At Stuff we do not have a bunch of principles and structures—but we do have one very important one: Everyone in the company reads our incoming support emails.

The past 20 years as a project manager, product owner, digital product developer, head of blah blah, and founder have taught me the importance of everyone spending time on support emails. Whether you are a two-man band, settled startup co-founder, head of product, or corporate CxO, you should spend at least 30 minutes per week reading real emails from your customers.

KPIs, MAU/DAU, CAC, and CLV are some of the well-established metrics in most startups and established corporations. A/B testing is touted as the current methodology for valuable insights and improvements.

Continually, startups have been tweaked and strategies have been changed based on an extensive aggregation of numbers in spreadsheets and dashboards. I love my numbers, and I love my spreadsheets. But the heart and soul of all the great people coming into contact with your service, product, and company is too often buried in a column in your beloved spreadsheets. Valuable insights, information, and data are too often ignored or forgotten.

I have always spent much more time on incoming support emails than on internal reports and numbers. Here are some reasons you should as well:

News you can use

Support emails are fresh off the press. They represent your current state of service, product, or company. This is not some week- or month-old aggregated information related to a discontinued feature or product. Getting to know what is happening in your business right now makes it easier to react before shit really hits the fan.

A great conversation starter

Support emails, no matter how aggressive the initial email, provide insights that cannot be put into numbers and tables. Customers writing you regarding support issues are often willing to engage in conversation, which can give you a much better understanding of how your company and product are perceived in reality.

You probably don’t have enough data

Too many entrepreneurs and startup founders get hooked on data dashboards, A/B testing, and funnel optimization too early in the process of building their venture—long before they have a significant sample size for their data. Instead of watching data points fluctuate 10 to 40 percentage points, you should spend time writing or talking with people who have taken the time to email you.

A nuanced overview of your business

Dashboards and spreadsheets will never ever provide a nuanced overview of who your customers are, how they feel, what their intentions are, and how happy they are. Browsing through support emails will give everyone in the company a better understanding of the current condition of your company and product. It also allows colleagues to form a personal understanding of the state of business—which can be used internally in more varied conversations.

Support emails are loaded with emotions

Numbers are just numbers, often aggregated into totals and averages. Which gives you nothing but a total or an average. No background. No story. No heart. No soul. Support emails on the other hand are full of emotions:

Hi Company. Thank you for nothing. You made my daughter cry for 30 minutes yesterday because we couldn’t login to stream Dora the Explorer. Switched browser which seemed to solve half of the issues :-(.

Unless you are a soulless robot, the above statement is more likely to trigger emotions and drive your team to take action than:

Week 27 — Users experiencing issues on service: 57 percent

Seeing real customers having real, relatable issues provides a much better understanding of the current state of your company than data points do. Emotional statements from real people also contribute much more to internal discussions and pitch decks. Reducing a group of people to “57 percent of users” in a spreadsheet is just disrespectful.

Increased responsibility

In my experience, everyone feels an increased responsibility and a sense of urgency to eliminate whatever emails hit their support inbox. Seeing real problems triggers action much faster than seeing numbers in a spreadsheet. And it makes it easier to prioritize for better customer experiences.

I won’t claim that you should completely ditch your spreadsheets and numbers on customer acquisition, funnels, and all sorts of support interactions. But you should spend more time on real insights. And the monthly slide on “what customers said” just doesn’t do it.

Reading real support emails provides an up-to-date overview and triggers emotions and responsibility, while also providing conversation starters externally and internally. For everyone in the company. So, grab your morning coffee and wind through all those valuable insights from real people with something valuable on their mind.