In years past, customer service was something entrepreneurs would have only considered after their business was up and fully running. Why worry about creating a quality customer service experience until you had things like product design and systems innovation running. However things are changing. With globalization and the technologic explosion we’ve seen in recent years, it’s become hard to differentiate on things like price and innovation. That means customer service is the new battle ground, as evidenced by a recent Gartner stat that said by 2016, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience. Given this trend, entrepreneurs need to be focused on their customers’ experience from the very beginning.
But where do you start with finding the right tools designed to best assist your company? For that we turned to Craig Borowski, a market researcher for Software Advice, who recently published a report designed to help start-ups and small business find the best customer service software system for their individual needs. We wanted to learn more so I sent Craig some questions to dig into this topic further.
Q: Zendesk is a leader in the customer service software space. What might be some reasons they aren’t a great fit for some start-ups or smaller businesses?
A: Start-ups and small businesses face different software selection challenges than larger companies and enterprises. For example, their smaller size means they have fewer moving parts to consider and integrate with. On the other hand, they typically have smaller financial safety nets and a wrong choice can be much more impactful. Having said that, SMBs and start-ups shouldn’t commit to any customer service software platform before evaluating their options.
Zendesk is undoubtedly one of the most popular and feature-rich CS platforms available. Now, it’s inadvisable for any business to make a purchase decision based on popularity. And it’s very inadvisable for SMBs or start-ups to choose based on which product’s list of features is longest. Quite often, small companies with customer service tools contact us looking to replace their software because it’s more than they need, isn’t user-friendly or doesn’t mesh well with their workflow processes. Most of these problems could have been avoided if the company had chosen a less feature-rich platform the first time around.
Here’s another example. Imagine a small company that has a rapidly growing customer base. Their volume of business is quickly exceeding their small team’s ability to handle it. They start losing track of customer service requests and misplacing important client information. They conclude that they need both customer service and CRM software. Since the service issue is most pressing, service software is purchased first, and they go with Zendesk mainly because it’s a popular brand.
Zendesk is very feature rich, but it doesn’t have broader CRM functionality. There are, however, some Zendesk competitors that are less feature-rich, but do include CRM functions. Had this example company approached their purchase differently, they might realized that a less well-known product could provide for both their service and support needs as well as their CRM needs. They could have solved both software challenges with a single purchase and possibly ended up with a more well integrated system.
Q: What are some customer service software systems that work better for startups or small businesses?
A: HelpScout is one system that’s very popular with smaller organizations. It’s particularly well designed with an excellent user interface, and it isn’t overly cluttered or complicated with features small businesses are unlikely to need. Zoho Support is another good choice. It’s popular with quickly expanding companies, because it’s a very expandable platform. It has many add-on applications that allow it to integrate with other software popular with SMBs, like Google Docs
Q: At what point in a business’s growth should a company begin to evaluate customer support systems?
A: Great question! Small companies, including bootstrapped start-ups or any small business with limited resources, often start off using free DIY tools to handle their support. By DIY, I mean they use tools like email, word processors and spreadsheets to track and provide service. This method works, and it can usually keep up as the company starts to grow. But very soon in their growth they’ll hit a point where their DIY system’s inefficiencies and quirks start to pile up, and pile up quickly. Unfortunately, few businesses spot the impending crisis early enough to give themselves ample time for software selection. So to answer your question, businesses should start planning for their future software needs as soon as they have confidence in their growth trajectory.
Q: What types of customer service metrics should a startup or small business track once they implement software?
A: Choose the metrics that most closely reflect the quality of service your customers are experiencing. If they’re calling on the phone, then wait-times and first-call resolution rate are both good starting points. If they’re emailing their questions, then (non-automated) response times are important. It’s important also to actively solicit and internalize customer feedback. Often, companies don’t realize that they’re tracking metrics which have little impact on the customer or overlooking metrics that have a lot.
There are other metrics that help measure customer service, but from a cost-effectiveness perspective. One example is the average cost to resolve the average service request; this would account for the time spent by company staff while resolving the issue. Most companies place a little too much emphasis on these bottom-line metrics and too little on the customer experience metrics mentioned above. Ultimately, they’ll need to strike the right balance by using a mix of metrics that measure service performance both from the customer’s point of view and from the company’s balance-sheet’s point of view.