Guest Column | January 9, 2020

Building A World-Class Customer Support Team At A Startup

By Gerardo Rodriguez, OpsRamp


Providing a personalized, holistic customer experience is the goal of support teams today.

It may sound cliché, but it’s true: customer support can make or break your business, and never more so than when you’re a startup. Over the years, as a customer support leader in the startup world, I’ve learned that you never know when an interaction with a customer will be your last. All it takes is one negative tweet that goes viral to scare away investors or for customers to second guess their purchasing decision. Prospects, too, are monitoring social media closely to evaluate new products and services and a few bad reviews can send them running to the competition.

In my current role, our team’s mandate is to support both enterprise customers and internal customers, such as our solutions consulting team, so they can understand, maximize and troubleshoot our software platform. In large, complex customer environments, there are many phases we must support, from proofs of concept to onboarding and escalations. As well, it’s important that we protect the time of our engineering department from an overload of internal support requests. That’s a tall order for a small company that’s growing and needing to be scrappy.

And it’s not like the old model of customer support will work in today’s world, either. The notion of a call center has evolved dramatically in the last decade. When customers interact with a call center, too often the perception is negative: frustrating and inefficient processes, unresolved issues and a waste of time. Times have changed. Now, customers are making purchasing decisions on whether or not the support services of the product are better than competing solutions. Does the company make it easy or difficult to do business with and keep employees productive? These are crucial success factors in today’s technology-driven business world.

Here are the tenants of a modern support program that improve on the traditional call center experience:

Tenant #1: Reduce The Friction

Customer impressions are wired from the very first experience with the support team. It’s got to be simple, clear and easy to request help and track a case. Create an online portal that answers every question needed to get help, provides several contact methods, and more. Our support site includes global phone numbers for all of customer regions and an obvious button to open a support case immediately. We also have highly visible links to get platform status, information on important updates and a link to our latest product release. Include on the site a prominent link for customers to join the community forum where they can ask questions of other users.

Tenant #2: Make It Easy To Start A Ticket

When a customer reaches the point of opening a help ticket, he or she is likely already frustrated or angry. The last thing we want to do is worsen the situation by making it painful to initiate a request and too slow to get answers and resolution. Offer several options to begin a ticket. When a customer calls into our support line they can request to speak with an agent right away, leave a voicemail to auto-create a support request and receive an email response or call back as preferred, or request a call back ASAP. As long as we have the customer’s phone number in our database already, the case automatically populates with all the relevant information. The customer also can create a ticket themselves from the support website. Finally, leave breadcrumbs so customers can track their case. Regardless of how the ticket was created, our customers can go to the support site, login and see the paper trail and status of their issue.

Tenant #3: Emphasize Speed And Efficiency

In production environments, resolution must be accurate and swift. IT teams can’t leave their employees and customers hanging for long if a website or critical application isn’t working. This is even more stressful when the customer doesn’t know why things aren’t working. In traditional customer support processes, the customer sends a request to a generic email on a website and then waits for a response. That response might take 24 hours, 48 hours, or worse. That’s not always fast enough. If a customer has an urgent request, she should be able to highlight that and provide a detailed description. No matter how the ticket was created, customers can set the priority of their case with specific details at the support site. A customer’s team members also can add context to the online ticket, without originating the case or being mentioned initially.

Tenant #4: Personalize The Response

Personalization has been a hot topic in marketing circles for years now but it’s just as important in delivering fantastic customer support and service. That means ensuring that you have the latest information about the customer ready to reference during each interaction. It’s understanding how they like to communicate and what matters to them in terms of results. If you can pick up the phone and call somebody to smooth over a difficult situation or just to check-in after the case is resolved, do it. But make sure that the customer will be open to that. Some people never want to receive a phone call from support and you can’t make that mistake more than once.

The act of contacting somebody is much more than showing you took an extra step. It’s demonstrating that you are willing and able to develop a relationship with them. I will randomly contact our customers to see if they’re happy and if not, ask how I can help. I try to get to know them during these quick exchanges and to be their advocate. Building personal relationships with our customers in an impersonal, digital society is paramount. The power of an empathetic human voice--even when restricted to carefully-chosen words in an email or text--cannot be underestimated.

Tenant #5: Be Customer-Centric

Who doesn’t hate repeating themselves and being tossed from agent to agent? That is a typical big company support experience, and we avoid it like the plague. When a customer calls into support, the same agent stays with them until the problem has been resolved, even if it requires a callback. There is no passing the buck. We also don’t have rotating shifts, meaning that our support staff works regular business hours from morning until late afternoon. A customer will not have to suffer through speaking with three or four different individuals in the same day. Our goal is to be the intermediary between the customer and engineers and improve the experience of problem-solving.

Tenant #6: Capture Detailed Feedback

Monitoring the progress of the customer support team depends upon getting useful feedback from customers. We’ve transitioned from a simple survey tool to one that allows the customer to really express how they feel, using animation and the option to add detailed notes. Customers can request a callback if the score is below a four. We have had many callback requests from customers with high scores, telling us how much they like the new system.

In addition to our survey tool, we’re in the process of implementing a feedback tool that will allow our customers to submit ideas, feedback, and feature requests from a dedicated page, as well as from our platform. The tool also will have the ability to display our product roadmap, giving our customers insight into features that they’ve requested and what to expect overall down the road. This helps our product teams and sends a message to customers that we do care about and act upon their feedback.

Running a customer support organization is both rewarding and stressful. It’s helpful to gain perspective and have empathy at all times. When customers get angry, it’s never personal: they just don’t like the process or how the case was handled. These negative experiences are guideposts to help us determine how we can execute better in the time of need. Just as we are gathering data constantly about our customers and how we can improve their experience with us, customers are also taking notes and paying close attention to what we’re doing. Building world-class customer support today must go beyond solving an immediate issue for someone to striving for a long-term relationship built on trust, satisfaction, and convenience.

About The Author

Gerardo Rodriguez is the Senior Technical Support Manager at OpsRamp