A strong support system and reactive team is often one of the best ways to retain customers. Customers who feel good about how you treat them feel good about the product. Vise versa, if you are unresponsive, don’t get back to people, or don’t help people use your system, they will drop off quickly.
As we discussed earlier, little problems can become huge problems at scale. One person with a bug, big or small, is not really a problem. But ten thousand people with a little bug is a huge issue. With enough time, you will have bugs that affect everyone, so planning ahead for these is critical.
Everyday in the news we hear about some company getting hacked and how poorly they dealt with it. The fact is, for every one of these companies you hear about that got hacked and fell apart, there are another hundred that breezed by it and you never heard about. Hacks, bugs, hardware failures, and human error happen every day and you will not be spared from these issues. So putting in place the right policies and systems up front can be fundamental to your long-term success.
Customer support systems fall into a few main systems. These expand and intertwine with one another, especially as your business grows. General systems include:
The thing I love about a support team is that the list of tasks they generally do is limited and can be clearly defined. This is a lot different than your surgical build team that was used to build the system that required very smart people doing complicated jobs that generally cost a lot of money. Not that support team members aren’t smart, it’s just easier to define their jobs and hold them accountable.
The flip side of this is that almost every SaaS CEO I know struggles with their support teams. Despite the struggle, as you can see below, the investment is well worth it.
As your SaaS grows, the number one cost will be in support. Let’s take a look at Mailchimp, one of the world’s currently most successful SaaS systems. When I started writing this book, they had something like 500 team members, about 80% of which were in support. By the time I finished this book, they had almost 1000 people, and about 82% of them were i support. Think about that for a moment, that is 820 people JUST IN SUPPORT.
My first thought when I learned about this was “That is ridiculous!” But upon further contemplation, it made a lot of sense. Some of their users are big companies sending millions of emails. But most people using MailChimp send cat videos. These users generally have a lower level of tech savviness and need a helping hand, or hands, or lots of hands, usually lots. But those helping hands make a big difference in the bottom line.
Let’s say that each support person helps 25 people per day, and 15 of those are new users. Because the new user received help, they are twice as likely to sign up and stay signed up. Assuming that of the 15 new users per day that a support person talked to, 6 of them are now going to sign up instead of 3. Of those people, let’s just assume they are all at the lowest level of $20/mo.
1 support person
x 20 days per month of work
x 6 people per day that sign up
x $20/mo spend
x 12 months estimated LTV per customer
That is a difference of $14,400 addition the bottom line per month! I’m not sure about the formula they’ve got for adding more support team members, but it’s probably fairly straightforward.
Support team tasks can vary a lot, and as your business grows these tasks will turn from tasks, to people, to teams, to departments. To begin with though, let’s just take a look at the tasks.
Handling refunds and other money related issues
Walking users through issues
Referring users to other departments or teams
Improving the knowledge base
Training the chatbot
The beautiful thing about all of this is that I just listed out 12 things in about a minute, and while it is a lot of things, you could probably write out SOPs for most of these tasks in a week to two weeks. On the flip side, how long would it take you to write out SOPs for every task a developer does? Years?
The trick here, as you’ll see in the next section is training and SOPs. Because you can list it all out, it is now a matter of getting support team members to do these tasks with excellence every time.
Because there is a set list of tasks which each have a set process 98% of the time, and the other 2% can be figured out or written out most of the time, the real trick here is thorough and effective training.
Looking back at our friends at MailChimp, their training time is 3 months, and it is full time and intensive. Even with this much training, a lot of their new support team members are not ready after the initial training and have to go back for more help regularly.
If you’re just getting started, I recommend hiring someone for support initially who can eventually become a support leader and train your next and next and next support team member. As you can see in the formula above on how much money support team members make MailChimp, it’s completely worth getting good people to do a great job.
If you choose a C-player for support when you’re just getting started you’re going to pay for it in a very real sense.
There are so many glorious ways to interact with your customers! The problem is, unless they’re paying you a lot of money, you don’t want to use all these different ways. So keep it simple, and only let the people that are really paying you a lot of money get your phone number. It could be that for you, that’s everyone. But for most SaaS businesses, it’s not.
The following list of methods and systems are in the order of levels that a user will or should interact with your company.
