(PRWEB) October 09, 2013
Startups face a tremendous amount of uncertainty. Taking a business from an idea to sustainable ventures requires a lot of blood, sweat, and validating a number of key business assumptions. While it is tempting to go all in on an idea, before a company starts investing serious resources into the business idea, it needs to make sure its proposed product can scale to support a sustainable business.
Vonjour, the new uber intelligent phone system and customer support solution, has built on ‘lean’ growth principles and had created an iterative model of customer support to help founders address the uncertainties of their business and learn how to scale a thriving business. The goal of ‘lean customer support’ is to test initial assumptions of the business prior to making leap of faith investments into expensive software tools and customer support hires.
In the early validation stage of a company, customer support should create a feedback loop between founders and their customers. No matter how many intermediaries exist between a company and its customers, customers are more than metrics–they are thinking individuals that provide the necessary feedback to help a company build a "must have" product.
Startups need extensive contact with potential and existing customers to understand and solve their pain points. By creating qualitative feedback interviews with customers, the startup team can gauge how well they are satisfying their customers' needs and building a product users actually need.
In order to get this crucial initial feedback, a company should invest in minimum viable support software that allows customers to converse with founders. A simple phone number or chat box should be available on all the pages of a site so that users can easily connect with the company.
The support solution should facilitate a rapid response to customer inquiries to make early users very happy. Paul Graham has written about doing things don’t scale in the early stages of a company. Wufoo, for example, sent each new user a hand-written appreciation note for joining. In addition to getting initial customer feedback, focusing on individual customers makes the user feel like signing up was one of the best decisions they have ever made, even if it is a buggy and incomplete product. Engaging intensely with early users can make up for the early weaknesses in a product.
The initial conversations with users should not be focused on product features of the solution. The average consumer is usually not conversant enough with technology to necessarily have an opinion on whether they would want to use existing features in a new way. At Vonjour, in talking with our target users, we avoided talking about specific features and instead focused on what was the biggest obstacle the user faced in talking to their customers. We were able to take this large qualitative data set and create innovative solutions to their underlying problems.
Instead of prodding into a potential feature set, founders should instead parse out from early customer conversations whether there is a significant pain point that needs to be solved and determine whether there is a large enough audience to scale into.
When talking to an early user, it’s helpful to ask them to show how they currently solve the problem. Show them how the proposed product would solve their problem and see if they get excited about it. Video conferencing tools and screen sharing tools are very helpful in this process.
Based on these qualitative interviews, a company can prioritize product decisions that align with customer needs. It is important to make sure that the entire organization takes part in customer support conversations. Whether it is an engineer, designer, or a marketer, it is a critical practice to have everyone in the organization to do at least one to two hours a week of customer support to better understand the customer’s pain points.
From these customer interviews, it is important to pinpoint a signal about who loves the product and what it is they love about the product. What is the aha moment that a user has with a product? What makes it special? Most products have at least have a few people that will consider it a must have product. It’s important to learn as much as possible about these users, their use cases, and demographics so that the company can get more of them when it is time to scale company.
The next critical question is how a team determines when it is time to invest some resources into marketing and support of the product. Before accelerating growth through marketing and operations investments, it is important to determine whether the product is sufficiently solving the target user’s pain points. For a startup, growth is less a function of clever marketing and optimal customer support than it is building something that customers really need.
Sean Ellis, of Qualaroo and a well-known startup marketing guru, has created a survey question to measure objectively whether the company has met the “must-have product milestone.” It is a fairly simple question. Present users who have used the product at least twice with the following survey question:
How would you feel if you could no longer use our product?
° Very disappointed
° Somewhat disappointed
° Not disappointed (it isn’t that useful)
° N/A—I no longer use product
When 40% of repeated users indicate that they would be very disappointed if the product no longer existed, the product has arrived at a product/market fit or what Sean Ellis describes as a “must have” product. The “must have” or product/market fit milestone is critical in validating the initial business assumptions. Yet even with reaching a product market/fit it is also important to optimize for the sign up conversion funnel and pricing model before investing additional resources into marketing.
Once a company has reached these three milestones, the company has the green light to start growth acceleration. At this point, the next marketing expense should be in its customer support team. Any customer that calls a support team is a great source of knowledge about a target market. Customer support will uncover issues that will help the startup grow faster without spending.
It is critical to find a customer support tool that provides analytics on customer interactions. If customer support teams are overwhelmed in these early stages, it’s an indicator that the company is not prepared to accelerate growth until the issues driving these calls are resolved. Creating customer support channels such as phone support and chat that do not immediately connect customers to support agents will hurt a brand’s reputation. A potential user that is left on hold for an excessive amount of time will probably never consider coming back to a company and even worse, leave a negative review of the company.
Companies like ZenDesk and Vonjour offer tools to measure a company’s interactions with their customers. When customer support goes above and beyond expectations, brands can drive customer loyalty and enhance word of mouth virality. Like any other part of the startup experience, customer support involves many iterations. Support tools should include metrics on how responsive and effective organizations are able to provide happiness to their customers through these channels.
Vonjour is the uber intelligent business phone system and customer communications platform. Vonjour offers new channels for businesses to support customers, while providing businesses visual analytics to measure organizational effectiveness. Vonjour makes any organization faster, more responsive and more sophisticated in supporting its customers.