One of the most common things suggested by books like E-Myth is to offload low level work like customer support as soon as possible.
Small or big, many companies offshore their customer service. They see it as a cost center that needs to be eliminated as much as possible. Unlike many founders I like to spend half of my day with our users. You can see it on our support forum. I spend at least an hour on our forum every day. We are a small startup but we have the resources. If I wanted I could certainly get someone to take over that. I think customer support is a very important position that shouldn’t be delegated completely.
Learning is the No 1 Priority in our Startup
As the CEO of a startup, my no 1 priority is to learn from our customers. Day in and day out, customer support allows me to listen to our users. I am experiencing how our users are doing. What is troubling them and what is helping them. There is no way to see these things on a report written by a customer support temp.
When we have a meeting about a feature, I don’t say things like “I think we should do this, it would be cool”. Anybody can do that. I say things like “Look, this user has 450 forms on her account, and she is using folders to keep things sane. But it is not enough. I think having a form search bar on My Forms page would help her a lot”. (Yes, a new My Forms page is coming up soon)
When I see a lot of people having trouble with getting things work on their facebook forms, I know that this feature has a lot of potential. I tell our developers I understand that mud wrestling with FBML/FBJS stinks but we have to get it right because people are loving it. They can’t get it anywhere else. (Yes, a new facebook forms code is coming up with validation support)
Listening to our customers helps me see new opportunities to improve our offering. There are usually patterns. Usually a part of the product is confusing or unusable, getting the same questions asked many times is a great way to find them out.
When there are no questions about a part of our offering that can mean two things. Either we executed it so fabulously that everybody gets it or it means nobody uses it. Unfortunately, it is usually the latter one. If there are no questions about a feature, that usually means nobody cares about it. Startups are all about deploying the small amount of resources available on the correct place. So, finding out what people don’t care about is also very useful learning.
Own the Responsibility
We mess up time to time. That’s part of having a product that is being continuously improved. Every change we make can possibly have side effects and bugs. We take the risk, so we have to own it when things go sour. When that happens I am usually the one who says the “Sorry”. Great leaders own mistakes, but share successes.
When you own a mistake you have to fix it and you have to make sure it never happens again. If same kinds of mistakes are happening all the time, there is usually a pattern that needs to be solved in a higher level. CEO’s job is to think long term and find permanent solutions to the common problems.
In the old ages, one of the most common methods kings used to find out how people were doing was to sneak out with plain clothes and talk to the folks. You can’t listen if you don’t leave your ego outside. (or in the king’s case, inside the castle) Customer support is a difficult occupation because people can sometimes be very harsh. Well, in this case, that’s a good thing. CEOs need that. They need to hear the straight talk. Because they are the ones who can make a difference.
It is Fun and Inspiring
We make a great product used daily by lots of people. It is a great feeling. In our small tiny little niche we are helping humanity to accomplish things. We are such a lucky to be in a position to touch, to help hundreds of thousands of people. I can wake up at at night and look at our logs and see many people using our product right that moment all around the world.
That’s such a satisfying feeling. Customer Support allows me to connect with our users and see their experience.
Helping others inspires me to do even better.
Startup life is tough. It has ups and downs. Getting emails from happy users always brights up our days.
Have a beautiful foliage weekend!