As a founder, your business relies on smart and scalable growth. Mistakes will be made, but advice from those who have been in the trenches can help steer you in the right direction.
My trench is customer service. I’m convinced that customer service is one of the most undervalued and misunderstood departments of an organization.
Please prove me wrong. Start by reading my customer service tips for small business owners and startup founders.
These 10 tips have been gathered over several years of working with founders who cared about customer service but needed guidance to really stay focused on long term results.
Table of contents
1. Do it yourself… at first
Most founders find themselves doing customer service for their business at first. It’s a necessity more than a choice in the early days. And it’s absolutely the right thing to do.
Soak up everything you can from your initial customers. Don’t rush to get out of the inbox or outsource support reps. The insights you get from direct interaction with your customers will shape the future of your business. Mine these conversations for gold.
Find out what’s working, what’s not, and go beyond general customer issues to really understand what they need from your product or service. Adjust your business accordingly and build a foundation for healthy customer relationships (use CRM software to help you scale this).
If all goes as planned, you will outgrow this task. As soon as customers start to suffer from late response times or rushed correspondence (because you’ve been in meetings all day and it’s 3am), it’s time to move on.
Remember, good business owners excel at delegation. Move this job to a trustworthy person who will treat your customers with as much care as you do. Never forget what it’s like to do customer service though, and to turn to the inbox when in doubt.
2. Set the (cultural) tone
As a startup founder or small business owner, you are the face of your business. Every time someone speaks on behalf of your business (as customer service does daily), they are representing you.
Be intentional about the tone you set.
From the way you talk to your employees to the emails you send, your vibe spreads throughout every part of your organization. Examples speak far louder than words.
Think about it this way: You tell your customer service team to always use the customer’s name to make them feel like a friend. But you don’t take the time to learn the names of everyone on your support team.
Actions set the culture for your company more than directions.
Now, you don’t have to be the friendliest person in the room or only use positive language to set the right tone as a founder. You just have to be authentically you, and trust that your employees will embody this.
As a founder of a small business, your personality sets you apart from others in your industry. Let it permeate throughout your organization to create a consistent tone that differentiates your customer service from the rest.
3. Understand the metrics
You know to measure revenue and growth to check the health of your business. What metrics matter to customer service, though?
Some of the biggest players are NPS (Net Promoter Score), CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score), and CES (Customer Effort Score) … and those are just the ones with acronyms! Within the inbox, you’ll want to pay attention to things like number of conversations, average resolution time, and trend insights.
As a former customer service agent, my biggest tip for founders is to use these metrics to track your customers’ happiness (rather than your customer service team’s productivity).
Put the responsibility on your customer service lead (when you hire one) to improve your customer service team’s productivity.
Focus on what these metrics tell you about high level business insights. Look at the number of conversations over time to see if customers are confused by new features. See if CSAT rises or falls when you adjust pricing. You can use quantified customer feedback to help you provide a better product or service and improve customer retention.
How do you get these numbers, though? Frankly, gathering all this data can be insanely difficult without the right tool. In fact, even managing customer service itself without the right tool is dangerous as you grow. Customer service tip #4 will address this in more detail…
4. Use a help desk
As your business continues to grow, you’ll soon realize personal email no longer works. A customer service help desk can help you ramp up to a more official support process.
There are three big reasons why moving to a help desk ranks high on my list of customer service tips.
A proper inbox will show you all your emails at a glance and provide tools to categorize and prioritize. Create various buckets so sales leads aren’t mixed in with bug reports. Make sure the right person gets the right email.
Even if you’re still the only “person” at this point, a help desk allows you focus on important emails first and carve out time for customer service (rather than answering support tickets while also doing a million other things).
Your customer support team will be bigger than you one day. Set yourself up for an easy transition by moving to a help desk early on. When you’re ready to hire a professional, they’ll know their way around an inbox and can hit the ground running.
Those high level customer insights from tip #3 come neatly packaged in just about every help desk. When generalizing customer sentiment doesn’t cut it anymore, the reports from your inbox provide real data to back up customers’ needs.
5. No really, actually use a help desk
Automation, canned replies, knowledge bases… your helpdesk has features that can help you scale support, even if you’re the only one doing support. Customer support software moves you into proactive territory (which is definitely where you want to be).
At each small company I’ve worked at, people were shocked to hear how few customer support team members we had. If you know how to properly use your help desk, you can do the work of many with just a few (without losing your personal touch!).
For instance, a Knowledge Base allows you to easily set up and manage an FAQ page for your new customers. Most customers prefer self-service anyway, and this reduces the amount of incoming emails each day. You end up helping more customers while reducing customer service team needs.
