March 9, 2021
Customer support has a significant impact on how people perceive your product. Insufficient support will guarantee that people will leave searching for an alternative no matter how great your product is.
Great customer support will convert leads into customers, create product advocates, increase retention and growth. It has a tremendous impact on your business trajectory and brand perception. 73% of consumers point to a good support experience as the key to their brand loyalty. Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable. Poor service is a business liability.
Apart from business reasoning for excellent customer service, we should treat people with respect and empathy because it’s the right thing to do. Everyone wants to be heard, understood and feel like there is a human on the other side of the conversation. Humanity isn’t a nice-to-have dependant on growth outcomes—it’s our moral imperative.
Customer support is an art in itself, but many smaller or bootstrapped organisations don’t have customer service specialists on staff. Is it possible to care for your customers without a support team? We think so! But it does require a shared understanding of what excellent support means and how to deliver it consistently.
Here’s how we provide exceptional customer support (believe our 95% positive conversation ratings, not humble brags though) to thousands of users with a team of three people.
At Calibre, we view customer support as providing timely help that strives to fulfil the customer needs in the most humane way possible. Each company will define customer support in a slightly different way and implement various customer service philosophies. Your support process needs to work to your organisation’s strengths, resources, and ethos to ensure the best results.
The way we think about communicating and supporting our prospective and existing customers is more holistic than just customer support or success—it’s customer experience. Our small size not only forces us to be present throughout the full customer journey but also gives us the competitive advantage of providing expert advice reactively and proactively while still maintaining being humane and personal.
While customer support, success and experience sound similar and are used interchangeably, they do have different meanings:
|Customer Support||Reactively providing timely help that strives to fulfil the customer needs.|
|Customer Success||Proactive ways of helping customers be more successful with the product and the area of product expertise.|
|Customer Experience (CX)||All interactions customer has with your business across their journey, including customer support, customer success, marketing, design and the product’s technology.|
At Calibre, we use both customer support and success strategies to resolve issues and help teams be more successful in understanding and improving speed. No matter if they end up being our customers or not. While customer experience doesn’t only encapsulate customer support and success, it’s a holistic lens to ensure teams are happy while interacting with Calibre.
We are bootstrapped: our customers are our investors. We are accountable to them to provide the best experience possible.
Below, we will share several customer support and success strategies we use to make the Calibre experience feel great.
Whole Company Support (or All Hands Support) is an approach in which everyone in the organisation, no matter their role, spends time participating in conversations with customers. It’s not a new concept but has gained traction amongst large organisations and small businesses.
For a three-person company supporting a global audience, Whole Company Support is both a choice and a necessity. Everyone on the team is responsible for providing timely help to our customers. Because we all have insight into support conversations, we know which pains, needs or feature requests are often voiced.
Whole Company Support teaches us humility and empathy for the people we are serving. By connecting on a human, non-automated level, we understand teams’ unique contexts and struggles. We see how what we build has the potential to make their work and life better (or worse if we fail).
Because we’re all hands-on, with Whole Company Support, we can investigate and troubleshoot issues that in a more formalised support setting might have been passed around several departments. WCS brings not only focus but also efficiency.
While we use an embedded live chat tool (Intercom) on our website and within the product, real-time, conversational support is not our approach. We don’t provide live chat help because it’s not feasible for our team and because we believe it yields sub-par results. We use email-based support because it allows us to help a global audience (spanning over multiple timezones) with actionable, accurate answers.
We still benefit from the accessibility of a live chat widget—reaching out to a human is easy. We set clear expectations about teams’ availability: when you can expect to hear back and the usual response time.
When one of the top reasons for using live chat is the speed of support, we commit to responding within 24 hours. We reply to majority conversations much faster (within our business hours):
Because of our product’s nature (web performance monitoring), a fair share of support conversations require investigation or debugging. While instant support is alluring, customers value concise and informed responses more than haste responses. Expert advice is another reason for preferring email support: we make sure to explain complex ideas in a way that’s easy to follow, instead of mangled conversation transcripts.
People want real connection, empathy and understanding. We do our best to be friendly, approachable, and casual (like a good friend). We avoid using an overly formal tone but match the way customers communicate with us. This might mean “Thanks!” vs “Thank you”, an emoji or lack thereof.
Where possible, we always greet customers with their name while ensuring it’s spelled correctly. Sloppy typos or lack of care when using accents doesn’t make for a good impression. We know first-hand how it feels when someone constantly mangles your name (not great).
Another way we define being personal is through genuine compassion. We can express this in multiple ways, such as:
We want our customers to feel heard and cared for. At the end of the day, we’re building customer trust that they are our partner, not another “support ticket”.
