Customer Support: How a Small Team Can Produce Results

December 13, 2012

Chase ClemonsGuest Poster: Chase Clemons

It is my pleasure to introduce Chase Clemons. Chase is part of the support team at 37signals and the founder of a customer support community at Support Ops. You can connect with him on Twitter.

When you think of companies with millions of customers, a good customer experience often isn’t in the cards. For instance, the last time I called my Internet company, they put me on hold for thirty minutes when I just needed to ask a quick question.

Thirty minutes of listening to horrible elevator music for a simple question. Then, the answer I got was convoluted so I wasted another fifteen minutes while they figured it out.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just because you have millions of customers, your interaction with them doesn’t have to be a bad experience. At 37signals, we have millions of customers, but our support team only has eight people.

How does a small team like ours do it?

Specific Customer Channels

With a small team and lots of customers, we have to focus on specific ways of interacting with customers. With an online app like ours, our primary method is email. Email is the perfect medium, because everyone knows how to use email. It’s easy and doesn’t require any complexity on the customer’s end or ours.

Twitter has always proven to be a great avenue to work with customers. Again, its power is in its simplicity. Since there are only 140 characters, it forces both the customer and our team to be really clear on the question and the answer.

Short questions and answers mean we can respond to a customer rapidly. It also gives us a way to update lots of customers at once with news and updates.

We also engage in proactive customer service by offering online classes each week. These are live and include a Q&A portion. The classes give customers a chance to ask questions and to see the answers instantly.

It’s only an hour of our time each week, and our customers love them; plus, it gives us another channel for connecting with them.

Clear, Concise, Fast

When customers contact me, it’s usually because something is broken. Often they’re frustrated. When this happens, I have to be as clear as possible in my response to them.

When you are frustrated, complexity and confusion are the last things that you need. You need an experience that is going to be clear, concise, and fast.

Customer Support with Small Teams : Fast Train Track

That means my response to the customer focuses on short sentences. Here’s what happened. Here’s how I fixed it. Everything is in simple, easy to understand language without any tech lingo.

For me, the other part of clarity is conciseness. Our customers are busy, and I don’t want to tie them up any longer than necessary. That means my emails are short. I don’t write lengthy novels and include information they don’t need. I focus on communicating with them in the shortest time period possible.

Now, this doesn’t mean I rush a customer. I’m with them for as long as they need me to be. But when I do an online class, I keep to the scheduled thirty minutes. A customer’s time is a valuable resource that I’m not going to waste.

No one likes waiting for help. From waiting in line at the DMV to waiting on the phone, I hate waiting, especially when something is wrong. Adam has talked before about a customer response time.

For us, our goal is five minutes from the time they send us an email. Five minutes is a long time when you need help. Five minutes is an eternity when you’re stuck on hold with elevator music.

There is an old phrase that goes “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” Working with customers online is similar. If you communicate clearly, you’ll be concise. And if you’re concise, you’ll be fast.

The Fabled Magic Formula

You already know that there is no magic formula that you can plug variables into and automatically create a great customer experience. But these two concepts are good places to start.

Let your customers know the specific channels they can reach you through. Then focus on making your responses through those channels clear, concise, and fast.

That’s how we do it, and it can work for your team too.
Guest Post Disclaimer: Guest Posts on the Customers That Stick blog are submitted by individual guest posters and in no way represent the opinions or endorsement of CTS Service Solutions, its owners or employees. CTS Service Solutions does not represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of statements or facts posted by Guest Posters on this blog.

11 thoughts on “Customer Support: How a Small Team Can Produce Results”

  1. Hi Chase,

    I can’t imagine how many emails you get every day, but I think a 5-minute response time is impressive! I love that your team is committed to solving your customers’ issues quickly, and without sacrificing the quality of the interaction.

    1. Thanks Donna! We’re handling around 450-500 emails a day split between the team. So it’s definitely a challenge but one that we’re up for. 🙂

    2. I think your response time is fantastic. I am a huge believer in singing the praises of companies who give me good customer service. I’m also generally one to write a scathing blog post, full of disparaging comments about the company’s president’s parents, should I have a bad experience.

      Good for you!!!

      1. Thanks Brian!

        I’m the same way. I’m quick to be vocal about bad customer experiences and what we can learn from them. But I try to point out the great ones too. For my podcast, I make sure to have each guest tell me about their best customer experience recently so I get to hear some awesome stories.

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  3. Some great tips here Chase. I think my favorite part is that you offer online classes. I think for technical products — even “simple software” like 37Signals specializes in — the more educating you can do on the front end, the less service issues you have on the back end.

    Good stuff, and thanks for the educational peek behind the curtain!

    1. Exactly right Adam. We started those classes as an experiment and loved the results. We can talk to more people during those classes, show them how our apps work, and ultimately cut down on the number of people who email us on the back end. Net win all the way around.

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