Business is good. Actually, it’s really good and it has been for a while. Your product is growing rapidly, new customers have signed on, existing customers are upping contracts, and you have hired new staff to keep up with the demand. Like we said, business couldn’t be better.
Your customer service, however, has bombed. Rapid growth has allowed for software bugs, new customers are bombarding you with getting-started questions, there are billing issues, and your brand new staff members have no idea how your product or your company actually run.
Need ice for those growing pains?
When companies experience growth, especially rapid growth, it is the customer service segment that often has trouble keeping pace. You are so focused on expansion that you lose sight of what got you here — servicing and wowing your customers. It was once easy to respond to customers at a lightning-fast pace. Now, you’re embarrassed to admit it could be days, if not a string of days, before you get around to hitting reply on a customer inquiry. Something has got to change.
As a thriving business, how can you continue to offer the customer support that created the growth you’re enjoying today?
In this post we’ll look at ways to scale support procedures as your business grows.
There is an inherent advantage of being small; one that larger companies have difficulty replicating. When you are a company with just a handful of employees, it’s easy for people to simply know what to do in each situation. Maybe it’s because SMB employees are used to wearing many hats or because it’s more acceptable for a small business to make things up as it goes along and to break the rules. Whatever the reason, it just gets done. A customer has a problem, and someone quickly jumps in to take care of it. When you’re larger, with so many hands in the cookie jar (and so many people to pass the buck), not having internal processes documented – or not having them at all – can become a liability and may result in a drop in customer service.
As your business grows it is important to not only create internal processes, but to document them and to make them available to your team. Arming employees with this information saves them the time (and the stress) of looking them up with a customer on the line and allows them to focus on offering great service, not hunting down company-approved responses. Preparing employees will allow them to remain calm and to offer kinder, warmer service to your customers.
As you’re documenting those processes, it’s a good time to ask yourself whether they are still worthy of being documented. Are your customer service guidelines realistic or has your company grown to make them redundant or ineffective? Standards that were put in place when you were a company of five may not stand the test of time once you have tripled in size. You’ll want to revisit them on an annual basis.
The reason customer support just seems to work within a small business is because SMBs make customer support every person’s job. There is no Customer Support Team when you are an organization of 12 people. Every physical body in the building is the Customer Support Team and is expected to answer the phones, to handle customer complaints, to use friendly and helpful language to resolve problems, and to have a deep knowledge of the product. That’s simply the rule. As you scale, keep this mentality.
Sure, the internal processes you create above will help employees to understand the logistics behind customer service – how you handle billing, when to escalate a problem and to whom, etc. – but customer service is best served when it is baked into every person’s job.
Customer service works best when every employee is responsible for:
This all-hands-on-deck approach to customer service delights customers when they get to speak to all members of your team, not just your designated customer support person. However, it also has the potential to change how your team functions. The engineers building your software will have a deeper understanding of the product through the eyes’ of your customers which will inform what they do and help them to create a better product. Your salesperson will better understand your product’s key features, and how to sell them to new prospects, when they have fielded questions from 10 customers all asking about the same capabilities. Your CEO will have greater insight into the aspects of the product worthy of more investment versus the features customers aren’t utilizing as much when she hears it straight from real users.
[A word of caution: Before taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to customers, make sure you are hiring team members with the right personality traits for the job.]
“How do I reset my password?”
“Where do I send payment?”
“Can I upgrade my account mid billing cycle?”
You answer variations of the same question every day. If only you could save time by no longer answering it…or at least by not writing out the same response day after day. You can, by automating the task.
When service becomes hard to manage, it may be time to look into integrating a help desk software product to help you automate tasks and reduce redundancy. Bringing in a tool to automate repetitive tasks will save you time, while also reducing the odds you’ll mistype the company address when telling someone where to send their monthly payment (done it). The right help desk software can be used to help you:
When looking for functions that you can automate, think about the tasks or the processes you run most often. For example, if you’re routinely spending 60 minutes a day hunting down old client communication, a help desk product with the ability to house historic data in a shared repository sounds like a lifesaver, giving your team back hours and hours every week.
Remember, though: While technology and automation can help your team manage redundant tasks, they do not provide the personal touch needed to build and foster relationships with clients. Use automation to save your team time, NOT to replace higher-level service.
As a business grows, so do the number of support requests, the number of tasks to manage in a day, the number of people on your team, and the internal headaches you’ll have to deal with. Give yourself back hours by looking for opportunities where it is acceptable to excuse yourself as the solution to someone’s problem and let them find it themselves.
One way businesses choose to do this is to create Support Libraries that allow customers to seek out and answer their own questions without ever having to contact the company (hey, sometimes they’re as keen to talk to you as you are to them…). This includes creating resource materials like eBooks, informational articles, tutorials and video walk-throughs.
These materials can be created once and then used over and over by new and existing customers. Links to these materials can be added to any canned emails you’re sending to help you quickly provide helpful resources without spending a lot of time to do so. This not only aids customers in getting their solution faster, it makes you look like the hero for giving them material that answers their questions and leaves them feeling help and heard.
The truth is — we love and prefer doing business with small companies. We know that they appreciate our business and that they will go out of their way for us. Small businesses return our phone calls, insert little surprises into their software and our packages, and they dedicate time to making us feel like their most favorite customers. In turn, it makes us loyal to them and it makes us enjoy doing business with their brand.
As your business grows, it’s important to hold onto that personal touch. Prioritize great service and make it a hallmark of your company. Create the processes that you need to empower employees, no matter where they sit in the building or what their business card says, so they feel comfortable acting as a public-facing representative of your company. Because, the truth is they already are. In this digital, always-on age of business, no one is in charge of customer support, everyone is. It doesn’t matter what size you are.