How can a single-founder (and no employees) provide fast customer support?


4

I'm a solo founder without any employees (revenues don't yet justify hiring someone).

How would you manage providing timely support to customers? What are some tools and strategies to use?

I run a product targeted towards developers so my mailbox is always full with questions about errors they're having while trying to integrate my product in their app. The problems almost never have to do with a problem with my product, it's always about providing support on how to fix their integration.

I have written and provided a detailed documentation, but customers still would rather email for support than read the documentation.

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asked Apr 15 '14 at 21:41
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Sandra Baldwin
22 points

2 Answers


5
The problems almost never have to do with a problem with my product, it's always about providing support on how to fix their integration.

First of all, their integration problems are your problem. If they can't get it integrated, then they're going to ditch your product for something else, and go away saying, "Well it looked promising, but it was impossible to get it integrated." Because integration is required work for using your product, your users aren't going to mentally separate it from your product.

So Strategy #1: Acknowledge that integration and configuration is as much Your Product as the rest of it.

Second, you have to realize that nobody reads the manual. And the longer and more detailed the manual is, the less it gets read. Don't spend your efforts convincing people to read the manual. Instead, spend that time building a product that is more intuitive, so that it doesn't require a manual in the first place.

In your particular case, if configuration is the biggest issue your customers face, perhaps you can create an install script that people can run, or expand your installer to walk people through it. (WordPress's Famous 5 Minute Install comes to mind as an example of complicated integration made easy.)

My third suggestion is to create a forum for discussion and general Q&A, allowing you to offload at least part of the support to the community. And once there's an answer, future users with the same problem will be able to use it as well.

Four, you can create a collection of "canned answers" to common questions. I've seen some people copy and paste the full canned answer into an email, and I've also seen people just include a link back onto the website, where anybody can find it. User Voice has a pretty decent implementation of this (and a lot of other customer support type things).

Finally, after you've done everything you can to minimize the need for support, and minimized the amount of time you have to spend doing it, if it's still too much, you can consider charging for support. It's very common for people to say, "Free community support in the forum, or premium email and phone support for $X/month." If you're charging for support, you can hire a customer service person to be your front line for support, and only escalate to you if necessary.

answered Apr 15 '14 at 23:39
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rbwhitaker
3,425 points
  • @rbwhitaker - that's a great response. – Nick Stevens 3 years ago
  • Q&A for sure! It's a great way for the customers to provide each other support. A good example would be the iPhone Jailreaking Q&A. – Bruce Schwartz 3 years ago
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2

First of all, don't stress about it. Everyone goes through the stage where support is a lot, but doesn't yet justify hiring a support person.

How would you manage providing timely support to customers?

What is timely support? Being on your own you can't provide 24/7/365 support.

I'm successfully supporting more than 1000 customers by myself. I've cut down support requests to 10 per day. Here are the strategies that I used at the beginning:

  1. Limit your support hours. What is the acceptable amount of time to reply to a customer for your industry and for your price range? Can you fit this period by replying to customer letters once a day (24-hour reply time)? How about twice a day (8-12 hour reply time)? Set apart a support window, or 2, at most. Don't check your inbox after that. It's email, not personal chat.
  2. Build an FAQ section/ Knowledge Base. It would be best if it's searchable and organized into categories. If you have $12 to spare, I'd recommend Zendesk. It's wonderful for managing tickets and has a Help Center which is where you can publish all of the frequently asked questions. A Knowledge Base is the quickest and most effective way for your customers to help themselves. If you answer the same question (or similar questions) more than two times, add the answer to the Knowledge Base.
  3. Make sure the customers see the Knowledge Base before they contact you. For example, on our website there is no "Contact Us" link. It's a "Help & Support" link which leads to a page. On that page:
    First, there is the following text:
    There is a great chance that somebody has already had this problem and it’s been solved. Visit our Knowledge base for ready step-by-step solutions.
    This is telling the customers that they will get an instant solution to their problem. It's all they care about.
    Second, customers search the Knowledge Base (this is a feature of the Zendesk embedded contact form)
    Third, only after they have searched the KB, the contact form appears.

    My point is: If the easiest way to receive an answer is to email you, that's what they will do. Make it a bit harder for them to contact you. Make them read the FAQs first.
  4. Analyze each support case. What can you do, so that you don't have to solve this problem again? If you can solve it by explaining, write an article. If the only workaround is by writing code, monitor how often you get this question, and only then consider reworking your product. Write down each problem. Try to find out the core problem that the customer is trying to solve. A lot of issues seem one-off, while they are really about the same thing.
  5. Try to predict future questions. When writing a response to a customer, include as much information as necessary, useful links, etc., so that the customer doesn't have to contact you again. This really works for me. I tend to write lengthy replies, but 95% of problems are solved within 2-3 replies. This way I avoid chatting with customers which only chews up development time. I never send one-liners, except to say: "Thank you. I'm glad the problem is solved now."

Canned responses work well, but KB articles really rock, trust me. It's your knowledge available 24/7 and you don't have to copy/paste text or open your inbox. People will be able to answer their own questions.

I run a product targeted towards developers so my mailbox is always full with questions about errors they're having while trying to integrate my product in their app. The problems almost never have to do with a problem with my product, it's always about providing support on how to fix their integration.

Our product (we're a small team at this point) is also facing the "integration" problem. I completely understand where you're getting at. My advice would be to only fix problems that really prevent your product from being used for the intended purpose. Don't teach people how to code. Don't fix bugs they made, even if you can.

I hope this will help you. You can read more bootstrapping customer support on my blog: http://sansmagi.cc or PM me here, if you'd like to learn about other strategies that I used. These are just the things off the top of my head.

Cheers,
Gergana

answered May 9 '14 at 17:39
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Gergana
21 points

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