some companies, customer support requests come from users who don’t know how to use the product. Before hiring a slew of new recruits, make sure that you have your walkthroughs and first-time use information readily available. Not only will this cut down on the overall amount of questions that you get, but it can help you determine if there is more information that you need to include in the education.
If you find your customers are having trouble using the product, consider sending out how-to emails to them. These emails can include links to videos, blogs, or other educational materials. These types of campaigns can be quite effective at increasing engagement with your brand and customer satisfaction.
If you have an existing customer base, it’s important to make sure that your customers are aware of new products, as well as changes to existing ones. Increase awareness by staying in touch via email or push notifications. Gather all the relevant information on a landing page that you can update as needed.
Start a Conversation
You’re eager to solve problems, but don’t wait for customers to come to you. Reach out and start the conversation yourself, especially if they have an issue or complaint.
You may think that your business is too small for this kind of customer care, but I assure you that it isn’t. This is especially important if you employ remote workers or contractors who are working away from a physical store. Chances are good that some of your clients will never meet their service providers in person, so it’s important for them to know that someone is listening and cares about what they have to say.
Find Your Tools
Customer service can be an enormous commitment for startups, but it’s also an opportunity to build a community around your brand and get some good social proof at the same time. The key is finding the right tools for your business that will help you scale your customer service efforts as you grow.
Be aware of what features you need and start with a solution that can grow with you. For example, if you’re just getting started with customer service and have only a few customers to serve, consider using email or live chat tools that allow customers to contact you directly. As your business grows and more customers reach out for help on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, it’s important to have access to the right tools in order to keep up with the demand.
When you’re ready to use social media in your customer service efforts, be sure to look at how well the tools you’re considering integrate with your current platform. For example, if you’re using Twitter and want to add a customer service bot that can automatically reply when users mention your brand name in posts or tweets, make sure the software supports this functionality before signing up for an account.
In some companies, it will be important to find tools that work with your existing stack. Take the time to check for integrations, extensions, and other ways that your new customer service tools can mesh with what you’re already doing. Just as it’s important to avoid changing user behavior, we need to look out for our own teams, as well.
Hire the Best People
The most important thing you can do to grow customer service is to hire a world-class team. You need people who are passionate about the product, mission, customers (and potential customers), team, company, and industry.
When hiring, look for candidates who have worked in customer service at other companies. This may seem obvious but it’s also important to be clear about the opportunities that exist inside of your own company. If they are coming from a larger organization, where they had plenty of chances to climb the ladder, it might disappoint them when they’re hired for a role that doesn’t have upward mobility.
Likewise, don’t shy away from hiring the person who you feel has a ton of potential, but hasn’t had the chance to explore it. Who you hire today could very well be the team leader in a few months. Work to strike the balance between opportunities that are ready, and those that could come when needed.
A candidate who has worked in customer service before will already understand the importance of taking ownership over issues instead of passing them off on someone else. They know firsthand how important it is for teams to work together as a whole rather than relying on individuals alone being responsible for solving problems from start to finish with no help from anyone else around them.
Watch the Numbers
Customer service doesn’t stop when the emails and phone calls take a rest. Customer support is about understanding the numbers that matter and knowing how to use them to decide, grow your business, and understand your customers.
There are metrics that can guide your moves, including hiring:
Net Promoter Score (NPS). This measures customer satisfaction by asking if they would recommend a product or service based on their experience. An NPS of 0 is bad; anything above 50 is good. The higher the score, the more likely it is that you have loyal customers who will come back again and again. If you find your NPS slipping, it’s time to examine whether you have enough people, the right people, or other ways that you can help customers reach their goals.
Complaints per 100 transactions (CP100). This metric measures complaints per 100 transactions completed by customers over a specified period, usually each week or month. The goal is to help businesses identify trends in customer issues so they can improve their services before problems become widespread. The CP100 is an excellent litmus test for answering “how are things going?”
The CP100 is also a good way to measure whether the problems you see are because of an issue with your business or an industry-wide problem. If your CP100 is higher than your competitors’, maybe they’re doing something right or that there’s another factor at play. The same goes for if you’re seeing lower complaints—are they because of specific changes in your processes?
Both the NPS and CP100 figures can help you tweak your processes, and be a guide for when it’s time to expand your customer service team. While both numbers are important, it’s critical that you not obsess over them. Remember that people will always complain louder than they praise, so temper your reactions accordingly.
We’re long known the impact of customer service in a startup. As more and more companies realize their customers are their greatest asset, we’re going to see even more innovation in this area. The most important thing to remember is that customer service isn’t just about the product, it’s about the entire experience. It’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re focused on shipping code and hitting milestones. But if you want to build a great company, it’s essential that you scale your customer support team at the same time.