While your blog is the external face and voice of your company, your support team is the internal one. According to Jason Lemkin of SaaStr, SaaS companies — especially startups — should be using their company’s product, even if the teams don’t strictly ‘need’ to.
In Jason’s article, he recounts how PayPal president David Marcus ranted ‘use our app or quit‘ to his employees. While it could be argued that David Marcus is being an angry egotist and going a little too far for an app that everyone may not have a use for, he says that the reason he wants everyone using it regularly is so that PayPal can ‘get better, and better’.
That brings up an interesting issue — by putting every single employee on support in some capacity, you’re tackling several problems at once. You’re lightening the load of the dedicated support teams in busier times, teaching employees about the product they may well be advertising or marketing and gathering vital data from users on how the product could be improved.
Over the several past weeks, I’ve looked at the definition of customer success, why it’s important and how to reduce churn. Now we’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of customer support for SaaS companies, including strategies, workflows and tips for getting set up.
Let’s get started by looking more closely at the support model briefly described earlier.
Everyone should do customer support in your SaaS company
How product-focused is your SaaS company? Look at the individual teams and gauge how much engagement with your product would be necessary for them.
- Engineers built and tested it — they know their shit.
- Salespeople should have an intimate understanding of the product so they can be at their best when talking to prospects.
- Marketers also should know the product inside out (along with the target buyers) so they know how to position it.
- Customer support and customer success should be nothing short of power users. They need to know the answer to every question thrown their way.
Everyone else? Not so much.
So, what’s the solution? In order to improve your product, train your employees and have a backup support force if your help desk is overwhelmed, every employee should chip in.
At Process Street, we recently started dividing customer support between every single employee, with Peyton (our front end engineer and support manager) training each of us to train each other. Peyton trains Kate, Kate trains me, I train (the other) Ben, and so on.
By dividing support up between all of us and training each other, we can let Peyton get back to doing the job he was hired to do, avoid hiring a dedicated support team to manage the not-so-overwhelming volume of tickets and all learn to use the product better.
Even larger SaaS companies with dedicated support can benefit from this structure, but it’s especially useful for startups which don’t get enough tickets to call for hiring a specialist.
Develop a support procedure document that works for you
As you might have guessed from the product we sell, Process Street is super-focused on processes. Since getting support set up is a collaborative effort, and none of us have a solid background in support, we first collaborated around a shared document in our app to hash it out.
Here are the subheadings in our support procedure document:
Scheduling: We decided to work in pairs over 1-week cycles since we have an equal number of employees in Europe and the US. For example, I cover support with Peyton this week. I answer tickets when he’s asleep, and when it’s time for me to clock off for the night, he covers support instead.
Saved replies: Support is an analytic job — by that I mean you have to analyze the tickets that come in and see if you can answer quickly with a saved reply or if it’s too complex for that. Alongside the process document, we also gathered together our most answered questions and wrote saved replies for each of them then added them into Intercom.
Response time: What’s your response time goal? Does this differ between free and premium users? Often, SaaS pricing works in a way that allows paid users to get priority support as part of the deal.
Answering tickets: Employees still being trained for support don’t reply directly to the ticket. Instead, they go into Intercom as the first priority in the morning and look at the unassigned tickets. Then, tagging the person that’s training them in a note (not a direct reply), they submit an answer for approval. This way, the trainee knows what is acceptable and what isn’t before they get in direct contact with the customer.
The tone of voice: Process Street isn’t Microsoft, a telecom service or a company that puts its customers through a labyrinthine trial to get a response from a support agent. We’re a customer-centric startup with a friendly, helpful tone and a drive to close the gap between our customers and ourselves. That’s reflected in how we talk to our customers, too. The process we put together outlines the important components of this including useful phrases and the right attitude to take.
Follow-up procedures: We always end our support tickets with a question. This helps us forge a better relationship with our customers because it provokes conversation. Looking at our Intercom history, I can see that sometimes we even end up having a friendly chat with a customer after the ticket is resolved. Since we ask a question and want to form relationships and ensure the issue was resolved, it’s standard procedure to follow up with customers who haven’t responded in 48 hours. One follow-up is enough unless it’s an important ticket from a user bringing in a lot of money. For those customers, we want to be extra sure that they’re getting on well.
Ticket escalation: While engineers should be trained for support, it doesn’t mean that support agents need to know how to fix coding issues in your app’s backend. For bugs, the aim is to gather as much information as possible and then escalate the ticket to an engineer for resolution ASAP.
