Fact: Users write customer support emails and if they don’t, you should seriously start worrying. Even if they report bugs that you find of very little importance, request features that don’t really go along with your idea of the product, or just express their general unhappiness, it means they care about what you’re selling and care to reach out to you to tell you.
In a startup it is better to have a hundred customers who seriously want you to improve, than a thousand others who think they can get along well without your service. Getting no customer support requests is not a sign that your product is perfect. It’s a sign that your users don’t really care.
That’s why a startup, especially in its early stage, should make sure every customer email gets answered. Apart from the simple fact that neglected, unhappy users simply stop being your users, there are a few other reasons why you should answer every support email your startup gets.
Because answering support emails gives you opportunities to:
- Convert unhappy users into power users of your product. This helps spread information about how to use your service and is a great basis to build a vibrant community of people who teach others about your app.
- Get to know your users by name and make them remember yours. Seriously, how many users of your product can you list by name? Do they know your name? If somebody on Twitter asked about first-hand user opinions on your product, would you be able to refer them to one of your users?
- Acknowledge that you care about users. If somebody found 10 minutes to find your email address, think on what to write, attach screenshots and write you an email, what would it mean to them if you couldn’t find 5 minutes to reply?
1. Don’t use (or sound like) a canned response
Email templates sound like you are faking that you care about your users. Using canned responses won’t help you make use of the opportunities brought to your startup by users in need of support. Sometimes, however, the routine of responding to customer emails makes real people sound like canned responses. Try to avoid this. Try using emoticons to help your emails look and sound like personalized responses.
2. Before you answer, read their email thoroughly
Don’t panic or get immediately frustrated just because you spot the words bug, problem or I can’t…. Maybe this time it’s not your product, maybe your customer simply got lost. Try to figure out what navigation flow could have led the user to a dead end.
Once you know where things went wrong, you can be a hero by creating a path back to get on track. If you can’t figure this out on your own, think of the questions you should ask to get more information on the issue that will help the developers to investigate the problem’s source. Double check if the user is on a proper URL, and walk through the steps that led to the problem to determine if there was a misstep along the way.
3. Address your user by name
Writing emails instead of talking to a user makes it easy to forget that you’re interacting with a real person. People appreciate being treated like humans, so why not make sure they feel you are taking the time to get to know them?
4. Thank them for their email
Somebody just spent precious time to let you know how it feels to use your product. It is your product that profits from that. Be grateful for the feedback and don’t be afraid to learn something about your company and your product. Customer response and criticism can make you more aware of product failures and shortcomings and give you information about your client’s expectations. Your user has helped you to improve your position in the marketplace, so don’t forget to say thanks.
5. Manage user expectations
You don’t want your user to expect more than you can provide, so be clear about what your super powers are. If you can’t fix the problem within an hour, reply by just saying you will try to address the problem in the next couple of days. It is better to not commit to specific dates or hours. If you aren’t able to meet the deadline, the user is probably going to point this out. It is safer to be reasonably vague here. You can be sure that the users who care never forget what you promised.
6. Focus on problem solving, not making excuses
Some people just naturally want to focus on explaining the reasons for the problems instead of finding ways to solve them. When customers communicate about a problem, they rarely want to hear who is at fault and why the problem occurred. Your customer only expects to get a solution.
For example: assume a customer received a payment confirmation email but couldn’t download an invoice through a link in the email. What you need to say is this: go to your account, click on payment history and download an invoice there. Don’t say: It’s probably a developer who was to fix the broken invoice URLs last week but couldn’t make it because his children were sick. No one cares.
7. Ask for feedback
After you propose a solution to the user’s problem ask for feedback to let you know if your tips worked. A user may follow your hints and get stuck again. You want your customers to tell you if the problem continues because you want to make sure they don’t just give up and stop being your user. Additionally, if a user follows your hints and the problem is fixed, you also should know that the tips were useful.
8. Use clickable URLs
All too often, well meaning customer support responses tell users what to do but neglect to tell them exactly how to do it. Users are left to their own devices to figure out the actual steps to the solution. Instead of saying: sign in to your Ginzametrics account, say Sign in at https://app.ginzametrics.com/signin Instead of Go to tab1 > tab2 > tab3, say: Go to this tab. This simple trick shortens the user’s path to solve the issue. The goal with any user issue is to minimize the overall negative experience of solving it.
9. Sign an email with your name
A lot of support emails get signed by the My Cool Startup Team or simple Support Team. Using a generic name for support creates a negative user experience for two reasons: first, the user doesn’t know who is responding (this always feels weird), and secondly the user doesn’t know who to contact with follow up questions. If you’re out of office and the user tries to follow up on the topic, it’s really helpful to know who had communicated with them before. Using your own name doesn’t hurt, so do not stay anonymous.
Other great tips on support and emails:
I’ve recently come across two other startup blog posts about dealing with user support in a startup, both by Jesse Maddox of TripLingo
- 5 Reasons Why Startup CEOs Should Answer Support Emails
- Anatomy of a Customer Support Email by the same author
Here are some other resources to help to keep your customers and prevent churn.
Do you have any tips on dealing with customer emails? Do you have dedicated customer support employees or treat customer support as a side task?