Monthly Archives: Apr 2012

Phone Support as the Entrepreneur’s Millenium Falcon

We’ve spent the last month surveying startups in depth about their customer support efforts, leading us to a surprising conclusion: the telephone might act for a growing young startup in the same way the Millenium Falcon did for Han Solo – as a key vehicle for facilitating your change in direction or escape. Cheesy analogy – yes. But if you’re like me, your natural inclination may not be to spend a ton of time on the phone but to focus more on “building your business”.

Our survey’s initial goal was to understand how startups think about customer support – with a specific eye towards the idea that customer support is really just another channel of customer communication. From our currently small (but growing) sample, we’ve seen the following surprising results:

  • 60% of startups surveyed had phone support – and those startups are twice as likely as others to also have chat support.
  • Meanwhile, the 40% without phone support are 2.5 times as likely to have an online help manual and an FAQ.

The Sample

Our initial sample includes 30 startups with monthly subscription models, most with 5-20 employees. Our key next step is building this sample – please email me (ed.hallen@klaviyo.com) or post in the comments what you’re doing.

Two Models for Customer Support on the Web

Based on our interviews and the survey data, we’ve seen two models of customer support on the web:

  • The Minimizing Model: For these companies, customer support is a feature – and not an exciting one – that has to be there but isn’t core to the business. These companies focused on how they’d provide support at scale (i.e. once they had 1000 customers, what were the help resources they’d need) and how to reduce the time spent on support. For the most part, these companies fall into the “we’ll build a help manual, FAQ and a forum” bucket.
  • The Customer Development Model: The second set of startups viewed customer support differently – as a way to get to talk to customers to understand what they loved and hated and to build an ongoing relationship with them. Customer support, far from just being the result of a poorly designed website, was a way to inform product development, marketing and the core value proposition of the business. This was the group that valued any chance to talk to a customer – especially when that customer had proactively reached out to them.

Customer Support as Customer Development

For too long, customer support has been something of a bad word – evoking visions of call centers and unending waiting. On the web, this leads to the view that the need for customer support only arises because a website is poorly designed.

We propose a different strategy – that customer support is actually a key way to drive the business forward. Via support, you help customers accomplish something and they give you ideas for how to make your business better. Your success and your users’ happiness are closely tied – so you’d better learn from them.

A Framework for Online Customer Support

To this end, we propose three steps for startups:

  1. Encourage customer conversations: Don’t be afraid to put a phone number or chat tool on your website. Make reaching out easy and natural. We use Grasshopper for our number.
  2. Focus on Accomplishment: Your goal as a company is to add value to someone else – and in return they’ll add value to you. Your website and customer support should focus on this above all else. Just keep in mind that sometimes you aren’t adding value because of design or usability; instead, it might be that you are trying to solve the problem in the wrong way, or you are actually solving the wrong problem.
  3. Be Organized: Track your customer conversations and usage patterns and use them to inform your product and business strategy. Companies like Apple have sophisticated systems for tracking every customer touch point and filtering that information to the top of the organization. With a bit of thought, you can mimic this without it becoming a time suck.
The Conclusion
The key missing things we’re missing in our research are more data points and a way to prove a direct link to startup success (i.e. can we actually prove that the customer development model is better in regards to outcomes). As we talk to more companies, we’ll continue to supplement our data and refine our approach – suggestions are welcome.

For now, the key lesson is that entrepreneurs should consider customer support as a primary pathway for learning more about their customers and their business.  The more customer conversations you have, the more likely you are to build the right business in the right way. After all, Han Solo did some great things without the Millenium Falcon … but there’s a good chance the Death Star wouldn’t have been destroyed.

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I’m ready now!

At Klaviyo, we’re working to make it simple to provide a great experience and amazing support to your users. One of the things we’ll cover on the blog is examples of ways you can use Klaviyo to provide a richer experience for your users.

So where better to start than at the beginning — when you’re first coming into contact with users. We all know 98% of people who visit your website leave, never to return. If the messaging isn’t just right or someone can’t find the information they’re looking for, they’ll leave and, even worse, you might never know why.

Imagine you’re a student looking to start or finish a degree. Where would you click first on this site?

University of Phoenix Home Page

Where would you start?

I’d probably be interested in “How It Works” if I’d never taken a class through an online university. But I also want to browse the degrees. And I’d like to know they’re committed to my success. And I’d like to know which program is right for me. And is that different from the degrees? So many questions and no immediate answers.

So what happens? Well, if I’m in the 2% who stick around, I probably click a few links and then make a decision whether to fill out a contact form to get a call from a sales associate who will walk me through everything. And this is all well and good except I’m ready now! And I don’t want to feel rushed while I’m absorbing information. I want the tour, but I want to dictate the pace and if that means pausing for a few minutes so I can read some information, I’m going to do it!

