young guy doing customer support for startups

Customer Service Basics: The How-to Guide

If you have little to no experience managing customer service, this how-to guide is for you. We will teach you the basics of customer service so you can build support processes and procedures from the ground up.

Over the years, we’ve provided customer service to companies of varying sizes, from freshly-launched startups to established global players. We understand that delivering quality customer support when you are getting your business off the ground can be a daunting task. At the end of the guide, you will have a clear understanding of which considerations come into play when designing your customer service goals, channels, tools, scalability, and reporting.

1. Why is customer service important?

Before setting up your customer service department and diving into the nitty-gritty of goal setting, tools, and selecting support channels, take some time to think about what customer support can add to your company and how it can help you achieve your business goals.

The mistake we see too many companies make is thinking about customer support too late in the process and then struggling to put everything in place once they need it. 

Your customers are too valuable to be an afterthought. The loyalty of customers isn’t easily won, but once captured, loyalty goes a long way to ensuring repeat business.

In a worst-case scenario, poor customer support creates frustrated, distrustful customers and with the power of social media these bad service experiences no longer happen in a vacuum. 59% of 25-34 year-olds share poor customer experiences online (source). Getting customer support right from the start will help you:

  • Create trust among your customers. Providing excellent customer service at every turn will help them be confident that they made the right choice purchasing from you.
  • Gather invaluable feedback about what your customers like or don’t like, and what they struggle with. An organized, well-thought-out set of customer service processes will help you identify pain points based on real data instead of your gut feeling.
  • Generate word-of-mouth marketing that helps you sell more. People love complaining about any bad service experience but will only advocate for truly exceptional help.
  • Retain customers and stimulate repeat business. It costs 7x more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one (source), so focusing on customer acquisition at the expense of retention is a costly mistake.

You can’t expect these kinds of results without understanding how customer service works and how to design it from the ground up to set yourself up for success. If you don’t know where to start, start by creating a Customer Service mission statement.  This will help you keep all employees inspired and, most importantly, moving in the same direction.

TL;DR

Customers are your most important asset and repeat business is extremely profitable so use customer support to build trust, gather feedback, create word-of-mouth marketing, and stimulate repeat business. Creating a Customer Service mission statement will keep all your employees moving in the same direction. Read here why you should care about customer support.

%

of 25-34 year-olds share poor customer experience online

%

repeat customers spend 67% more than new customers

2. HOW TO SET CUSTOMER SERVICE GOALS

 

It is probably not the first (or last) time you will hear someone talk about the importance of setting goals, after all…

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” – Lawrence J. Peter (tweet this)

Determining goals will give you a long-term vision of what customer service for your company should look like, and it will provide you with short-term motivation towards achieving them.

No matter the size of your company, we can all agree the ultimate customer service goal is to create an effortless customer experience. That means making your customers jump through as few hoops as possible while simultaneously leaving an excellent impression of your brand.

Exercise: Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. When your product fails, how immediate of a problem is it? How quickly would you need the issue resolved? How would you like to be able to get in touch?

Talk to your team to clarify what customer experience your company is trying to deliver, and how customer service can contribute to the strategic goals. What is the easiest way for your customers to get their problem resolved? Take that as your starting point and build it to be scalable from the very start.

Still, don’t know where to begin? Follow these steps to start setting up measurable customer service goals.

TL;DR

Set goals based on both efficiency and quality scores to get the most complete picture. Base your goals on the immediacy of the issues your customers are likely to encounter and aim to ask for the least amount of effort on your customers’ part as possible.

3. HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SUPPORT CHANNEL

Customer: Hi, My brand new drone just flew off on its own and it’s not coming back, what do I do?

Autoresponse: Thank you for your message. We usually respond within 24 hours.

Customer: Great…

Choosing the right support channel can be a make it or break it moment, especially when your business is just starting. You are probably already familiar with the most common channels; phone, email, chat, and social media. But, how do you decide on a channel?  Well, this is quite simple; your customer base’s characteristics will largely determine the most appropriate channels for your business’ customer service.

First and foremost, take a good look at the characteristics of your existing customers and the people you’re marketing to. There’s hardly a person in the world who isn’t familiar with making a phone call or sending an email, but that is less true for a live chat on your website, and even less so for the various social media channels.

