Embrace the Chaos: (Good) Customer Service at Startups

Authored by Kayla Brehm

Published on January 20, 2015

Customer service at startups is a different world entirely than the customer service of the enterprise world. At a large company, the support team has robust metrics, SLAs, fixed processes, and a defined chain of command. The main purpose of agents and leadership at most big companies is to take customers through a rigid, fixed process.

Startup customer service, on the other hand, is about being able to respond quickly to change, create order from chaos, and generally, to be able to ride the wave of constant progress and uncertainty to shepherd the customer to a positive experience. Startup customer service is less complex in the sense that there are no processes, few systems, and often, no defined methods but more complex in the sense that constant uncertainty makes a consistent customer experience difficult.

Here are 8 ways to embrace the chaos:

Don’t hold the customer’s hand, carry them: Paul Graham talks about this in his superb essay Do Things That Don’t Scale. When you’re a startup, you don’t have the cumbersome processes that slow everything down and make it confusing. Invest in being so hands on, your customer feels like they’re being carried through the learning process.

When onboarding a new customer, you should walk them through the ins and outs of your product, answer questions you hear a lot, and then check back in relentlessly with more pointers and onboarding as they ramp up. The less the customer has to figure out, the easier their experience will be with you, and the better off you will be in the long run.

Is it scalable? Heck no. As a startup though, you should be relishing the opportunity to make each customer feel like a VIP.

Be memorably awesome: As a startup, you have a chance to stand out for every single one of your users. Take five minutes and Google the cities your customers are in. If one has a great delivery cookie shop, send cookies, if one has a great pizza place, send a pizza. It doesn’t matter, be unexpectedly awesome. This will be difficult (likely, impossible) as you grow, so take the time now to blow your customers minds.

Check in because you care: There should be no such thing as “too busy for customers” (that’s like working too much to get anything done), but it happens more often than it should. Be the opposite. Take time out of your day to check in on how everything is going without any prompting from the customer. You might get some good feedback, and either way, your customer will feel good about using a startup if the startup team is willing to make sure at all times that the experience is incredible.

Follow up: Fixing the problem should never be satisfactory. If you’re in an argument with a loved one, apologizing (fixing it) is often followed by a gesture of caring (flowers, hugging them, etc.).

If your customer has an issue, don’t just fix it. Follow up to make sure they’re happy, point out some new features that maybe they haven’t seen, go the extra mile to show them that you care. Big companies can’t do this, but startup customer service is different because, even when things are going at breakneck speed (so, all the time) it’s always worth it to show that your customers matter.

Your future leaders are your current customer service people (take advantage of that): Customer service at startups is often a door into the company. As such, the people doing customer service tend to be younger, college educated, and highly driven.

We spoke to a company recently who hired two people a week on average, but their team hadn’t grown in months because of how quickly the team was promoting people.

Take advantage of that type A mentality in our customer service team and let your reps have input on how to go about building the team and processes necessary as the business grows. Reps eager to move up (either in customer service or elsewhere in the business) will have good feedback and ideas on how to improve; let them try them some of them out. Use the energy and desire to do well of your team to provide an incredible customer service experience.

Make a temporary roadmap: Having to constantly throw it out the window doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan at all. As new technologies, techniques, and people are discovered, things will change. Every quarter, sit down for an hour, and try to create a roadmap with the team using customer feedback and team observations. Over time, you may notice patterns.

More importantly, the team will get to participate in a helpful exercise where you will get direct feedback from the group that’s doing it every day. This isn’t a luxury afforded to non-startups.

Act like you’re talking to a loved one: We all have that person. The friend, parent, sibling, or significant other who we are infinitely patient with. It defies logic, but you’re never busy for that person.

Be that way with your customers. Imagine that you’re talking to whoever that person is whenever you talk to a customer. You’re a startup, your customers are your world. The person you’re infinitely patient with probably loves you unreservedly. Maybe that’s not a coincidence.

Make service a culture thing: A company that cares about their customers from top to bottom is easy to differentiate from a company that views customer service as part of a larger business equation. Buffer, Headsets.com, and UPS, to name a few, are companies that have made customer service a part of their culture.

The result: They are adored by their customers and have extremely high customer loyalty.

Customer service at startups is chaotic, but with the right perspective, that chaos can become an opportunity to create something the customers will remember for a long time.

What do you like about startup customer service? Let us know in the comments or @helpdotcom.

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