This article was published on November 18, 2013

How developers should manage customer support when their app goes viral

How developers should manage customer support when their app goes viral
Abinash Tripathy
Story by

Abinash Tripathy

Abinash Tripathy is the CEO of Helpshift, a mobile help desk that powers customer service for hundreds of mobile applications. Abinash Tripathy is the CEO of Helpshift, a mobile help desk that powers customer service for hundreds of mobile applications.

Abinash Tripathy is the CEO of Helpshift, a mobile help desk that powers customer service for hundreds of mobile applications.

Mobile apps and games are known for their unprecedented customer growth and scale, unlike anything seen in traditional retail or Web commerce. Tiny, unknown apps can suddenly go viral and, seemingly overnight, grow to millions of users. It took less than three months for Instagram to hit one million users; after one year, that number had grown to more than 10 million.

User grown often means negotiating a balance between providing service to users and keeping a lean operation. One of the most important, resource-intensive tasks is providing customer service and support to users.

As the user base grows, so does the volume of trouble tickets: the emails, phone calls, tweets, and other messages from users who are confused or upset. By the time Instagram was purchased by Facebook in April of 2012, the app had more than 40 million users, but only a 13-person team. On average, every employee—including the CEO—supported more than 3,000,000 users.

Imagine a local diner with a handful of staff trying to keep up with tens of millions of customers. It’s just not sustainable: the more time the staff spends answering every individual question and concern, the less service they can provide to everyone else. As the staff runs up an escalator going down, they’re losing good, loyal customers who get ignored.

But for mobile apps and games, this is the current reality: unprecedented scale combined with a small staff means that one person might be responsible for providing service and support to thousands or even millions of users.

So, for mobile apps and games that anticipate rapid scale but want to provide excellent customer service, support automation is key.

We can think of support automation as “Support Zero”: the rare moment when a team has responded to every issue and their ticket queue is completely empty.

Just as “Inbox Zero” (that rare and glorious moment when you’ve responded to every email and your inbox is empty) gets us out of our inboxes so we can focus on other tasks, Support Zero enables app developers to focus on developing a killer app rather than resolving tickets.

“Support Zero” does not mean “Zero Support”

Not all customer communication is created equal: some customers get in touch when they need technical help, others get in touch to provide feedback, and others want to learn more about the company or its services. Keeping the volume of technical trouble tickets low frees time and energy for a small, nimble team to focus on core business activities.

Just as it makes sense for the diner to list the available salad dressings on the menu—thus automating the question and answer process—it makes sense for app developers to offer solutions to users’ most common questions and concerns upfront.

By getting automating the trouble ticket portion of customer communication, app developers can spend more time on higher value customer communication, like product feedback that can be used for product development or inbound sales inquiries that can result in future business, without compromising the quality of customer service.

The five keys to getting to Support Zero

Consider these five things as your app or game begins to attract and retain more users:

1. Answer first, ticket last

Tickets are created when users need to ask for help, so enabling users to find the right answer on their own before it becomes a ticket can dramatically reduce ticket volume. Many apps default to a page with a support phone number or email address, which results in a ticket.

Create a user-friendly self-service FAQ (or knowledge base) within your app to empower your users to get help while reducing the number of inbound tickets.

2. Utilize a shared inbox

Traditionally, each customer service/support agent has his or her own inbox that is managed by human triage: a manager must assign issues to each agent on a case-by-case basis. This process is incredibly resource intensive and if an agent is unavailable, users are left waiting until it’s reassigned to a new agent. A shared inbox enables agents to view all open issues and efficiently resolve them without requiring human triage.

3. Sort by wait time

It seems intuitive that the customer who waits the longest gets helped first, but that’s often not the case. Some ticket queues are sorted chronologically such that the latest ticket goes to the head of the queue for resolution—not the bottom.

Instead, ensure that those who have been in the queue the longest get helped first and sort your inbox not just by when a ticket was created but by the date of each interaction.

4. Utilize bulk actions

As an app’s user base grows, similar issues will begin to emerge in the tens, then hundreds, then thousands. Rather than managing each one individually, utilize bulk actions to enable your support team to select all similar tickets and respond to them in the same way.

5. Create canned responses

Like bulk actions, canned responses allow nimble support teams to answer to questions with answers from an existing knowledge base so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel with a unique response for similar tickets. Identify the most common issues in your ticket queue and create canned responses that apply to the appropriate category of users.

Remember: canned responses for iOS users may not be applicable to Android users.

It’s all about your customers

Providing top-notch customer service and support is a critical component of every business’ success and mobile apps are no different. However, a mobile app’s approach to customer service and support given the potential for exponential user growth (incongruent to the size of the team needed to support them) is completely different: mobile apps must take extra steps to reduce the volume of support tickets in order to reduce the size and cost of customer support operations if they want to grow rapidly.

Together, these five keys can help every mobile app business get to Support Zero and provide top-notch customer service and support while scaling rapidly—without wasting time and resources on managing endless tickets.

Image credit: LSaloni/Shutterstock

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