Always pick the channel where you can service the bulk of your customer base. How convenient is the channel you choose for your customers? No one likes to be kept waiting so if you can’t answer the phone at a moment’s notice, perhaps providing an email address is the better way to go. But maybe your service is highly personalized, and email doesn’t offer that personal touch that your customers are looking for.

Channels make a big difference in the total overall costs you end up paying for customer support. Therefore, it is crucial to make the most out of your budget without frustrating your customer base. 

Scaling your customer service operation is more straightforward if you use fewer channels. It is wise to start with one channel and make sure you nail it before even considering additional ones.

Comparison of channels of customer support for startups

Live channels such as phone or chat support are typically the most expensive as they require customer service employees to interact with customers for longer periods at a time and you need to make sure there’s always someone available to take the call or chat.

Non-live channels are typically much more cost-effective. Social media and email support tend to be the least costly channels but they come with a caveat. Neither are the most direct channels for customer interaction.

Learn more about the pros and cons of each channel as well as the key things you should know about them.

TL;DR

The support channel you use has a big impact on your overall costs. The key to choosing a support channel is striking a balance between cost, convenience for the customer, immediacy, and personalization. Look at characteristics of your customer base and choose the channel where you can serve the bulk of your customers.

4. HOW TO LEVERAGE SELF-SERVICE

Self-service solutions like an FAQ page and an online support portal can be extremely powerful tools to help you service a large percentage of your customers at a low cost. The self-service portal is always available, working around the clock to service those customers that want to get help outside of your office hours, so be sure you are building an FAQ page your customers will love.

%

of respondents said they prefer self-service over speaking to a company representative

To make your self-service platform works for you, make sure to:

 

  1. Keep track of all issues your customers report.
  2. Answer those questions in your online knowledge base where you address one issue per article. Use written explanations, videos, infographics, screenshots, or photos where applicable.
  3. Ensure that those articles are searchable and SEO-friendly. Most people search for issues on search engines like Google. With minimal effort you should be able to have your page be the first result, making things as easy as possible for your customer.

At the end of the day, every customer that helps themselves is one that won’t have to contact your support team, freeing you and your team up to work on your core business and reducing your customer service costs.

Added bonus: Your self-service knowledge base will be a great resource when the time comes to training additional people on your team.

5. HOW TO USE CUSTOMER SERVICE TOOLS

Imagine having to sift through your inbox every time a customer reaches out just so you can see whether they’ve been in touch before. Or imagine working with multiple people inside the same email box.

Doing customer support out of your inbox is never a good idea. Emails get lost, follow-ups missed, and responses are forgotten. As a result, customers never get a response, leading to lots of frustration and reducing the chances of a repeat purchase to zero.

To set yourself up for success, build your customer service department for growth. This means spending (a little) on a customer service tool that will let you access case histories and has reporting built-in from the get-go. At 5CA we have a few favorites:  

Zendesk

Design to grow and scale, it offers omnichannel support for companies of any size.

Helpshift

The go-to support solution if your product or service is app-based. Helpshift builds customer service options right into your app.

POWER BI

A business analytics tool that lets you  visualize  your data and share insights across your organization. You can download a free licence for a one-user account.

TL;DR

While it may be tempting to choose a free tool you’re already familiar with, you may end up missing out on the valuable information a customer support tool can provide to help improve your customer support over time. Your customers will thank you.

WE’RE HAPPY TO HELP

 

We’re always happy to answer any questions you might have about outsourcing, customer service, and pricing. Get in touch to learn how you can:

  • Help your customers in their own language
  • Support your customers 24/7
  • Make the most out of your customer service budget
  • Build scalable customer service processes
  • Choose the right channels for your customers

One of our experts will be in touch within 24 hours to answer your questions.

6. HOW TO SCALE UP YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE

The key thing to bear in mind is that you’re going to grow beyond what you need right now. And when that growth happens, it will happen fast.

When the starting shot is fired, you’ll want your team ready in the starting blocks, not back in the locker room struggling to put on their socks. Building for growth is all about getting everything ready before your customer service volumes skyrocket and setting your company and your team up for success.

