Being a new SaaS company can have its advantages. Your small stature means that you can react fast and pivot at key moments. Silos can be nonexistent in young startups where bite-sized teams work across the aisle to get things done. And most importantly, smaller SaaS companies can have personalized relationships with their customers. They can do things that don’t scale and oftentimes are rated highly for it.
But, like the kids in your neighborhood or the sapling in your backyard, everything has to grow up eventually. SaaS companies going through an acceleration phase are going to be faced with a big challenge: scaling their killer customer support.
At Livestorm, we know all about this topic. We’ve faced our own challenges of scaling during Covid-19 and we’re in the middle of beefing up our own support team. To find out more about what we’ve done to scale our own support team, you can watch this webinar in partnership with Front, on delivering personalized communication at scale.
In this article, we’ll break down how to scale a support team with advice from some industry experts along the way.
Most companies reference their high performing customer success teams as one of their competitive advantages. And with good reason! A recent study by McKinsey Quarterly found that nearly 70% of buying decisions are made based upon how a customer feels they are treated. It makes sense that founders would invest in customer support teams, and expect big returns as a result.
However, this investment must be appropriately timed. Knowing when to scale your Customer Support team is half of the challenge of scaling it. Like most things in business, the decision to scale a customer support team boils down to predictions, metrics, and experience. New customer support managers are hired with sales targets in mind. Sometimes, hiring selections are based upon specialized profiles so that teams can segment their clients. Getting the timing right is important. Companies that scale too soon have a hard time reversing if targets aren’t met.
For Natalie Onions, the CS Lead at Customer.io, the key lies in prioritizing the customer experience. “CS is typically scaled on a needs-based model that is influenced by sales and onboarding efforts, but which should come first? Scale the CS team to be ready and waiting to take over when Sales closes and risk being overstaffed, or generate the need and the revenue from new customers before scaling and have the existing team struggle?”
“In my opinion, the former creates a better customer experience. But of course, the needs and means of any business vary wildly—definitely a big challenge!”
And once you begin to scale, there may be an influx in conversations your team needs to handle. Intercom CSM Ciara Guinan says that expanding CS teams often struggle with “keeping the job fun and engaging, and not getting 'drained' by increased volume/expectations.”
Opening up communication with your team and providing them with the right tools is a good way to support them. And always recognize their efforts, sharing CSM wins with the rest of the team.
If you don’t already have a healthy set of help documents for your customers to reference, creating one is a key step to scaling customer support. A lot of little-league players start out with a FAQ page on their website, which is a simple solution to fortify their support team.
For Ciara Guinan, these common questions are an opportunity to take some pressure off of your CS team. “Using Answer Bot for FAQ’s is a great option. You can allow the Bot to answer common questions, and leave the complex ones to the human experts.”
As you move into the big leagues, you can create a searchable knowledge base of help documents. Your customers can use keywords to solve their issues instantly, without needing to wait for a response from an expert.
So how exactly can you help your customers help themselves?
“Keeping help articles up to date ensures that a customer can self-serve with the correct information,” says Ciara Guinan. “Include screenshots in your articles, and make sure the information is correct and matches your current UI.”
As a final note, be wary of burying the option to contact your support team directly. Forcing customers to wade through your knowledge base when they have an urgent problem doesn’t encourage a healthy relationship. This is where the omnipresent chatbot can play a big role. Being transparent about where you can be contacted makes it clear that helping is your top priority.
We really like video (after all, it’s kind of our thing), so it makes perfect sense for us to incorporate video into our help content. We’ve beefed up our existing documentation with videos that address frequently asked questions, or take deep dives into complex topics.
Nick Petrella, Customer Champion at Wistia, says that video is a great way to personalize your support. “Videos add a human factor into your customer support. Video can be an amazing tool for growing support teams as it offers the ability to be personable in a way that is often difficult to achieve with written text alone.”
“With video, you not only lift the veil on the support manager behind the keyboard making these interactions more human but can also easily show a customer exactly what you need to, step-by-step, with little room for confusion.”
Including videos in your customer support strategy can be pretty simple. For our videos we record the screen with QuickTime, and use a Scarlett microphone for the voice recordings. We then combine both parts in iMovie, and add our closed captions with Wistia. Or you could opt to use a tool like Soapbox which lets you create, edit, and share videos in minutes. Embedding these videos within your responses is a great way to personalize your support.
Says Mike, “Video is a powerful educational tool and we find it can oftentimes be more-effective to record a short personal video for a customer rather than write complex answers that incorporate screenshots to illustrate the same point.”