Your knowledge base is your first line of defense. When a user is trying to figure something out, one of the first things they are going to do is go to Google and type in “How do [THING HERE] on [NAME OF YOUR SYSTEM], and this is going to take them straight to your knowledge base.
The next thing they’re going to do is reach out to your chatbot, noted below, and ask the exact same question. This system as well should send them to your knowledge base if it’s set up properly.
So getting a good knowledge base set up and consistently updating it with relevant information is critical, but one of the things that is so, so hard to do. When you’re first getting started, it is probably easiest to use something like the HelpGuru Wordpress theme to get going. But as you progress, you may want to consider looking into more complete systems. While it isn’t the most beautiful, my favorite knowledge base system is Confluence, but it is used for internal operations not necessarily as an external knowledge base.
If you’ve got a chatbot running on your system, and especially if it is activated such that it asks questions or actively helps users, then your users are likely to just pull up the chatbot and start asking questions.
If it’s set up properly, then at least most of the questions users normally ask will be covered. Coincidentally, most of these questions will also direct users to the knowledge base.
At the time of writing, Intercom was the market leader in chatbot systems, but things change and by the time you get to read to this point in the book, things may have changed a lot, especially with the lowering cost of development and the open source systems on the market.
If someone does manage to get past your chatbot and knowledge base and still need some help, you’re probably going to want to email them with their answers. We have people manning the chatbot, but they work 8 hours per day, and not around the clock, so the odds are someone is going to ask a question while we aren’t available. If they do, they’re going to get a message from us through our email ticket management system.
Depending on how your business is set up, chat support may be an earlier line of defence that email support. Chat support is a critical piece of the SaaS infrastructure these days and in many cases, it is hard to live without it. Chat support enables you to:
Talk to your customers quickly and easily
Identify crucial aspects of their system use upon the start of the conversation
Move conversations to different team members or departments that may be more suited to handle the conversation
Progress the user through their support experience while simultaneously managing other customers
Quickly pass along answers to questions that may exist elsewhere online, especially in the knowledge base
Process through support at your own speed
As pointed out elsewhere in this book, chat support can also come after a user has passed the Chatbot layer, cutting down on man-hours that may not be useful and saving money.
Phone support is generally more useful under a few different conditions:
When a SaaS is getting started and the company needs to better understand it’s users and form a stronger following.
If a customer is a higher level or higher paying customer.
If the SaaS business is an Enterprise SaaS or generally serves higher paying customers.
Phone support can be very time consuming, sometimes draining, and thus more expensive so it is important to weigh the cost of providing phone support upfront, before initiating this service.
Another potential plan for phone support is to provide this kind of support initially for your first customers and create your following of raving fans, then, in the future, provide this service only for initial customers or higher level customers.
On the flip side, some very successful businesses have relied heavily on phone support. If an aspect of your business is the customer interaction and level of support, this may be a good method for you.
Video or Remote support means that your customer service representatives will be on a video call with your customers and may also take remote control of the customer’s device to help the customer.
This method has or involves the:
Highest level of service.
Greatest possibility of forming lasting relationships.
At BrainLeaf, if we are troubleshooting unknown bugs and we need to see the issue happening on the customer’s device, we will offer to do a video call so we can see the issue live. As of yet, we have not had any particularly angry or upset clients, but the possibility is certainly out there and being in front of them is liability we take while we are growing the company.
A commonly misunderstood aspect of support for new entrepreneurs is diverging support from marketing and sales. These departments for a SaaS are one in the same. Not only does a great customer support experience turn a potentially upset customer into a raving fan, it also opens the door for upsales.
When training customer support representatives, planning out your support and service departments, and even so far as building automated interactions such as emails from support or your chatbot system, it is important to view all of these interactions as areas to market your company even further.
A sample of methods for implementing marketing and sales into support include:
In support response emails, make sure to inform customers of additional services, plans, and upcoming webinars.
Train and incentivize your support team on up-sales, and make sure to keep them informed of new plans, pricing, and services.
Within your chatbot system, inform users of how much money could be saved by moving up to the next level or plan. In particular, if a user is on a monthly plan and could save money each month by moving up to an annual plan, make them them an automated offer.
These kinds of additional upsells and offerings can greatly increase your year over year sales and should not be overlooked.