11 Ways Your Startup Can Deliver Support That Will Increase Sales

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11 Ways Your Startup Can Deliver Support That Will Increase Sales


support for startupsSupport is often an after thought for many startups in terms of the impact it has on your time, sanity, and development resources. It's usually a tedious chore that is a second class citizen. Or...Maybe it's not. Maybe your startup worships at the altar of Zappos. If you do, odds are the influx of support hits you from out of nowhere like a sucker punch. Here's what I've learned about preparing for support, how it decreases churn, and increases sales.

Pre Sales Support Will Bring Up Patterns Of Lost Sales

Everyone seems to think that their funnel and their website copy is absolutely awesome. In reality, it comes down to not knowing what you don't know. There are usage patterns that will cause confusion amongst potential purchasers of your product, that you could have never imagined. By implementing a strong pre-sales support system, you will start to gain pattern recognition into what is causing you to lose sales. The best way to catch these issues is to implement live chat systems like Olark, a phone system like Grasshopper, or a simple pre-sales FAQ.

Example: With PadPressed, many potential customers wanted to see a working demo on their iPad. We thought we had this clearly stated on the Demo page. As it turns out, we didn't. After five requests in a day, we realized that we needed to heavily emphasize the working demo portion in the copy. We modified buttons on the homepage and we highlighted the links to the live demos on the Demo page. It worked. There have been more clicks and more requests about this.

Build As If You Have To Support It

I'm stealing this quote from Kevin Hale of Wufoo, but it's truly one of the most important product focused quotes I've heard over the past year. Whenever you want to add a feature, especially the nifty ones that may be confusing or buggy, think about the impact that will have on support. Also think about a feature's implementation and how it plays into cross platform compatibility. For every feature you plan on adding, expect more of the following:
  • Extra support ticket requests ie- Each feature will bring about way more support tickets that require more time, which is something you're already strapped on.
  • More pre-launch documentation ie- You will have to spend more time on Q&A, writing documentation, doing tutorial videos, etc.
  • More complexity in your sales and/or fundraising pitch ie- Your cool new features have nothing to do with your simple problem/solution statement.

Triage Critical Requests Post Launch and Freeze New Dev

After every launch of PadPressed, there are usually one to two specific problems that are major issues. For our most recent launch, the timthumb library was being wonky with Wordpress MU + external images. Instead of adding some of the new things we had planned, we had to focus solely on releasing a major update for this issue. The adrenaline from a successful launch will lure you into wanting to do more "cool stuff" for customers. In reality, if you don't double down on getting past the critical bugs, they won't be customers for long.

The Knowledge Of The Customer Community Will Save You

If there's a way to create a customer support forum, I strongly suggest it. It could be something like GetSatisfaction or it could be a private forum. Most problems that customers would normally open up a ticket with you for, will have been solved in the past and publicly available in the forums. I suggest that all tickets are made public and viewable by users. Another benefit of having a great community is the fact, that other customers will help out new customers and give suggestions. The math adds up over time. Here's some math:
  1. Assume each support request takes an average of 15 minutes to deal with.
  2. You have a total of 400 support requests per month.
  3. 50% of those support requests could be solved by having past knowledge public. (200 total)
  4. That's a total of 50 hours a month, which adds up to a lot of saved time, energy, and frustration.

Support Is A Reason To Charge

Support is a reason to charge, especially when dealing with a freemium model. As geeks, we may be able to do everything ourselves, but in the real world, most normals love to have their hand held or have someone on call to help them. You could charge for premium support or you can even bake it into your price. Apple's genius bar and training programs seem free to customers, but they're actually a good reason why Apple products command such a premium. Look at Zappos as well. They spend good money on providing a first class support experience and it's why they're able to do so well. Once again, THEY SELL SHOES. The support experience has allowed them to command a dominate spot in the market and differentiate themselves by selling shoes. Apple and Zappos' models are indirect ways to charge for support. Many open source and freemium companies charge directly for support and make big bucks doing it. Some may say that this model doesn't scale, but I say baloney. We're a connected and distributed world where there is an infinite amount of labor on demand to help with support.

Escalate With Discretion

As a startup with strapped development resources, escalating issues to the development team requires a certain graceful balance. Certain critical issues and larger customers require you to bring issues to the attention of the core dev team. The problem is, attending to these issues can slow down new development and an already large onslaught of bug fixes. This is also another area where you can charge for a more advanced level of support.