At Livestorm, we also use a lot of live videos in our strategy. We hold personalized training sessions for new clients with Livestorm Meet to help them through the onboarding process. Plus, our CEO Gilles hosts a weekly demo webinar. In it, he explains how Livestorm works and answers questions in real-time. And finally, Elif, our CS lead, hosts a quarterly webinar to discuss the product roadmap.
At Livestorm, good tools are our bread and butter. And when it comes to Customer Support, we have a stack of curated tools that help us collaborate and communicate at scale.
Some of our favorite tools in our toolbox are:
Intercom is a communication tool that helps brands build strong customer relationships. We use Intercom for our support chat where we blend live and automated support.
Helpscout is a helpdesk app that combines email-based customer support, knowledge-based tools, and an embeddable search/contact widget for customer service professionals. At Livestorm we use it to make our help documentation.
Automated messaging platform Customer.io masters SMS, email, and push notifications for customer relationship building. It is also home to all of our email campaigns and onboarding mails.
We've been fans of Wistia for a while now. They combine video hosting with marketing software. We use Wistia to host our replays and interviews. We also make our help tutorials with it.
NPS tool Satismeter collects customer feedback. We use it to track our own NPS scores.
Asana is a product management tool for teams. At Livestorm, Asana is where automatic tasks are created to alert the team about customer health.
Pipedrive is a customer relationship management tool. We use it for VIP, multi-touchpoint onboardings and recurring health checks
Good CS tools need to scale with your growing team, so subscription-based models where you can add team members as needed can be useful. They also need to be transparent, so that team members can transition between shifts. Shared inboxes and task assignments help teammates know what’s going on with customers at a glance.
Customer support is all about people. So, when hiring for new customer support roles, take a look at your existing team. What characteristics do they seem to embody? Chances are, your most successful CS members are great communicators.
A customer support manager's key focus is solving problems. As anyone who’s dad has tried to help them with their math homework knows, problem-solving sometimes requires a lot of patience. So, it’s no surprise that the best CSM’s can navigate tough problems and find solutions on the fly. And, since the role is so people-focused, empathy is also going to be a requirement. Finally, hire Customer Success Managers that are kind. Since 95% of customers have taken action (like churning or complaining about the business to others) after a negative customer experience, your CS team can make a big impact on your bottom line.
Focusing on who makes up your expanding CS team wouldn't be complete without considering where your team is located. As a SaaS company, your customers are likely spread across the world. And it is possible that you have just one home office. To make sure that your customers get the best support whenever they need it, you’ll need to be available at their convenience.
The best way to balance your CSM team with your growing business is to embrace remote workers. This does not mean outsourcing your customer support team to cheaper locations. Rather, hire highly skilled CSMs in the areas where you have the most clients. This way they will be operating at the same time, and on the same workdays as your customers. To support your customers, you need to meet them where they are. “At Livestorm, we wanted to expand to cover all timezones. It made sense for us to start with the US because that’s where a lot of our clients are” says Sonya Ecrout, Livestorm CSM. “in the beginning we had a lot of requests for US time zones and got some really good feedback about it from our customers.”
And just like how you should focus on the right people for your team, make sure you are measuring their progress in the best way. Metrics like resolution time create the wrong incentive for CSM’s. You don’t want clients to be rushed through the help process. Instead, look at metrics like first response time. Most customers expect to receive a response within a 24 hour period after they first reach out for support. Responding promptly sends a message that you care, and are serious about solving your client's problems.
Automation can be an excellent way to relieve some pressure from your expanding CS team. However, they should not replace your team entirely. You can blend automation with live support help, to make the customer experience more productive. Automating repeatable tasks is a good place to start.
Your automation can act as a “front desk” for your team, fielding incoming questions and connecting clients with the best CS managers. Looping in humans when there are time-sensitive issues (like billing concerns) is imperative for maintaining good relationships.
When it comes to making sure that teams maintain a personal connection with their audiences, Natalie Onions suggests making “sure the tone of any automation feels personal and is not just a standard reply.” You can use text expanders and saved replies to cut down the time it takes to craft a response, and managers can edit them for personalization in a flash.
And Ciara Guinan keeps the focus squarely on adaptability. “When it comes to building a successful relationship with customers across your entire book, consistency is key to providing a predictable and repeatable experience for all customers. This is where automated tasks, reminders, email drafts, and events come into play. Where the CS team sets themselves apart though, is taking those tasks and applying their skills to help the customer on their specific business needs.”
“While one client may be in need of a monthly growth check-in, another may benefit more from a monthly training session. Automated reminders to set up these events ensure efficiency across the team, but the personal connection is made and grown through those tasks being executed in a very personal and specific way.”
Empowering the individuals on your team to make calls on what clients need is a surefire way to keep the human touch in your automated CSM.