Learning to let go of Customer Support Duties

This article is an old favorite from 2013. Catch up on my latest stuff here.

This week I’m finally beginning the process of shifting customer-facing support duties from myself to my assistant.  Up until now, I’ve been the only person my customers on Restaurant Engine have been in direct contact with.

This is one of those steps in my business that I feel will have a massive impact, because it will free up a significant amount of my time to focus on moving things forward.  But at the same time, it’s a step that involves a high level of fear and uncertainty for me.

Today I’m going to share some of those thoughts and the steps I’m taking to remove myself from customer support duties.

As I’ve written about in the past, I think it’s critically important that the founder handles customer support requests directly for as long as possible.  And believe it or not, I actually enjoy responding to customers (most of the time).  It gives me a sense of accomplishment knowing that the work we’re doing solves a real problem for someone else, especially when I hear that feedback directly from a customer.

But now, about eighteen months since the launch of Restaurant Engine, the customer support load is beginning to hit that tipping point where it starts to become unmanageable.  Right now, I’m spending between 2-4 hours per day processing support requests.  It’s preventing me from working on my other priorities, like writing my book, publishing weekly content on this blog, and making product improvements.

The routine looks something like this:

Customer emails me a request to setup their website.  I respond with what the next steps are and a list of things we need from them.  Customer replies, sending some of those requested materials.  I forward the materials on to my assistant who gets started on the work.  He sends me an update on his progress.  I relay that to the customer. Customer provides feedback and more materials.  I relay these change requests to my assistant.  He does the work, sends me an update… And on and on we go…

The logical thing to do is to remove myself from the picture, and put my assistant in direct contact with the customer.  That’s exactly what I’ll be doing.  But this is easier said than done.

Here are the reasons I’ve been procrastinating on this step:

  • I’m afraid I’ll lose touch with my customers and lose sight of what’s working and not working for them.  Solution:  Have weekly reviews with my assistant about conversations, trends, issues, related to our customers.
  • I love not using a help desk app because it keeps things simple.  Gmail is my everything.  But I know once I grow my support team, I’ll need a help desk app to keep things organized.  I fear that a change like this can result in emails/requests falling through the cracks.  Solution:  I really like HelpScout and plan to use it because of it’s of it’s relatively simple back-end and it’s invisible to the customer (in the customer’s view, nothing changes).
  • Communicating with non-tech-savvy customers like restaurant owners is really difficult.  It has taken me a long time to hone the way I speak to customers and say things in simple layman’s terms.  My assistant is an outstanding and diligent communicator and I’m confident he’ll continue to do a great job.  But communicating with our customers is more challenging than communicating with me.  I fully expect there to be a learning curve for this, just like there was for me.  Solution:  Accept that this transition will take time to work out the kinks.  It could actually present an opportunity to improve the way we interact with customers.
  • Frankly, I’m unsure where to begin.  There’s a lot of education out there about hiring assistants and managing a remote team.  I feel I have a good grasp on that stuff.  What I haven’t found is info, case studies, courses specific to outsourcing and scaling customer support duties.  Solution:  Do what I’ve always done… Figure it out as I go along.

Developing customer support policies

Up until now, I never took the time to formally prepare a set of policies for handling customer communication. Since I’m the only one doing it, these things come second nature to me.

But now that I’m growing the support team, it’s imperative that we operate with the same set of goals and a standardized approach.  So last night I drafted version 1 of our Customer Support Policies document.

This is a set of eight practices that I have found to be the most effective when handling customer support requests.  I’m copying them below for you to see.  While some of it specifically applies to my own business, you may find these policies (or variations of them) useful in yours.

I’d love to hear what you think and how you might add or change things…


1. Make it “easy” for the customer

We want our customers to come away from every experience with us saying to themselves, “Wow, that was surprisingly easy!” Anything we can do to shift the burden off of our customer and allow them to get on with their day, is always a good thing.

Example:

Customer asks: How do I rename my navigation tab from “About” to “Our Story”?

Your response: I went ahead and made that change for you. For future reference, here’s how you can do it… (proceed with instructions with screenshots.)

2. Keep it simple and brief.

Our customers are not tech-savvy. They’re often overwealmed and intimidated when it comes to managing their website. Your goal is to eliminate that intimidation by responding in simple, non-technical terms.

For example:

BAD: I tweaked some CSS code to override the header background image.
GOOD: That header image you asked for is all set.

3. Respond to each and every question/issue.

Be sure that you read and respond to each and every point/question raised by a customer. Sometimes customer emails can be very lengthy, using poor English/grammar, run-on sentences, etc. Do your best to extract all of the questions, then address each one as clearly as possible.

Here’s a recent example:

Customer’s email:

Lots of customer emails look like this.  Many questions, bunched into one paragraph.  Requires careful attention.

Lots of customer emails look like this. Many questions, bunched into one paragraph. Requires careful attention.

My response:

Notice how I meticulously covered every point, numbered them, and make it easy read (though I admit, a bit too wordy)

Notice how I meticulously covered every point, numbered them, and make it easy read (though I admit, a bit too wordy)

4. Be yourself and be personable.

Try to use the customer’s first name when addressing them…
“Hi John” “Thanks John”, etc.

Always stay positive, up-beat, respectful, and above all, be genuine.  Our customers value real person-to-person conversation.  Not canned, robotic greetings like you’d hear when calling your bank.

5. When in doubt, escalate.

Not sure how to answer a certain question? Don’t hesitate to ask me. I expect many questions to be escalated to me, especially in the first few weeks.

Always escalate to me if…

  • If a customer asks you to call them on the phone (only I handle phone calls at this time).
  • If a customer requests — or hints that they want to — to cancel their account
  • If a customer’s requests are excessive and unreasonable.

6. Don’t let customers pressure you.

Some customers can be highly demanding, and sometimes downright rude. Don’t take it personally.

Don’t feel pressured to give these customers extra attention, or faster response times, no matter how much pressure they put on you.

Don’t respond to nasty emails right away. Take a deep breath, work on something else for a bit, then come back to it an hour later with a calm state of mind.

Respond in a respectful, professional manner, no matter how rude or demanding the customer is being.

If the customer insults you or is being problematic in any way, escalate to me.

7. Set clear expectations.

It’s important that customers are not left wondering “when will I hear back from them about my website?”

When a customer requests a quick tweak, and you don’t have much else on your plate today, you can say something like “Got it. I’ll get this handled for you later today.”

Or when they send you a larger round of updates, you can say something like:
“I received all of these materials, thanks. I’ll send you an update on this later in the week.”

Or “Got it. We should have this ready for you early next week. Have a great weekend!”.

Always set clear expections.

8. Go above and beyond.

We want customers to be pleasantly surprised with how helpful we are. Our personalized above-and-beyond service is the biggest competitive advantage we have. It’s why our customers stick with us and recommend us to others.

Examples:

Don’t just tell them where to go to edit their food menu. Take a quick screenshot, add an arrow to it, and embed it in your email response.

When asked if we help with setting up a basic Facebook page, offer to do this for them at no extra cost (even though it’s not something we usually do).

When asked about SEO optimization, help make those optimizations on their site. Then point them to an article on our blog offering additional tips they can implement in their routine.


Can you help?

As I said, outsourcing customer support duties is new territory for me. I’m learning as I go. If you’ve done this before or have any tips, please share in the comments.

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