They Will Calm Down

Odds are you will get the fanatical pissed off customer that thinks they are entitled to everything to going perfect or ELSE. Chill out and breathe. They've been burned by the pain that is poor service in the past and they want to make sure your little unknown company pays attention. Respond fast, help them out, and just hold their hand. They will likely calm down and become your best friend at the end of the day.

Be Directly Wired Into Support As A Co-Founder

Even if you're lucky enough to have the funding/profits that you don't run support yourself, you should be directly piped into what is happening with pre and post sales support. I have every customer inquiry for pre-sales sent to my phone instantly and all support threads pushed via email automatically. Some I don't respond to as the rest of the team takes care of that, but I know every issue that is going on.  A culture where support is important needs to come from the top down.  If the co-founder of a company doesn't care, then why should anyone else?  Set an example.

Email is a Sandtrap

Users and customers will undoubtedly email you asking for support. It's not that you should avoid helping the customers or that supporting them through email is beneath you. It's actually the worst way possible to deliver support. Conversations get lost in the shuffle and require cc'ing and sending emails to other team members. Keep email for pre-sales support only as that is a much easier way to deal with customers. Here's the trick to deal with email support requests:

  1. Take the issue they stated.
  2. Create a forum thread with that issue and copy/paste their email exactly 
  3. Respond to their email with a nice note, thank them for being a customer, and give them a link to the issue you opened. Make sure you let them know the following: a) We opened a support thread so we can serve you more rapidly and b) You get the benefit of having an entire community that may be able to help you.

Bad Support Won't Sink You, But Great Support Will Make You Rise

Listen we all complain until the cows come home about Comcast and AT&T, but at the end of the day, we still have our iPhones and Cable. I don't advocate bad support, but somehow companies get away with it. Maybe in a world of transparency due to social media that won't be the case in 20 years, but it sadly is right now. That's not the way to think about it. Look at it the opposite way: Having great support WILL make you rise above the pack. People will remember it and people will talk about it to others. That great experience will let you rise above the rest.

Don't Skimp On Awesome Tools

As a startup and/or developer you don't skimp on your equipment and you shouldn't skimp on the software you use either.  $50 a month might seem a lot for a piece of software, when you're running on ramen. Guess what?  It's a long term investment that pays off in the end.  If the lifetime value of your customer is close to $100 and you lose 2 customers a month because your support is a mess due to stringing together email, you actually lost a net of $150 per month.  Don't be pennywise and pound foolish.  Here are some of the good tools I've come across.

  • SupportBreeze- SupportBreeze is by my good friend Mark Bao. It's a great, simple, and elegant support ticketing system. It's simplicity and workflows make it a fan favorite
  • Wufoo- Wufoo is great for simple contact forms that can then be integrated into other systems such as MailChimp, SalesForce, and more. They can also be sent directly to your cell phone.
  • SnapEngage- SnapEngage is a module that allows customers to ask for help and get live support.
  • Olark- Olark is similar to snapengage as it also allows you to receive pre-sales support requests from customer currently browsing your site.
  • Vanilla Forums- Vanilla forums is an open source piece of software that also has a hosted counterpart.
  •  ZenDesk- ZenDesk is a support desk and support ticket item
  • TenderApp is a knowledgebase and customer support application. 
  • GetSatisfaction- GetSatisfaction provides user powered support forums with employee interaction. 
  • UserVoice- UserVoice allows users to leave feedback on a site with bugs and new ideas. 
  • Assistly- Assistly is customer support made easier and more affordable. I love this product and would invest myself. The workflow and social media integration is very smart. What are other ways startups can use support to increase sales and decrease churn?  Leave your victories, horror stories, tips, hints, and tricks in the comments.


You should follow me on Twitter @jasonlbaptiste.

