This is part of our ongoing series on models of doing support. We hope this series will inform and inspire your support efforts, and show the myriad of ways that a company can provide great support.
Perhaps the phrase I hear most often from startups (Aside from “pivot”!) is “that’s a nice problem to have”. How are we going to handle the traffic load when we have 1MM users? That’s a nice problem to have. How are we going to answer all these customer issues when we get that New York Times article? That’s a nice problem to have.
Actually, it’s not.
Belatedly scaling anything (be it servers, support, or office space) can not only be hard work but actually do lasting damage to your business. I know far too many companies that have given up and accepted providing terrible customer service because they never figured out how to grow with the support load.
That’s why it’s refreshing to see new startups like Miso and AFAR planning their scaling after only a year.
Companies often wait to hire an additional support employee until they are utterly overwhelmed. This ends badly – they never get enough training, there’s no process for sharing support, and they are quickly overwhelmed too.
In contrast, Miso, a social TV app, hired an intern to help with support in their first year, and AFAR Connect, the social travel site, is currently hiring one. They’re certainly not yet overwhelmed by customer issues – but they know that as their userbase grows so will the number of customer issues, and they’re planning accordingly. Instead of just hiring extra muscle, both Miso and AFAR are implementing a buddy system. One employee is the first line of support, handling the majority of issues. When something involves more investigation, the issue is assigned to the other support employee.
This also happens to be a great way to introduce new employees to the process. Angie Bui of Miso started out as an intern getting assigned a few softball issues from supervisor Katie Smillie. This helped her ramp up to the harder questions, eventually taking over that first line of support from Katie. She’s now a full-time employee, riding the initial wave of customer issues and tossing the tough ones to Katie, who is now free to spend more time on larger projects.
AFAR’s Moran Hirsch will also be teaming with her intern. What happens if her intern moves on, as interns do? “The very first task I’ll be having them do is to start documenting solutions to frequently-occurring issues, both for internal and external use,” says Moran. “It’s something I don’t have time for but very much needs to be done”. Miso is doing the same with UserVoice, starting to build up a collection of FAQs and canned responses that will save them time as their support load grows and team members move on.
Is a year-old startup too young to start thinking about scaling customer support?
“Absolutely not. We had a major issue occur due to a foul-up by one of our distributors and we had dozens of customer emails rolling in,” says Katie. “If we hadn’t had a process, a team, and canned responses prepared, I would have been buried.”
So maybe scaling isn't a “good problem to have”. How do you plan to scale your support?