Feature requests: Feature requests make up a sizeable chunk of the support tickets we receive. For now, while we’re still young and foolish, we’re tracking these on a Trello board with one card for each request. We tag them according to their nature, which is UI request, UX request or technical request. Every 2 months, we compile a list of the most popular requests and push that to the engineering team to make it so.
Evaluation: At the end of the week, trainees evaluate themselves and are evaluated by their manager. Trainees answer:
1. What was the most popular issue people were having? Is it an outstanding bug?
2. During what periods of time did we receive multiple requests?
3. What are other patterns your notice?
1. Your average turnaround time on tickets
2. Your volume of tickets answered in a day
3. Conditions that affected inquiries coming in.
You can use these prompts to create your own procedure document and help to systemize your support operations and ease the support employee onboarding process.
Create a support workflow (and make sure it gets followed)
We’ve seen first hand how processes help us and many other businesses increase their efficiency and reduce busy-work. Currently, we’re drafting a support workflow which will eventually be set up in Process Street as a template for agents to run as a checklist for each conversation. Here’s what it looks like, at a glance:
- Check Intercom for unassigned issues.
- If you’re in training, leave them unassigned. If you’re not, assign them to yourself.
- Parse the inquiry and decide if the ticket can be answered with a saved reply or not.
- If you don’t understand the ticket, politely as them for more information instead of telling the user that you don’t get it.
- Escalate any UI/UX/technical bugs to the engineering team.
- If it’s not a bug or a ticket that can be answered with a saved response, write a response as a note, tag your support manager and suggest it as an addition to your collection of saved responses.
- Always finish conversations with ‘did that help?’, ‘was that clear?’ or another direct question.
- If the customer becomes frustrated, immediately tag your support manager in a note and mention them in the support Slack channel.
- If the customer has a complex issue, you have provided an answer but they ‘saw’ the message and have not responded, send a follow-up after 24 hours.
- If the customer does not respond at all after 5 days, even after ‘seeing’ the message, close the ticket.
Process documents will always be evolving as you change your other systems, tools or workflows, so keep in mind that they are never set in stone. For more pointers on writing process documents, see this article on business writing tips.
Segment your support tickets to keep engaged with the customer
As our support process evolved, we found we needed to segment support tickets according to the request and the team that should be dealing with it. Right now, we divide tickets into 3 groups so we can track and act on them more easily:
Marketing: Marketing requests are tickets relating to guest posts submissions for our blog, featured writer requests or other marketing operations tickets.
Development: Tickets grouped into Development are bug reports and feature requests. We individually contact customers who request features or report bugs to let them know that the feature has been built or the bug has been fixed. For non-urgent items, we process these each week. This might mean adding features to the Trello board, or sending out ‘hey, we fixed it!’ emails.
Sales: People who are interested in buying, request pricing or want to know more about discounts are segmented into our Sales group. By keeping all of our interested buyers in one place, it’s easy to follow up with them and get them booked in for a demo. We only tag tickets with Sales if they require a follow-up email.
Unassigned: The Unassigned group is for tickets which need action, haven’t been answered yet or need processing by whoever is being trained at the time. New support staff being trained don’t assign tickets to themselves or reply, they leave a note tagging a manager and keep the ticket unassigned.
Individual assignment: When you reply to a ticket in Intercom, it automatically is assigned to you. If a manager has assigned a ticket to an individual, it’s taken care of with top priority. We keep tickets assigned to us if we’re personally testing a bug report or having a more in-depth conversation with a customer. Also, we assign tickets to team members who can answer the question with their specialized knowledge.
Create a recurring checklist to run for each ticket
We’ve found that the best way to train new support agents is to have them run a customer support process checklist each time they reply to a ticket.
Peyton recently put together this checklist guide which helps us to:
- Determine the type of ticket
- Write a quality response
- Escalate it if needed
- Categorize it properly
It’s important to note that support (and most other processes) are always evolving. We’re still a young company and this is our first attempt at what I’m sure will be a long and ever-changing customer support process.
How to start this customer support process for every employee
The first step to implementing company-wide support is to find the person in your organization with the most grounding in support, managerial experience and who is in a position to devote some time to training someone else. This might be someone on the product team who has an intimate knowledge of the app but isn’t constantly fixing backend bugs or furiously building new features.
The idea is to have them train just one other person to do the job well enough so they could a third support agent in the same way. I couldn’t find a buzzword for this, but I guess if I had to create one whilst shuddering at the thought of it, it’d be ‘viral training’.
The training should include the manager introducing the trainee to the procedure document and workflow, then reviewing each support ticket before it goes out. In Intercom, this is done by adding a note and tagging the manager.