Posted by Jason Baptiste on Fri, Oct 29, 2010


Ideally, your goal should always be to develop easy to use software that people understand well enough so that support costs are minimal, but people want to know that they'll get their answers if they need them. In a sense, support costs are also marketing costs. 
I can attest to making live-support available being key for encouraging sales. We recently added one of the ones you mentioned, Olark, to TagMyPhone and have seen inquiries and questions and sales go up because of that.  
Also, a low tech solution to this problem is to publicly post a phone number on your website. You'll be surprised how confidence-inspiring this tactic can be for sales. 
I haven't personally tried the others, but Olark was really easy to implement and use and I'd encourage anybody wanting to add a live help line to check them out.

posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 1:05 PM by William Davidson

This is a great resource. Thank you for sharing. 
You recommend making support tickets and emails visible on the public forum. But don't you think some customers could be angry that a message they considered private was published in the open? It could even have information they think is sensitive. How would you deal with it? I think they should know in advance if it will be published.

posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 2:21 PM by Fernando Correia

I'm not sure how supportbreeze could possibly be a "fan favorite" when it's website has bad links to itself right on the front page.

posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 2:22 PM by Richard

Great post! Support is one of my favorite startup topics.  
We've been using a tool called SnapEngange - it's live chat but it's packed with some really neat features, like prompted chat. It's a good one to add to the list, since it's also a great sales tool: 

posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:20 PM by Alex Cook

Great read, thanks! (we've been using getsatisfaction at Paymo.. it's been great)

posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM by Jan

Really great post. You make some excellent points and tips about customer service. Will definitely be finding use for this article.

posted on Monday, November 01, 2010 at 1:35 PM by Caitlin - BrandBucket

Larger companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc. can get away with intermittent bad service because they offer products or services that are too good to leave.  
Not many startups (or existing e-businesses) can rely on that as a cost savings. To grow, especially via word-of-mouth, they need to provide fanatical support. 

posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2010 at 4:28 PM by Josh - GotLiveChat Live Chat Solutions

Awesome list of tools to help get the process rolling. I totally agree, cutting back on support isn't the cheap way to grow... it's the most expensive! 
I just wrote a post about this and used the cell phone companies as my analogy. Josh, I agree w/ you and I think you'll see the smart major companies pull ahead here in the coming years by using excellent support and actually developing meaningful relationships with their customers.

posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2010 at 5:48 PM by Casey Schorr - Printfection

Great read and good points. I wanted to know how others are doing pre-sales support if the prospect does not email you with a question/support ticket? Besides a couple of signup emails (sending their account information etc.) how do you *nudge* them? 

posted on Wednesday, November 03, 2010 at 12:15 AM by S. Parikh

S Parikh, for pre-sales support and questions, one of the best ways we've found to nudge prospects along is a drip or autoresponder campaign. Basically we set it up so as soon as you sign up (which is really just a lead) you get the 1st "drip" which is your account info/ welcome email. Then we follow-up the next day with an introduction to your personal account manager, which is written in a very personal style and comes from a return address of the account manager. Then, we follow up with a series of tips/ advice to keep them thinking about our company and getting more of our marketing message across without sounding sales-y. It's really just content culled from our blog and repurposed. 
Hope this helps

posted on Wednesday, November 03, 2010 at 11:09 AM by Casey Schorr/ Founder/ Printfection

Thanks Casey!

posted on Friday, November 05, 2010 at 12:26 AM by S Parikh

For live chat I have to promote SnapEngage. It allows you to pop up an automatic chat prompt for specific pages or your whole website. 
I've been using it for a month or so now and my customers absolutely love it. And the customer service for SnapEngage is amazing. The founder, Jerome, it's always there to chat using his own product. All I do is just go on their site and wait for the prompt to pop up. It's badass! 
Just my two cents. I'm glad they made it on the list because there are totally bootstrapped and deserve some recognition!

posted on Saturday, November 06, 2010 at 12:09 AM by Andy Cok

Great advice. Especially, to calm down. Nothing good comes from freaking out. Everything gets messed up.

posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2010 at 2:55 PM by Usama

Thanks for your nice article. Some of the take away from this article 
1. They will calm down 
2. Be Directly Wired Into Support as a Co-Founder 
One thing I would like to mention tools are good to have but tools are not everything. We should have implement support culture in our organization. I had written an article about this on my blog. 

posted on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 1:25 AM by Tariq

I've always believed in great support. Support should be one of the corner stones of any product you intend to charge for. Well written Dharmesh.

posted on Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 2:25 PM by Web hosting

thanks for your article.I enjoy it.

posted on Thursday, December 09, 2010 at 11:53 PM by cdesk2010

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