Here's How Small Businesses Can Provide Stellar Customer Support

Many startup owners are capable at launching a business, but ask them about customer service, and they're at a loss. Here are some tips for customer support solutions that work.
Writer/Author/Publisher/Speaker, Garden Guides Press
September 05, 2014

As a small-business owner, you likely went into business to provide customers with a stellar product or service. Somewhere along the line you realized you also had to provide customer support, too—but didn't know where to start. This topic was broached recently when OPEN Forum community member T.S. Praveen Kumar, CEO and founder of Animonks Animation Pvt. Ltd., asked:

“How do you guys handle customer support for your startups/companies? You may get a lot of email support tickets, calls from clients and on-site live chat support—how are you handling it? Even if you want to hire a support person, how much can you pay per month to handle your support emails, calls and on-site live chat? I`m facing the same problem with my product, so help me please.”

Community member responses to this common challenge varied depending on the size and type of the business.

Opt for Email

Some community members report that they’ve found the most expedient way to deal with customer support is to solely use email and not provide phone support.

"Speaking from an e-commerce perspective, we offer no phone support," says Sean Dawes, co-founder of Rocket Dove. “We decided to ditch phone calls to increase efficiency and accuracy in our responses to customers. We have a blog post explaining that decision to customers and reference it when asked why we can't get on the phone. We have yet to have a complaint. Emails are answered very quickly, and we use olark live chat, which helps us document every single customer issue, which we can reference when customers follow up.”

Josh Sprague CEO of Orange Mud, agrees. “Ditch phone for email early on until it's truly necessary,” he says. “You might be surprised how few calls you get, as most prefer to chat or email.”

When Phone Calls Matter

Other small-business owners, such as Ben Baldwin, co-founder and CEO of ClearFit, believe that customer service via phone support is key to the success of hia company. “At ClearFit, we believe that support (we call it customer success) is integral to everything that we do,” he says. Rather than delegate the task of customer service to one employee, Baldwin reports that all employees take turns answering customer questions and responding to requests.

If your office is too small, or you simply don't have the resources to allocate to customer service, you might need to hire someone to answer calls. A benefit to this solution is that you can train the employee to deal with concerns just as you would.

Prior to hiring anyone to do customer service for you, Jason Reis, owner and lead programmer for Flehx Corp, suggests that you look at your pricing. "You want to ensure that it's at a level that enables you to hire a virtual assistant or other person who can help with support chats,” he says.

If your business isn’t bringing in sufficient income to sustain a full- or part-time employee to answer the phone, you might need to try a less expensive solution, such as a call center, Sprague suggests. “Do your best to make sure that you find a call center that knows your industry, and get some referrals,” he says. “I've had some colleagues with bad experiences in the industry with call centers.”

Talk to business owners who have successfully used call centers, and test out a center personally prior to signing on, to make sure that its service is up to par and a good fit for your company.

Try Instructional Videos

Reis offers a time-saving suggestion regarding providing customer service: “Customer support can consume a lot of time, and when you are a startup, you may not have all the people in place to be able to handle the volume. I would suggest if you are generating a lot of support requests that you look at some of the types of requests and make a few support videos to answer some of the more generic questions people have.”

Aim for Excellence

If your company is heavy on customer support, you will get requests for assistance, whether they come via phone, live chat or email. As a small-business owner focused on customer service, it’s your job to come up with a system for dealing with the requests that works best for your type of business and customer service style. And as your business grows, be open to changing tactics when necessary. 

Read more articles on customer service.

Photo: iStockphoto