There’s a clunky charm in the early days of a startup; a team of three juggling ten roles, and the CEO and intern flipping coins for who is next on the coffee run. There’s one agent, a Skype number, and an Outlook email as the full extent of your support artillery. I well remember this point in our company—however romantic as the all-hands-on-deck comradery of the early stage startup is, to make it past the crucial one-year turning point, there are some vital decisions that must be made.
Don’t forget customer support
All startup founders know that if you want to compete with established players, you best have a solid product. Whether you're selling software, surfboards, or sombreros, it’s the product that brings in your income and thus the lion’s share of funding tends to go towards product development. Major issues rear, however, when behind your wave of new customers comes a tidal wave of support requests and you’re left with one agent clinging desperately to their headset—you’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Major issues rear, however, when behind your wave of new customers comes a tidal wave of support requests and you’re left with one agent clinging desperately to their headset.
Providing sufficient customer service as your startup grows is essential. CB Insights reported that ignoring customers is the ninth most prevalent reason for startups failing. With this in mind, understanding what support you need to expand, where you can afford to spend, and what effect this has on your existing setup is vital. However, with tight restraints on time and cash, the process can be a balancing act.
To hire up or hire out?
When our organisation needed additional call support, the question was, do we train in-house agents or outsource? In terms of time and cash, there are pros and cons of both. An in-house agent will know all of the quirks of your company and can provide the personal service experience that customers crave; they need rock solid product knowledge and possibly even more crucially, confidence.
Confidence doesn’t come overnight—the swirling thoughts of, “What if I don’t know the answer? What if the customer reaches down the receiver and throttles me?!” The phone rings. Silence falls. A cold sweat breaks out. Putting these thoughts to bed takes thorough training and thorough training takes a lot of time. This is where outsourcing can come into play.
Confidence doesn’t come overnight—the swirling thoughts of, “What if I don’t know the answer? What if the customer reaches down the receiver and throttles me?!”
An outsourced call centre gives you a room full of people skilled at training and leading new agents and a room full of agents who have been there, done that, and probably been called a name or two along the way... Confidence? Check. Experience? Check. Scalability? Check.
Your organisation can grow, support requests can roll in, and there’s no worry of not being able to handle additional contact volume. Comparatively, training your own agents exposes you to risk; should that person jump ship, along with them floats away your time, money and training. Mayday!
That said; outsourcing comes with its drawbacks. Many call centres use scripts, leaving customers to fear the classic stuffy and canned experience of calling a contact centre; sometimes opting to cancel rather than face the experience at all. Another issue with scripting is that for a contact centre agent, the script is likely to stymie their knowledge on your company. Anyone who’s worked in customer support will tell you that there is no limit to the range of questions a customer can bring to the table… This means that when a customer calls with a question that falls outside of the script, calls can take far longer than if handled by an in-house agent.
The scalability is in the software
Investing in the right software, while potentially costly, allows you great flexibility in customer service. You can map out your support interactions—dividing those easily solved with automated answers from those that require a bit more tender love and care. Password reset? An auto-response with clear instructions and everyone’s happy. Customer getting into a flap because their phone screen has been black for twelve hours? This calls for a cup of tea and some one-to-one agent time, “Now let’s start by getting your charger…”
Whichever software method you use to scale your support, I’d argue that the real game-changer becomes your ability to handle enquiries more efficiently. Back in the days when we were three men in a boat, manually answering every ticket, enquiries took seven hours out of an eight-hour day. After correctly calibrating our support software it took three. So the question became, with our support system chugging away nicely in the background, what were agents going to do with this big old pile of time? Three-hour working days? Epic support team ping-pong throwdown? Sadly, none of my ideas were approved… What we did find, however, is that this time could be invested elsewhere.
So the question became, with our support system chugging away nicely in the background, what were agents going to do with this big old pile of time? Three-hour working days? Epic support team ping-pong throwdown?
Using your agent time wisely
Support agents have a range of valuable skills: communication, product knowledge, and unique insight into your customer's perspective. By correctly scaling your support and corralling the efficiencies that are subsequently created, your organisation can utilize support agents and their skills within other parts of your business, saving you the need to recruit outside resources and thus allowing your business to grow organically.
The first years for a startup are some of the most exciting, but can also present some of the biggest challenges. To weather the storm it's vital for start-ups to grow, develop and adapt, whilst maintaining high-quality standards. Efficiency is vital and so identifying where this can be created and exploited within your organisation will likely lead you towards success. With customer support, it’s not always about a bigger boat, but better ores…
Haylee Potts is Head of Customer Advocacy at Boston Digital, a tech startup based near London. When she's not creating cocktail themed jam recipes, she can be found ticking countries off of her bucket list. Haylee can be found on LinkedIn.