Words have tremendous power. Would you rather be talking to someone who’s dreading the conversation or a person who’s excited about the ability to learn from you and offer help? Our customers’ success is our win, too.
We avoid negative phrasing such as “can’t”, “won’t” or “impossible”. While we’re transparent about the existing and future capabilities of our product, we always try our best to offer workarounds or a positive outcome for the customer:
A sincere willingness to serve your customers expressed through “We’re here to help!” or “Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with!” also lands on a positive note. Even if you’re working in an environment of scarcity (like we are), it’s possible to be positive and ensure that the customer knows you’re on their side, tag-teaming to create the best outcome for them.
It’s impossible to create a product for everyone, but your customers will ask you for what they want anyway. Direct customer feedback is an invaluable gift that can steer us from creating features with low adoption and point towards where the most demand is.
More often than not, when customers ask for features or integrations, the answer is likely to be “it’s not on our roadmap” or “we are planning to work on this, but there is no timeline”. We are never vague about feature plans to avoid upsetting the customer.
In all communications, we defer to radical honesty. If we’re sure we’re not going to build something, we say so. If it’s murky, we make no promises but mention that it’s possible it’s going to be explored in the future. If it’s on our roadmap, we do our best to give a launch estimate, a demo, screenshots, or additional information tailored to customers’ needs and contexts.
We all have been on the receiving side of vague answers.
We fully accept that what people want might not be what we offer or are building for the future. We’re here for people’s journey, even if it doesn’t include us.
We don’t shy away from apologies. Whether it’s a support goof, a high-impact bug or unexpected downtime, we reach out to our customers to say sorry. When apologising, we describe what happened and outline the steps we are taking to remedy the situation. Without action to prevent issues from happening in the future, it’s difficult to see apologies as genuine.
We keep our apologies blameless, too. Ultimately, we are accountable for the customer experience with our product. It doesn’t matter if our instructions weren’t clear, the customer didn’t quite follow them or notice something. Our goal is helping people succeed, and finding who’s “at fault” or “to blame” doesn’t help fulfil it.
Knowledge base encompasses educational materials such as documentation, frequently asked questions and guides. An extensive, up-to-date knowledge base can help customers who like to self-serve and save your teams’ time when writing responses. You can always point people to a carefully pre-written feature explanation, a guide or a FAQ.
We do our best to keep our documentation on par with releases so nothing goes undocumented. This becomes increasingly difficult when time is scarce and your releases are frequent (which is valid for us). Often, we update our documentation based on the most frequently occurring questions or sources of confusion. Alternatively, if the customer questions surround the web performance space more than the product itself, we explore the subject on our blog.
Also, the knowledge base doesn’t sleep. We do!
Every one of us has a good understanding of the product. We also have weaknesses. We make support transparent, so we can collaborate to provide the most accurate response. Everyone has access to Intercom conversations, and all of them are sent to a dedicated Slack channel so that we can easily discuss them.
One person might think of a creative workaround to a customer need that others haven’t thought of. Another time, a team member can effectively triage conversations and leave notes with suggestions to explore.
We make sure to reach out for each others’ expertise to make sure people get top-tier responses. The most appropriate person can speak from their experience and is also demonstrating to our team how to handle specific questions:
Having a clean inbox feels good, but it should never be a motivation to close conversations rapidly.
Responding to a conversation and immediately closing it (which also prompts the conversation rating message) is abrupt and assuming that the reply is solving the issue at hand (it might not be!). We always try to make sure we reach a resolution with our customers, even when it means having difficult conversations. When we don’t receive a response, we always follow up to make sure they understood our advice and the issues are resolved:
We don’t treat customers like tickets to close as fast as possible. We do our best to help them achieve their goals so that they can move on.
We approach every single conversation with an open mind as it’s always a learning opportunity. What do they need? What’s their context? How are we succeeding in helping them? How are we failing to meet their needs?
We don’t shy away from opportunities to ask multiple questions to understand what customers are trying to accomplish. When you uncover the core customer need, it might turn out the solution has been there all along. Or maybe it wasn’t, and if it’s a dealbreaker, it’s time to communicate that your tool can’t do the job they want to hire it for (we’re okay with that too). Whether someone becomes our customer or not, we’re better equipped to build the best product by listening to their needs and wants.
All of the strategies above create an experience our customers are delighted with. We respect their time and value their business with us. We treat them in a way we’d like to be treated. We are not afraid to go above and beyond to help, even despite our limited capacity.
Delivering a great customer experience helps us grow our business, too. Our retention is high and churn low. Even if people don’t find that Calibre works for them now, they remember it for the future based on the service they’ve experienced. Treating people in a humane way is as much a moral imperative as it is an investment in the future.
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Engineering Manager at Google Chrome