We released a new version of DoneDone back on October 1st. A couple of months prior to that, we began a campaign of emails and communications with our existing customer base to help everyone prepare for the transition. To be certain, there were reasons for the ample communication. We changed the way we charge for the service, and in many cases, the price our users pay. The entire application was rebuilt from the ground up; it’s a new design, new features, a new service. We also had to bring the entire system down for 24 hours while we got new servers up and running. And that’s all before the new tool was even available.
Now, we’re five weeks deep, and we’ve fully concluded the transition of customers, billing platforms, servers, all with the help of email, email campaigns, blog posts, and twitter. Some of the communication was good, other stuff didn’t hit the mark.
Here’s a few thoughts on customer service I’ve been banging on the past couple of days as I reflect on a busy couple of months.
# A few numbers & facts
We’re 5 weeks into the ‘new DoneDone’, and in that time, we’ve doubled our customer base. We also lost 50% of our pre-October paid customers due to passive subscribers who were paying for the service but haven’t (yet) continued with the service. As of November 1, more than 6000 people are using DoneDone from across 63 countries. On a typical day, we will handle between 5 and 10 customer support emails.
# Technology doesn’t replace heart
I believe that direct communication with users brands our service with a human touch. While I’m proud of the number of people using DoneDone, it’s not big enough to warrant a layer of software to mediate between me and our customers. Anyhow, the tools I’ve used and checked-out all feel like 2 inches of bullet proof glass is stuck between me and our customers. Maybe we’ll build something better. For now, I like that people just write to us. And I write back. I call it … email.
# Pride in the service is imperative to good support
If the person doing support doesn’t believe the service they’re supporting is great, then their commitment to helping customers will not be genuine. I’ve felt both. I didn’t believe the old DoneDone was great. Nor did I feel that, even with the best of intentions, my commitment to our customers would be rewarding for them as the inflexibility of the system kept us from improving it. I experience this malaise with a lot of services these days.
If the person doing support doesn’t believe the service they’re supporting is great, then their commitment to helping customers will not be genuine.
The new DoneDone is, well, much better. It’s not great. It will be though. And I love that every email is an opportunity to correspond with a customer who knows what it takes to make the service better. I admit to being an inbox junky hoping for that next chance to get someone’s thoughts. But, with a wife, 3 children, and a consulting business to run, believe me when I say it’s not just cuz I’m lonely.
And, should you be on the hunt for a few crafstmen in the trade of customer support, Postmark, CheddarGetter, and Gravity payments all get it right.
# The power to make it right
Having a flexible system and a great billing solution (CheddarGetter) puts a few controls in my hands. In tandem with good communication, I know we can improve the tool per a customer’s suggestion, when appropriate, and I can always credit a customer’s account when Donedone has treated them wrong. And if nothing else, drop a gift in the mail to say thanks.
# Assume nobody reads
Short and simple is the only thing which gets people’s attention. I am really good at acting in direct contrast to this truism. The journalistic approach of making sure the title says it all, though, is the best method to ensure even the most time-pressed customer gets the gist of the message. If the user wants to read on, fill in additional content only after the core message is communicated. I am working hard to swallow this oblong pill. It should be noted that my 4 year old daughter calls me Chatty Cathy.
# Response time, over time
Getting back to a user within a certain window of time is great. It needs to be consistent, though. If it’s within a day, great, always make it a day so that the expectation is clear. In our case, I try to hit the 2 hour mark. We have a lot of international customers though, so it’s with the disclaimer that it’ll take a bit longer if it’s 2:30 AM in Chicago.
Also, while initial response time is great, providing the same with follow-up communications is greater. I may be writing the 5th message in a string of emails on the same topic, but still strive to keep the response time consistent. This is hard work, and probably a place technology can help.
# Good customer support is a two way road
The quality of DoneDone the tool should be carried through in our support communications. Simple rules like always using a salutation, doing some quick proof reading (try reading it backwards!), and making sure I sign off in a respectful manner are easy techniques, and get a lot of points. The person on the other end knows they’re dealing with someone who cares.
Simple rules like always using a salutation, doing some quick proof reading (try reading it backwards!), and making sure I sign off in a respectful manner are easy techniques, and get a lot of points.
Furthermore, it engenders reciprocity. Customer emails we receive tend to be really well-written. Most everyone takes the time to express their thoughts, use proper grammar, and when needed, be responsive with their own feedback to us here at DoneDone. That’s amazing in itself and goes a long way towards maintaining the morale of the support bloak (me). I suppose we’re blessed in that regard.
# Customers aren’t always right, and don’t want to be
The adage that ‘the customer is always right’, isn’t right. At least not in the world of services like DoneDone. Most customers are very happy being offered an alternative means of accomplishing their goal without a new feature. And most ask questions rather than make demands which is a healthy invitation to teach, rather than sell.
In cases where their request matches a larger quorom and we plan on implementing it, I’ve enjoyed discussing the design of the enhancement directly with the customer. For obvious reasons, the design is in a better place because of it.
# Support is therapy
Sometimes, I think, users just want to be heard and vent a bit. I want our support to come with a little bit of therapy included. I try to give a little something extra to each response in the hopes that it occasionally curls someones grin and adds a bit of dimension to the service we provide.
I want our support to come with a little bit of therapy included.
# Customers are the best testers, and should be thanked for it
No matter how well we test our systems, there will always be an issue we don’t discover which a paying customer does. This truth should be eaten between two slices of thank-you bread with a heaping side of modesty. With crowds of users comes endless combinations of browsers, corporate firewalls, intellect, and experience; all the ingredients for a perfect pool of testers. And to boot, every issue they discover comes prepackaged with a sense of urgency we might not otherwise have here were it just us tweaking the app.
With crowds of users comes endless combinations of browsers, corporate firewalls, intellect, and experience; all the ingredients for a perfect pool of testers.
# Find a rhythm and stay warm
Lastly, a rhythm. Sometimes I feel connected to our user base. Other times I feel disconnected. Does the fact that no one is sending in problems or feedback suggest we’re truly disconnected? Isn’t no problems a good problem to have? In the lulls, I’m trying to conceive a regular interval of other communications to make. Reading recommendations, techniques for project management, jokes, and so on. Whatever lets our users know that, hey, we’re here, ready to talk, anytime. I’m not there yet. I hope to be soon.
## What a load of BS, right?
I’ve been at the helm of a consultancy here in Chicago for 5 years now and I’ve learned a whole bunch about direct client services, financial responsibility, and the essence of building a successful business. Hopefully, a lot of it rubs off on DoneDone. Somehow, though, providing direct customer support feels inherently different, albeit completely natural. Maybe it’s the Chatty Cathy in me. Whatever it is, I want to be good at it. And per chance I skip a beat, please send a well-formed email my way and I’ll give it another try.