Menial tasks like moving emails from one mailbox to another, or tagging tickets that mention “refund” can all be done with automations. Especially as a founder, even a few minutes spent on mindless jobs can distract from larger goals.
Maximize every part of your help desk to get the most value from the product.
Phew, you’re halfway through! Go ahead and download these 10 tips before you get pulled into another meeting!
6. Hire a lead before hiring reps
Big mistake to hire your teenage niece to do customer service part-time. It’s a real job. Hire a capable person to do it. They will grow your entire team (and business) for you in a smart and economical way.
Rushing to bring on minimally qualified customer service representatives won’t result in top notch customer experiences. Instead, build a solid foundation by hiring an experienced and creative team lead who you can rely on to shape the customer journey as you grow.
Even better, let them hire customer service reps when ready. You’d be surprised how much one super capable customer support lead can accomplish on their own. Let them set up the inbox, establish best practices, and create training materials before bringing on new team members.
So many founders work backwards when it comes to hiring, bringing on people to quickly put band-aids on current problems.
The knee-jerk reaction makes sense. For many startups and small businesses, growth comes suddenly, and it’s a race against time to grow your team.
But you can ride out the bumpy initial growth wave much easier if you surround yourself with the right people early on.
7. Pay your team… well
Customer service professionals make far less money than their colleagues. Which may be why customer service is so notoriously bad.
Small businesses and startups, especially in the tech industry, have proven the value of good customer experience. And social media has shown us the result of unhappy customers!
Show your customer team that you acknowledge their input by paying them a salary on par with the rest of the company.
Pool the money you would have spent on outsourcing or budget agents and invest in one or two great customer service agents. Keep them committed to your business and motivated to improve the customer experience with a competitive salary.
You will make more money in the long-run by hiring good people and paying them well. This holds true outside of customer service, of course. But in my experience, it’s often dismissed in the customer service realm.
Take this opportunity to go the extra mile and make your business better than the rest.
8. Trust your team
It’s tempting to keep your nose in everything as the founder of a small business. And customer service is one of those things that everyone thinks they know how to do. I encourage you to feel at peace saying, “I don’t know,” and trust your customer service team to do the job they were hired to do.
When you hire well, you really can let go. Know that this person has your company’s best interest at heart. You made the right decision to bring this person on board. Now let them show off their excellent customer service skills and unique point of view.
Give them room to excel at making your business a customer service powerhouse, free of micro-management.
Check in often. But listen more than you speak.
Remember what it’s like to speak directly with customers every day and empathize with their concerns.
You’ve built a great product, created a fantastic service, and hired a world-class team. Time to step back and simply watch the magic unfold.
9. Support your team
Customer support needs support too! Customer service professionals get so swept up in helping others, they often forget to ask for help themselves. This is where good founders become great.
Ask your team what resources they need. Find out if any other departments could provide assistance to the customer team. Encourage collaboration among different teams to heighten the customer experience for all.
Pair a copywriter from marketing with someone on the customer service team to craft unique content for canned replies or knowledge base articles. Designate an engineer to fix bugs as they’re reported.
Understand each of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses to build a perfectly balanced ecosystem in your organization.
Customer service skills like finding workaround solutions for problems can also be a weakness in the workplace. Follow up every now and then to make sure they’re taking advantage of the team you’ve built and working as efficiently as possible.
10. Share customer service goals
Every department’s goal should be to create loyal customers. The only team that actively tracks customer happiness though, is customer service.
If you really want to make the customer service history books, share customer metrics with the entire company and set cross-functional goals.
Whether you create these goals, or your customer team lead does, make it clear how each customer-related metric depends on the work of the entire company.
- Average resolution time depends on the engineering team’s ability to fix bugs swiftly.
- Number of new conversations relies on the product team’s feature improvements.
- Knowledge base satisfaction correlates with the marketing team’s clear and concise copy.
As the founder, you’ve got a view from the top. You can see how each piece contributes to the larger puzzle. Make this clear at each team meeting or all-hands.
Put the onus on every department to move the needle on customer loyalty. And celebrate when they do.
Good customer service tips move beyond customer service
You made it through my 10 customer service tips! Not too painful, right? Don’t forget to download flashcards of each tip so you can hang it up near your undoubtedly tidy desk.
The biggest takeaway is that the best customer service tips should persuade you to move outside of the customer service team. Understand how each department contributes to and relies on the customer team to meet their goals. Including your own goals as founder.
Customer service tip of the day
So here it is, your customer service tip of the day: Collaboration is everything.
Work with your customer service team, listen to their needs, and solve their problems. Bring in other departments if you can’t do it all yourself.
You’re building an amazing team, and customer service is an important part of it. Take these principles and apply them to your organization to see a happier customer base and more fruitful business prospects.