Customer Service: A Framework for Tech Founders and Life
It's truly not that hard
Respond → Ask → Explain → Thanks → Do
I beta tested someone’s new product the other day.
I volunteered partially to give back to entrepreneurial community and partially because I am considering using their full version as part of my startup’s tech stack.
The value prop was clear, the interface was easy to understand, and the gains from using the product could be pretty massive if everything worked as advertised. Yet, as with most products in the testing phase, it could get a little janky in parts.
One particular bug I encountered was flow-breaking.
I couldn’t actually use this product if this bug wasn’t addressed (and quickly). Since I had other stuff to do that day, I wanted to help them triage the bug and continue with the test to give as much feedback as I can while still valuing my time appropriately.
So I put together a pretty detailed message of the bug, included screenshots/my setup/how to recreate it, and a bunch of other relevant information about why this was an app breaking bug for me and sent it off to the founding team with which I had coordinated.
I didn’t hear anything back for hours.
Then when they got back to me it was pretty perfunctory.
Then their follow up clearly expressed their annoyance with my feedback - almost as if it was my fault that this bug existed in their app.
I worked all through high school as a waiter in a fast casual diner in rural Georgia appeasing drunken hoonigans at 2 in the morning.
I’ve briefed ornery mathematicians for hours as a young operations researcher desperately trying to get defense projects funded.
I spent a year as an aide to a Colonel confidently servicing his whim with a smile on my face, trained future officers in the art of diplomatically persuading people disinclined to listen to you to do shitty things without explicit coercion at the Army’s Officer Candidate School, and cofounded an e-commerce startup where I acquired and managed all of our enterprise accounts (including the top 5 retailers and the majority of the important publishers).
I know how to communicate with people I need to keep happy in a variety of complex environments and this ain’t it, chief.
I knew one of the founders better than the others (and knew they had a higher EQ as well) so I put together a response to share my feedback on this interaction to the point of “hey you’re really going to alienate the people that you are ostensibly trying to help if you keep doing this”.
Then (because I acknowledge I’m not omniscient) I looked for an essay about customer service from the Delphic Oracles of startup knowledge (PG, Pmarca, Packy, etc etc) so that it wasn’t just my opinion dunking on their customer handling skills, but I really couldn’t find anything actually pragmatic about it.
Searching the rest of the internet yielded lot’s of clickbaity content farm vagueries, but nothing written for the Founder or the extremely literal engineer [god bless them].
So here’s my entry to the universal tech knowledge graph’s customer service node.
This is for you, person who has never had to interact with another human being in an asymmetric power relationship where you want/need their money so you don’t go out of business.
Customer Service - Step by Step
Just say something.
Acknowledge receipt of the complaint. Throw a “we’re sorry you’re experiencing this issue” in there.
The longer you wait, the more unhappy the user is gonna be. You don’t need to solve the problem instantly, the user just needs to know they were heard.
This is the bare minimum.
2. Ask for More Info:
If you need to know more to solve the problem, ask politely. “Can you talk to me in more detail about aspect X of the problem you experienced?” Try to get the exact sequence so you have the best information on why there is an issue.
If they can’t tell you anything more, don’t be shitty about it. They’re already having a bad day.
And honestly…it’s your problem (not theirs).
You should’ve had more logs firing.
3. Explain the Next Steps:
The next steps could be “investigating” or something similar. That’s totally fine. The user just wants to know they’re getting take care of. You can say something like:
“We hear you on PROBLEM X. We are looking into it on TIMELINE ESTIMATE. We will check to figure out why A, B, and C are not working and we will get back to you by DATE + TIME.”
There’s a lot of ways to do this, but you gotta say what you’re gonna do.
It’s counterintuitive, but the mental pain of uncertainty around remediation is often much more frustrating for a user than the actual application pain they’re experiencing.
4. Thank Them for Their Help
Just say it.
Even if they suck.
It’s easy and free and honestly you might be the only nice customer service interaction that user has ever experienced which has a much higher ROAS than paid ads.
You don’t even have to type it yourself. Just copy and paste it from below.
“Thank you for helping us make this a kickass product.”
Most people are pacified at this point (for now), but if they’re still salty just apologize again and start on the final step. They’re probably pissed at something else going on in their life. It’s rarely personal.
5. Do the Next Steps
Now do the things you said you would do. Simple as that.
Investigate the thing. Identify the problem. Solve the issue. Follow up with the original user.
For bonus points: Give them something free when you solve it and reiterate your appreciation that they helped you find a bug in your system.
Respond → Ask → Explain → Thanks → Do
Your shadowy supercoder genius development skills don’t exempt you from handling basic customer interactions with at least as much skill as a highschooler managing an ice cream counter besieged by irate suburban parents.
I hope this added value to your day.
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Great advice. Support is such an easy way to win points, but so many startups mess up the basics.