This means having all product documentation that your support team might need, having their tools in-place and properly implemented and configured, and having customer service workflows and processes mapped out.

A typical customer service implementation process takes around six weeks, so waiting to start that process until the moment you need your support team to shine means you’ll be a month-and-a-half behind right from the start.

The first strategic decision involves deciding whether to keep your customer support in-house or to outsource. Rapid growth poses a real risk and being prepared for growth can protect your company against its own success. To build for growth, make sure you have the following bases covered:

 

  1. Customer support tools that scale: Use tools that will still work well when you double, or even triple your team. Is the system easy for new users to learn? Does your entire team have access to case histories so they can cover for each other?
  2. Access to the right people. If you need to scale up, do you know where you will be sourcing your team? Are you hiring locally or remotely? Or are you considering outsourcing?
  3. Onboarding. Do you have extensive product documentation enabling you to onboard new people easily and quickly? How are you keeping your knowledge base up-to-date?
  4. Keep track. Make sure you have some form of reporting set up, so you know which recurring issues customers deal with, even when volumes skyrocket. This will help you identify problems that can be solved at a product level reducing your need for support.

When you’re working at an early stage business, each dollar can only be spent once. So, is it wise to outsource customer service? Read more about it here.

7. HOW TO USE DATA TO IMPROVE CUSTOMER SERVICE

Most customer service tools worth their salt have reporting capabilities built right into the platform. To continuously improve your customer support, you should be taking full advantage of this.

Use your historical insights to learn which issues come up during customer service calls and when those calls take place so you can staff and plan accordingly. In the second chapter of this guide, we briefly touched on the importance of setting customer service goals.

Being able to measure the extent to which you’re reaching those goals is essential to improving your customer services over time. This is why it’s so important to have a reporting structure in place.

Historical insights of customer support for startups
That reporting will help you get insights into how long it takes for customers to receive a response, how happy they are with those responses, how often they need to contact support to have their issue resolved, and a whole host of other measurements and KPIs.
Use these analytics to inform your team how things are going. Is every customer receiving a timely answer? Are you getting that answer right the first time around? Can you discover patterns and recurring issues? Can those issues be resolved through changes in your app, product, service?

 

The goal here is to keep making your customer services better, day after day.

8. WRAPPING UP

By now you should have a clear understanding of which factors come into play when designing a customer service setup uniquely suited for your company. 

 

Remember these 7 customer service tips:  

 

1. Customers are your most important asset and repeat business is extremely profitable.

Use customer support to build trust, gather feedback, create word-of-mouth marketing, and stimulate repeat business.

2. Set goals based on both efficiency and quality scores to get the most complete picture.

Base your goals on the immediacy of the issues your customers are likely to encounter and aim to ask for the least possible amount of effort on your customers’ part.

3. The support channel you use has a big impact on your overall costs.

The key to choosing a support channel is striking a balance between cost, convenience for the customer, immediacy, and personalization. Look at your customer base’s characteristics and choose the channel where you can serve the bulk of your customers.

4. Self-service can be a great cost-saver and can help your customers outside of your opening hours.

Use your self-service knowledge base to train new additions to your team and make sure your knowledge base is searchable to yield the best results.

5. Spend (a little) on a customer service tool.

While it may be tempting to choose a free tool you’re already familiar with, you may end up missing out on the valuable information a customer support tool can provide. This information can help you improve your customer support over time and they will thank you for it.

6. Build for growth

Building for growth means having documented support processes in place that everyone on your team can understand to make onboarding a breeze. It also means having a solid customer support tool and content ready to go that can handle a big increase in volume with ease and, making sure you know where to find the right people when you need to increase capacity.

7.  Have a reporting structure in place

Measuring your customer service performance helps you determine whether you’re meeting your goals and keeps track of which recurring issues come up so you can fix those at a product level. Use these insights to improve your customer service day after day.

WE’RE HAPPY TO HELP

We’re always happy to answer any questions you might have about outsourcing, customer service, and pricing. Get in touch to learn how you can:

  • Help your customers in their own language
  • Support your customers 24/7
  • Make the most out of your customer service budget
  • Build scalable customer service processes
  • Choose the right channels for your customers

One of our experts will be in touch within 24 hours to answer your questions.