Your brand new startup is in its second year. You and your cofounder have built out a small product team and are starting to get product/market fit
. You’re creating customers and making money. It’s a good start! You’ve chosen the self-service software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model, so your website and free trial do most of your selling for you. You put a support@ email on the website in case anyone has questions before or after they purchase. At least at first, you’re thrilled with every new ticket that comes in (“someone is actually using my product, or at least they’re thinking about it!”). You’re able to squeeze in a few customer emails between meetings and get caught up at the end of the day. But pretty soon, the end of the day starts stretching well into the night and you can’t remember the last Saturday where you weren’t trying to answer emails “so things wouldn’t be so bad on Monday”. It’s time to make your first support hire.
After a few weeks of interviews, you find someone who’s been doing support for a year and a half at another startup across town. You’ve always heard great things about their customer support, so you’re thrilled for them to get started. The first several weeks are great. They quickly get up to speed and you plan a weekend trip camping because you know you won’t have to answer emails on a Saturday morning.
The Wednesday after your camping trip—it was a four-day weekend; you deserved it—you’re perusing through old support emails and you stumble across an email from a company whose logo you would love to have on your homepage.
Hey there, I’m wondering if you offer Single Sign-On (SSO) support for your app?
To your horror, your new support rep replied:
Thanks for reaching out! Right now, SSO isn’t available, but I’ve added a “plus one” to the existing feature request on your behalf. We’ll let you know when this becomes available.
Okay, it’s not that bad of a response. The voice and tone is on brand, you’re glad they’re tracking the feature request, and they did respond within 30 minutes. But ugh, what a missed opportunity to engage further with this future customer! If you had been the one that replied, you would have invited them to jump on a call so you could learn more about what has them interested in your product. And from a product research perspective, you want to know what identity provider they’re using. And you would have done anything to get that logo!
What’s going on here?
The founder hired someone to “take care of the inbox”, which meant providing on-brand responses to customers quickly. The support person who was hired came from a team that only ever dealt with current customers (they had had a separate team handling pre-sales emails). When an email from a prospect about a feature request came in, the support person treated them no differently than a current customer, providing an on-brand and responsive reply. The founder, who intimately knew who was and who was not a customer, always treated pre-sales emails differently, and as a product person, was always eager to dig deeper into feature requests to truly understand customer pain. But those things hadn’t been included in “take care of the inbox” training.
In a “take care of the inbox” approach, the founder isn’t thinking about where the support team will best align or what existing teams’ metrics will most closely be moved by support. Really they just want someone to answer the emails. But as we’ll see, there are many metrics which we can potentially use to measure customer support.