When you’re building a business from the ground up, you’re faced with a constant barrage of decisions. You establish metrics for success, which might include, say, revenue, or number of users, and then adapt based on those metrics. It’s pretty widely acknowledged that more customers = good. But more customers also means more questions, which means you’ll need more resources to answer all those questions, and that means either hiring new team members or implementing better tools.

Karma has a pretty large database of active users, and it’s about to get a lot bigger when we ship Karma Go. Given that, you might be surprised to learn that we operate with just a two-person customer experience team. Erin and Keith are the very human folks that answer your emails and live chats every day. When it comes to scaling, they’ve taken the old adage “proper planning prevents poor performance” to heart, and it hasn’t yet resulted in bringing another person on board.

Erin and KeithErin and Keith

“Building tools to enhance our efficiency rather than having more people has been so valuable to us at this stage in the game,” says Erin, our Head of Customer Experience. Since she joined the team in June 2014, she’s been focused on finding the right balance of new tools and training to build an experience that works for both the customer and the team.

Scalable Software

We knew when we released our new product, we were going to need a better way to keep in touch with our customers. After nearly two years of success using the straightforward software from Help Scout, Erin started the search for a system with more extensive capabilities with the intent of planning for the future.

“It gave us the luxury of taking our time,” says Erin about her decision to switch earlier rather than later.

Moving all of our customer communication from one system to another took a lot of research, but was worth the undertaking for two main objectives:

  1. Tracking customer interactions. We can now see past conversations because everyone who writes in has a profile with their communication history.

  2. Reporting. Zendesk allows for much more detailed visibility into what topics our customers are asking about most, what our user flow looks like, and metrics like our response rate.

"Zendesk might be a little robust for what we do today, but it’s one of the best scalable systems on the market, which is why we ultimately made the switch,” says Erin.

Live Chat

If you’ve been to our help page, you probably already know that we don’t offer phone support. It’s not that we don’t want to hear your voice—quite the contrary, actually. Omitting a phone support option lets us answer a higher volume of messages in general. When we get a question that stumps us, we can liaise with our engineering team and often come up with a technical solution without having to waste time on hold.

However, Erin and Keith still wanted a way to answer questions in real time, so they recently implemented live chat, an option that’s clickable from the checkout page as well as the help page.

Our friendly live chat widgetOur friendly live chat widget

“The decision to do chat was an easy one,” says Erin. “We offer it on a small scale now but it’s already added a huge amount of value to our customers’ experience. It gives people another option to talk to us, especially for people who wouldn’t necessarily take the time to send an email.”

It’s also been a good business decision. Putting a link to live chat on the checkout page means that customers with last-minute questions can get them answered right before they click the scary “buy” button, and that makes for fewer abandoned shopping carts. It also makes for customers who are more confident in the product they’re buying.

Building Efficiencies

So we’ve learned that adding tools when you need them is really important. But when you find something that works, the next step is finding how to make it work smarter. We’ve brainstormed to create efficiencies wherever possible, like linking Zendesk directly to our customer management system so we can immediately take a deeper look at a customer’s purchase history when they write in. Erin keeps open communication with our Zendesk rep, too, and attends seminars to stay on top of new features.

Erin says one of the most crucial things she’s learned while working for a tech company is to always keep engineering team involved. One of our engineers, Arie, is really passionate about customers and does everything he can to be available for questions and support.

"The multitasker is more successful, because they’re more well-rounded, more knowledgeable overall.”

“Arie always wants to be in touch with the customers,” says Erin. “But at some point we’re going to be too big for him to be involved, so we’re going to put together a comprehensive knowledge base so we can always have those things at our fingertips.” Scaling, in this case, will mean Arie taking a step back, but only after we have a way to source technical answers sustainably.

Having a well-informed customer service department also helps everyone stay stress-free. There are options when it comes to keeping team members at the top of their game; some companies choose to hire more agents who specialize in particular service areas like phones or chat. Keith sees the merits of a system like that, but says that it’s better to encourage agents to multitask instead.

“Yes, it’s a good idea to play on people's strengths,” says Keith, “But I think the multitasker is more successful, because they’re more well-rounded, more knowledgeable overall.”

Keep it Small

Keith likens working in a small customer service department to attending a small college: “You’re not just a statistic, and you have an opportunity to build real relationships with customers as well as within your department. You feel like your company is more interested in your growth and giving you the tools you need to succeed.”

Ultimately, as we grow, scaling might mean adding agents to the team. Erin recommends choosing a KPI metric as a goalpost and sticking to it. For us, that all-important metric is time to first response, but other companies might use overall volume of inquiries or time to resolve. When you can’t meet your goals anymore through optimization of tools, it’s time to add another team member.

For us, the all-important metric is time to first response.

Scaling any department within a startup environment is tough. A business is an ecosystem, and every decision you make will have a ripple effect throughout the organization as a whole. Erin says that you have to weigh your options carefully when you make the decision to scale in any direction, but offers this piece of sage advice:

“Just don’t lose sight that customers come first. They’re the most important. Take care of them and the success will follow.”

Our team has even more customer service wisdom to share with you, including how to make your service more human and how to listen to customers. Erin and Keith are available every single day to chat at help@yourkarma.com.

About Liz Furze

The gal who won't stop posting Beyoncé gifs in work-related chat rooms