How long will it take your B2B SaaS startup to grow to 10,000 customers?
Whatever your estimates are, you probably want it to happen as quickly as possible. However, fast growth can either make your startup dreams come true or ruin your company. It depends on how well you plan for scale.
Fast-growing startups: the customer service challenges you’ll face
Fast growth is a big challenge. Your customer support team will be the first to face hurdles when the number of customers starts growing exponentially. At the early stage, every time you see your support team struggling to cope with the volume of requests, you’ll hire new people. But this can be only a temporary solution. What ways to improve customer service will you choose next?
Let’s look at Poster, a vendor of POS software for the foodservice industry. It has transformed from a startup into a self-sustaining 10000-customer company for five years. During this time, Poster’s customer support team has passed through several major transformations. Now, Poster has 52 people working in customer service, helping the restaurant industry professionals in 80 countries, and handling 25,000 requests per month.
Alexander Buchkov, Head of Customer Support at Poster, shares his company’s experience on scaling their support department and maintaining high standards of customer service at different stages of growth. Read the post to get some ideas on how to keep the efficiency of your operations in sync with the growth, structure your support department, and motivate employees.
A team of multi-functional account managers for a good start
At an early stage, when Poster acquired its first clients, the company had a slowly growing support team led by one manager. Every member of the team worked as a personal account manager for a group of customers.
Everybody in the team had similar responsibilities and communicated with customers in live chat, on the phone, and through email. Being responsible for 50 to 200 restaurants each, account managers were able to cope with reactive and proactive tasks:
Quickly resolve the difficulties that restaurant staff faced.
Encourage restaurant managers to use Poster’s features at maximum.
Take a page out of Poster's book and start using live chat software to communicate with your customers. See just how many live chat options are out there and find the best one for your needs.
Our account managers had multi-functional skills and were interchangeable. Each of them would onboard their clients and would assist any other customers when they needed to solve urgent problems.
As the account managers' workload increased, we decided to automate part of their work and launched an automatic customer onboarding campaign. We set up triggered messages in the product interface to describe Poster’s features and explain how customers can benefit from using them.
Up to 70% of customers who receive automated onboarding messages in Poster's admin panel start using new features on their own and our support team helps the rest 30% to catch up with the updates.
Slowly growing, our team reached 12 people. It became difficult for one manager to dedicate enough time for every employee and we realized it was time for a reorganization.
Multiple support teams and the power of healthy competition
To improve our management processes we divided our customer support department into three independent teams.
At that moment it was important to:
Group people in teams to ensure they can work well together and each team can function as a self-sufficient structural unit.
Decide what to delegate to team leads and clearly define their scope of responsibilities and influence.
Communicate the reasons behind this reform, set up expectations, and make sure everybody understands how the company will benefit from it.
Each team had a team lead, who started to supervise the work of their subordinates, train newcomers, help to resolve difficult tasks and give feedback. This allowed Head of Customer Support to delegate a substantial part of operational tasks to team leads and release time for strategic decision making.
We started developing a new team culture, encourage team building activities, and let the teams compete with each other. We measured seconds before our support representatives pick up the phone, their response time in chat, churn rate, etc. and rewarded the winner-team every quarter.
In three months after the introduction of the new team structure and the launch of the competition, we’ve got a substantial improvement by all the key metrics. Our customer support has leveled up. However, as the number of customers continued to grow we were looking for ideas for improving customer service through better operational efficiency.
A dedicated team for 24/7 live chat support for a better first reply time
We analyzed the nature of the questions we were getting via different communication channels. It appeared that people prefer to ask quick how-to questions in the live chat and to call when they require urgent help or have a more difficult question.
We decided to create a dedicated team to support users in live chat to filter out all the quick how-to questions and scale this communication channel.
Our support department benefited from this decision in several ways:
We reduced the average reply time in the live chat from 5 minutes to 1 minute 45 seconds.
One support representative became able to communicate in live chat with up to 10 customers simultaneously.
We optimized communication in the live chat through the use of template answers to frequently asked questions.
We improved our hiring process by taking into account candidates’ writing and phone skills when defining their roles.
After we created a dedicated support team, the percentage of conversations in our live chat evaluated by customers as ‘Excellent’ and ‘Good’ has grown from 90% to 96%.
As the dedicated live chat support team covered a huge part of reactive work, the teams that supported customers by phone also improved their performance.
Cross-functional teams as strategy for improving customer service
The closer we approached the 10,000 customer benchmark, the better we realized that our teams require one more quality upgrade. Seeing the benefits from the creation of a dedicated online chat support team, we were looking for ways to further our employee specialization.
At first, we wanted to subdivide our department into customer success and customer support to let the former focus on proactive work and let the latter shoulder reactive work. However, knowing about the pitfalls of dividing the work with one customer between different departments we declined the idea.
Alternatively, we decided to create cross-functional teams consisting of:
Two customer success representatives, who work proactively and focus on customer onboarding and retention.
Five customer support representatives, who handle all incoming calls and are responsible for troubleshooting.
One product specialist, with a deeper knowledge of the technical aspects of the program and, connects the team with our software development department.
Now every support team at Poster can resolve customer requests of any complexity independently, which reduces delays and miscommunication and improves customer experience.
The constant knowledge exchange within a cross-functional team helps every member grow professionally. The members of one team with different specialization contribute their expertise to reach common goals.
Customer health score for measuring customer satisfaction
A lot of companies use the net promoter score (NPS) metric to gauge customers' satisfaction. An NPS survey allows estimating by the scale from -100 to 100 how willing your customers are to recommend your product or service to others.
Our customer success representatives also use NPS, however, we don't rely completely on it. Customers replies are usually affected by the emotions they have during the NPS survey. That's why the survey results may not even correlate with the churn rate.
To get a better idea about how useful is Poster to our clients we decided to measure customer health score. We believe it is a more reliable metric than NPS because:
It can be measured for every user regardless of their willingness to take part in surveys.
It's based on customers actions, not emotions.
It can be used for predicting customer churn.
As a one-size-fits-all framework for customer health scores doesn’t exist, we calculate customer health score by own formula that takes into account three metrics that we consider valuable.
Problem score. It shows how often a client faces technical problems and how long it takes our support department to resolve them. We consider the number of support requests received from a customer for the last three months and the time spent on troubleshooting.
Usage score. It helps us to estimate customers engagement with the product. We analyze what features they use, don't use, or stop using.
Activity score. It allows us to adjust customer health score depending on how much a customer trusts our product. We assume that the longer a customer uses Poster the more they trust our company. If a user faces a technical problem during their first month of subscription their customer health decreases more significantly than those of a customer who has been Poster’s user for two years already.
Current average customer health score at Poster makes 76%. After we started measuring and analysing this metric we got a tool that works as an early warning system and lets us know which customers need extra attention before their poor health is reflected in the churn rate.
Based on customer health score and NPS our customer success team prioritizes their work. Currently, their main goal is to improve the level of satisfaction with our product for the customers who have below average scores.
Poster’s customer health framework has worked since January 2019 and it is a work in progress. And we are thinking about new upgrades for our customer support department to make it prepared to further customer base growth.
Currently we can see that our customer service turns users into brand advocates, which proves its efficiency. About 60% of new users sign up to Poster on our loyal customers’ recommendation.
Do you currently use Poster POS? Write a review and let others know exactly what you think to help them make more informed buying decisions.