Customer Support for Bootstrappers

Customer Support for Bootstrappers: After You Launch Your Product

Your product’s launched! Let’s just take a moment and celebrate before we jump back into the support world.

Alright – your two main support channels are doing fine so far. Things are starting to calm down from the launch. It’s a good time to be thinking about other support channels.

As more customers start using your product, you’re going to get a ton of pressure to expand your support channels. You started off with the help site and 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’re a bootstrapper so you can’t be everywhere all the time.

Instead, become a master of a few specific support channels. You’ve nailed the cornerstone of support with a help site and email. 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.

All the different options

Let’s look at each one. I’m a pro/cons list kind of guy so that’s how we’ll break these down. They’re in the order that I think you should focus on expanding into.

Twitter

Pros: 140 character limit means it’s perfect for short questions and answers. For easy answers, a simple yes or no and a link to a help site works great. Your product/company is probably on Twitter already so just start answering questions there too.

Cons: 140 characters isn’t enough for all questions. That’s when you just send them your support email address so they can send you an email. Twitter’s also a very public place where others can jump in on a thread. If it’s a Tweet from an angry customer, it can explode into a public nightmare real quick.

Facebook

Pros: Lots of people use it already. It’s easy for them to find your page and interact with you. There’s no limit to the characters like Twitter so they can have longer conversations with you.
Cons: Similar to Twitter, it’s a very public forum. If something goes wrong, it can become that publicity nightmare.

Live Chat

Pros: Customers love live chat. They can instantly interact with someone, almost like a phone conversation. When offered, customers jump to this channel. From the support side, it’s nice that it eliminates back-and-forth email replies that can drag on for a day or more.
Cons: It’s an interruption machine. Just when you get into your groove on something else, you’ll get a popup from a customer wanting to chat. It’s also people intensive. You can handle dozens of emails in a 10 minute span. With live chat, you can only juggle maybe three chats at once. That means to scale it, you have to bring in more support reps.

Community Forums

Pros: It helps take some of the support pressure off you. Customers can help other customers with questions. They can share ideas between themselves.
Cons: The pros only happen in a utopian world. It’s equivalent to outsourcing your customer support to someone else. Customers aren’t even getting paid to answer those questions from other customers. That means they don’t have to worry about responding fast or in a clear way. You lose control of the support experience.

Set those expectations.

With all of these support channels, the key is setting expectations with your response times. I want you to say this next part with me.

It’s okay to take off holidays. It’s okay to have open hours.

In the world of out-supporting each other, many teams turn to a 24/7/365 support availability.

“See!” they cry. “We’re here all the time via email, phone, Twitter, Facebook, snail mail, LinkedIn, and that brand new app forum that just started yesterday. We’re here!”

You’re one person right now. It’s okay to set open/closed times. It’s okay to put on your help site that you’re one person answering emails so it might take a bit longer, especially since it’s right after a launch.

As long as customers know what to expect, they’ll be fine with it. At the end of the day, let work happen during work hours and go spend time with family and friends outside of that.

Prioritize like crazy

After a weekend of family time, a full support queue can be daunting. Where do you even start? For that, we turn to prioritizing and some automatic awesomeness.

Remember that support form you created for the help site? We’re going to use those contact categories to help set up a triage of tickets. We’re going to go with a scale of one to five with a priority of one at the top of your list.

Priority 1 -->> “I can’t login.”
Priority 2 -->> “I have a billing question.”
Priority 3 -->> “I think something’s broken.”
Priority 4 -->> “Other” and emails not submitted through the form.
Priority 5 -->> “I have a feature request.”

Have your form submit to your email address and apply a label for one of those categories. To catch the ones that skip that form and directly email you, set up a filter to catch words like “login” to match with a priority one, “unknown charge” to match with a priority two, and so on. As you get more emails, you’ll see other patterns that you can match to those labels.
Once you have those set up, you can work on the priority one stuff to start and then make your way down the queue.
One last thing – keep an eye on patterns. Are you seeing lots of people asking for password resets? Maybe your design should be tweaked to make it easier to find. One or two people having trouble may not be anything but multiple people running into the same situation means something is off.

Scheduling support time

So when should all this support answering happen? You’ll know your day better than anyone else. Your schedule is unique to you. But since you asked for advice…

Set aside a few time slots each day to handle emails. When you’re first finding a flow, try one in the morning, another at lunch, and a final one later that afternoon. Clear out the queue during those slots. That way, no one is waiting more than a few hours before they get a reply.
Think back to your hours before the launch. Remember how you’d take a break for lunch, maybe one in the afternoon? The timing of those breaks will give you an idea for when to slot your support time in.

Just remember – your schedule’s unique to you. Find the time that works best with your daily flow.

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