Scaling Support: When & How
The lifecycle of app development is pretty standard: you come up with an idea, hire a designer, hire some programmers, then you take it to market. Customer support is very rarely part of this equation from the beginning. Support is almost always an afterthought, and only becomes a priority when you’re suddenly drowning in support tickets, complaints, or feature requests.
So what’s the best way to prepare for this onslaught once your app hits the market and people start using it?
Scaling support starts with determining what level of support the app is going to offer. You’ll need to buckle down and decide on actual support methods: Should we offer phone support? Email only? What about using Twitter for support, and if we do use Twitter, should it be a separate support account? Does Facebook matter? You’ve got all of these options and so little time to do it all yourself!
If you’re struggling to figure out where customer support fits in your app development stage, here’s a quick primer to know when and why you should scale your support:
You’ve just started your app development and you’re in private beta or limited launch. At this point, you should be doing support yourself, even if you’re playing dual roles as CEO/Founder/Developer. Answer every email yourself, reply to every Tweet yourself, and get to know your first customers by name. Use an online forum and actively engage with early adopters, encouraging them to post thoughts, feature requests, and questions to the community. Use their questions to build your online knowledge base. Feature links to your help section prominently in new signup emails, billing emails, and in your own email signature.
This can be the most important part of your initial support offerings, since 40% of most customer questions can be answered in a help article. Let customers know you take their input seriously and would love to know their thoughts on using your app, and take swift action to apologize if things go down or if bugs surface. Using a free email service like Gmail or Desk is great at this stage, if you’re seeing under 20 support emails per day.
You’ll need to move into this phase when you’re getting around 40 emails per day, but no more than 80 per day on a regular basis. By this stage, you’ve taken your app to market and have a steady flow of new customers each day. You’re starting to get more support emails and more followers on Twitter, and maybe even a Facebook fan page. This is the time to start transitioning full-time support to someone else who’s trained in customer management.
Your product development team should interact daily with your support agent to learn how customers are using your product, what they’re asking for, and how their experience can be improved. Support should be able to answer all customer emails within 24 hours as a standard, but aim for a turn-around response time of 2-3 hours.
Integrating live chat, out-bound call support (where you initiate the call with the customer), and a support-centric Twitter feed is also a necessity at this stage. Use the immediacy of Twitter to your advantage to meet customers where they are and keep email volume low. Consider ramping up to use a full-scale helpdesk tool like UserVoice, that offers a built-in customer feedback forum for users to submit ideas, and amazing analytics on incoming support volume.
At this stage, you’ve had paying customers for 6 months to a year, and you’re getting over 100 emails per day. A good rule is hiring one support agent for every 60 emails you get per day. These agents should maintain the turn-around time you’ve set as an SLA with customers, and you should have published business hours for your support team so your customers know when they’re available to help. Your customer forum should be up and running and engaging customers publicly, and your support Twitter feed should show more replies to customers than anything else.
Your customer support team should be expected to curate your Knowledge Base daily and to keep track of common feature requests to take back to your development team. As a CEO or founder, you should still pop into help with support once a week or more to stay engaged with new customers and personally interact with long-time, loyal customers again. Consider sending personal emails or cards to your first few customers who are still with you, or doing a meetup with the most vocal customers in your forums to chat about your product roadmap.
At the end of the day, what matters isn’t just how much time you spend developing your customer support, but that you think of it as an essential part of your whole product development. If you offer support prominently as part of your product offering – even by publishing your own personal email address as a contact – your customers will know that they’re important to you, and reward you with their loyalty. Support isn’t just reactionary, it’s the entire relationship customers have with your product!