With Klaviyo, we’re trying to help out people who fall into that bucket (and we think there are a lot of them). We’re doing it by allowing you, who has all these go-getters users and visitors, to create a walkthrough of your website that they can directly interact with.

Getting started

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably ready to give us a try. Well, no sense wasting time, go sign up for Klaviyo.

Once you’ve signed up, you’re taken to your dashboard. From here you can create your first walkthrough, or “learnlet” as we call them. Once you give your learnlet a name and a place to start from, we’ll ask you to install our browser plugin and then you’re off. If you’re wondering, our browser plugin is only necessary as a way to create your learnlet if you haven’t installed our JavaScript snippet on your site yet. If you have, you can skip this skip and click the button on the install page to start editing.

Welcome screen

It's very easy to get started.

Creating steps

If you got this far, you should be excited — we sure were the first time we tried this out. You should see the editor toolbar at the top of the page. You can add callouts and grayouts to any part of your site and edit them with text, images and even video. Callouts are anchored to a specific part of the page whereas grayouts gray out the whole screen and force a user to focus on whatever content you want to show them. You can navigate around your site we’ll automatically keep track of everything for you. It’s easy because everyone should be able to do this.

Creating a learnlet

Click on parts of the page to automatically annotate them.

Sharing your learnlet

Once you’re done, click the “Done” button in the toolbar and click the button to go back to Klaviyo. Now it’s time to share all that hard work. (Okay, I guess the five minutes it took to create your learnlet doesn’t qualify as hard work, but no one has to know that.) You have two options:

  • Add our JavaScript on your site and share the link with a hash tag. This is the recommended way to share learnlets if you run the website you’re putting this script on. It makes it super easy for users or visitors because they only need to click on your link.
  • Share the link to Klaviyo. You can also share you learnlet with others by using the link to Klaviyo and then users will only have to install our browser extension before they can see what you’ve created. This is the way to go if what you created isn’t on your website. For instance, if you want to show somehow how to use Google or Facebook, this works perfectly.

Pick the sharing option that works for you and you’re done! In future posts we’ll cover how to see who has viewed your learnlet and how far they got as well as some cool ways to customize your learnlets.

And of course if you have any questions or feedback, we want to hear from you. We also want to hear about how you’re using Klaviyo, so let us know. We’re making it easier to communicate with your customers and visitors.  So stay tuned and get ready to be wow’ed.

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User Engagement on the Web

In 1978, Dan Bricklin came up with a big idea. If he attached a mouse ball to the back of a calculator and attached a heads-up display (i.e. what you see in fighter jets), he’d be able to calculate accounting and financial projections much better than the current method of using huge blackboards. Unsurprisingly, the heads-up display and mouse ball combo fell by the wayside – but VisiCalc was born, and went on to change the world.

For most of the ‘80s and ‘90s, buying software was a lot like buying a car – you paid the purchase price, got a box of disks, and went about your business. If you didn’t like what you bought, you bought something else a few years later when it came time to upgrade. Customer engagement was something that retailers and brands talked about – not software companies.

The Rise of Engagement

The Internet has changed everything again. Software went from being like buying a car to choosing which magazine to subscribe to or which coffee shop you’ll go to today. In today’s world, keeping customers engaged has become an integral part of building a sustainable software company – because if you don’t, those customers disappear to a competitor.

As a software company, you have a few key choices for engaging your customers:

  • Refining your product: By improving your user experience and user onboarding, you can make customers happier. Facebook’s onboarding flow for the new Timeline for Businesses is a great example – they built a custom solution for dimming most of the screen while highlighting the key tasks your small business needs to take on.  Impressive stuff – but we don’t all have a 700 person engineering team.
  • Building better help and support: A different approach is used by Apple. Through its network of stores, any customer can walk in and almost immediately get the help they need. Similarly, customers can call their help line and get access to high quality phone support.  Through strong design and equally strong support, Apple has built a powerful following – but again, these efforts aren’t possible for the typical web company.

A Path to Engagement

Our focus at Klaviyo is on empowering web companies to better engage users in ways that are effective, affordable and make your customers incredibly happy to be working with you. As we’ve built our product, we’ve started to put together list of essential tips for thinking about your customer engagement strategy. Here are a few:

  1. Engage all of your customers – not just those with problems. Every customer has a need – whether that’s learning about advanced features and providing feedback for your best customers or helping new customers figure out how to get started. Ignoring your older customers is a recipe for being surprised by churn.
  2. Address engagement in a sustainable way: Your software will keep changing, and your help and onboarding flows will get out of date. Whatever your strategy for driving engagement, you need to make sure it stays up to date, relevant and useful for your customers.
  3. Make greater engagement an organizational priority. Engaging customers goes beyond just your user interface designers and your support team. Every member of your team has a role to play in making your customers deliriously happy.

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