Shopify App Dev Advice: How to Hire and Train Staff for Top-Notch Support
When starting your own company, putting together a stellar customer support team is probably not the first thing on your mind.
Customer support is often seen as the necessary evil of all new businesses. While you’d rather spend your time working on your product, there is no way around needing to monitor your inbox and answer all customer emails quickly.
But make no mistake, customer support is not just a necessity, it’s also a massive opportunity.
Why? Because it can set you apart from your competitors, and it’s an absolutely crucial part of making the customer experience a pleasant and memorable one.
So, what do you need to build a marvellous support team?
Lay the groundwork for an epic team to build itself
It all starts with hiring the right people. In the beginning, you might choose to answer customer questions yourself. This will be helpful because you get unfiltered insight into your customers’ thoughts and pain points. Plus, customer service is your front-line and there is probably no one better to represent your brand than the person who started it all.
But, being the business owner and sole customer service person can be a commitment that you should not underestimate. You might end up going back and forth with one and the same user all day, making you feel like you’re not getting anything else done. Avoid running into that situation and get help early on. Your first customer support hire should be someone who believes in your vision. They must speak your language and be someone you trust.
If you’re lucky, you have someone in your network who’s thrilled about what your company does and understands exactly what your customers want. If tapping your network isn’t fruitful, try finding entry-level tech enthusiasts through college job boards and local listings. There are tons of hungry and skilled people with a passion for ecommerce and technology out there; it’s just a matter of finding that one perfect superstar to get your support operation up and running.
The importance of a stellar first hire
You want your first support hire to be a true brand ambassador. If they’re not excited about the product, your customer is not going to think your company is all that, either.
Don’t make the mistake of hiring just anyone for your support team with the attitude that it’s “just customer service” and “anyone can do it.” A mediocre support person will do more harm than good. If you’re not working with the kind of people who can turn every customer experience into an awesome one, you are wasting your time and money. You don’t want to have to clean up after the mess that unmotivated support staff may leave behind, which can range from customers leaving bad reviews online to you having to deal with chargebacks and drops in upgrades.
The great thing about making sure your first support hire is awesome is that this strategy scales well. A fantastic customer service rep will train your next supporters to be just as awesome. You’ll be grateful that your own time won’t be spent worrying about whether your service meets your customers’ expectations.
Document all the things: why self-service empowers agents and customers alike
You probably won’t need a full-time support agent right away. Give them some extra hours to spend on other tasks anyway. One of the best uses of their time will be for them to create documentation for just about everything: internal processes, notes about the product, recurring issues, etc.
Great internal and public documentation will help with training future hires as well as with reducing support inquiries. According to Zendesk, the world’s leading customer service software, “91% of customers would skip contacting support and find their own answers instead, so long as it’s a pleasant self-service experience”.
While it’s tempting to try to talk to every customer, your goal is most likely to grow the company to an extent where this simply won’t be realistic anymore.
You don’t need anything fancy to start. A simple FAQ page on your website will do. Embed your customers’ most common questions directly on your site and make it easy for your users to find answers to their most common questions right away. An accordion-style FAQ will work best as it will let you highlight key topics. Your users will learn that there is a resource they can turn to before submitting a support question. Every time you’ve avoided letting your users become frustrated due to having run into a problem for which there is no answer available online, you’ve potentially gained or saved a loyal customer.
With a solid FAQ prominently placed on your site, agents can focus their energy on solving real problems instead of answering the same questions over and over. This reduces support fatigue and empowers your agents to tackle difficult issues rather than feeling the pressure of handling a large number of redundant support tickets.
Don’t let seasonal spikes bring you down
An added bonus of giving your supporter(s) some breathing room to work on documentation is that you won’t run out of bandwidth when hands-on support is needed. The ecommerce sector is especially prone to seasonal spikes, which could mean a sudden surge in customer emails and calls coming in after your Shopify customers have launched their Black Friday or End-Of-Season sales.
Instead of being forced to hire an additional team member while things are crazy, you can ask your existing support team to focus more of their time on answering customer inquiries. This is how we’ve been handling season spikes at POWr.io. During particularly support-heavy times, less time is spent on doing live chat, updating tutorials, and other side-projects while everyone focuses 100% of their time on answering customer emails. Since we’re all in this together, team spirit is usually great and we all feel accomplished and proud when looking at the huge number of customers we helped out during peak times.
It’s also important to make sure you have an idea of how volume might change during peak season. If your seasonal spikes are absurdly high and it’s not manageable with the bandwidth you have available, bring on additional people. If your documentation is exhaustive, you should be able to get them up to speed quickly. If you have a new member on the team who’s not 100% comfortable handling customer inquiries autonomously yet, ask them to go through every email that’s been unanswered for more than 4 hours and have them send a nice reply which explains to the customer why it’s taking a little longer to get back to them.
If you’re using a help desk system, you can also be proactive about this and send an auto-responder which lets the customer know that it may take a little longer than usual to get back to them.
Red alert: have an emergency plan ready
No matter how great your help page is and how knowledgable your support staff has become, you will still run into situations that are out of your control and will negatively affect your users’ experience. Whether it’s a server issue causing your app to go down or half of your team being out sick at the same time, your support team should be prepared for any kind of emergency.
Start off with defining an emergency plan. Give your support team the phone number of your lead engineer so they can alert them of any technical problems. Tell them which engineer to contact with which type of problem. Inform them when and how they should communicate the issue with customers — you may decide to have a notice on your site, set up an auto-responder from your support email, or post announcements and updates on your social channels.
Regardless of what you choose to do, emergencies are stressful for the whole team and you will learn from each unusual situation. Always debrief with the team after a major issue and discuss what went well and what didn’t. Look at how customers responded, look at the increase in support emails, and analyze how it affected your sales. Remember to give discounts or free upgrades to customers who were affected by the issue, as an apology. And most importantly, come up with a game plan for what to do differently next time.
Your [support] team’s path to success
Working with an inspired, dedicated support team is a great way to ensure an outstanding user experience. Hire people you like, who are excited about your business and can act as your company’s support, success, and sales representatives. Invest the time and energy it takes to get your first support hire up to speed and you will soon realize that you have created a well-oiled machine that practically runs itself.