If you have already launched your scrappy startup, you are probably already familiar with doing your own customer service. If you haven’t launched yet, you will be familiar with it. Either way, you may already be considering outsourcing your CS or at least hiring someone “cheap” to do it for you.
And that is possibly one of the worst things you can do as a scrappy startup.
Staying in touch
One of the biggest advantages to doing your own customer service is staying in touch with your users. By tending your own complaint queue, you will be immediately aware of any problems that are bubbling to the surface (or skyrocketing into a catastrophe). It will give you a chance to head off problems before they become devastating, and also give you a chance to possibly fix the problem.
Have you ever tried calling your cable company to get some complex problem fixed? Was the first level agent able to fix it? Probably not, and this frustrated you. Customers don’t like it when the first person they talk to can’t fix their problem. By being the first person to talk to the customer, and also being the person who can get things done, you can provide a much better experience, one that your customer is sure to gush about. A “cheap” or outsourced person would not have the authority to get things done, otherwise they wouldn’t be cheap!
Getting talked about
One of the most important goals of a scrappy startup is getting talked about. Free press is worth its price in gold, and one of the best ways to get free press is to impress a customer. The best way to do that is doing something for your customer that they think is amazing, but is easy for you.
A quick story — my day job is running the operations for reddit.com, a social link sharing site. Although we aren’t a scrappy startup anymore, we operate like one. We only have 4 engineers, and all of us do customer service for our main product, which is self-serve ad space. When there is a problem, we can fix it quickly. When there is a bug in the code, we can still fix it rapidly, because the same person who wrote the code also does the CS for it. Recently we had an advertiser who had purchased a day’s worth of advertising. A few hours into their run, their service provider went offline for a few hours, effectively reducing their ad time by 30% and giving our users a horrible experience in relation to their brand. They contacted us after the outage and asked if we could give them a credit or extend their ad by seven hours.
Of course, we had no obligation to do anything at all, since the problem was with their service provider. But we believe in awesome customer service, so we immediately comped him for another full day of ads at the same rate, and then gently suggested that he told people how awesome we are. Truth be told, it is harder for us to comp seven hours than a full day, but the customer doesn’t know that. As far as they know, we just want way above and beyond to service this one customer.
He immediately mailed back thanking us profusely, and then tweeted about how happy he was. Then his customers retweeted what he said, essentially turning his customers into our PR department. Total cost to us? A few dollars in lost revenue.
Show me the money
So how does all this equal profit? For starters, that customer from above was so happy with with his experience that he came back and ordered more ads for more money than we had comped him. So in that sense the whole process netted us real money.
More importantly though, the profits comes from the extra goodwill you will get. Happy customers will be your advocate — they will tell everyone how great you are and maybe even convince a few people to spend some money with you, or spend more of their own money with you.
Even if they don’t spend any more money, or least you will feel good knowing that you made someone happy.