If you’re not familiar with the Pareto Principle a.k.a. 80-20 rule, a.k.a. law of vital few or principle of factor sparsity it states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This is particularly important when it comes to growing and scaling startups where the line between support and success is still blurred.
When I speak of the twenty percenters I’m referring to the low LTV customers that are super high touch and are statistically more likely to churn than scale as a customer. For early stage startups these customers are needed but they also come with time consuming consequences. The twenty percenters can quickly weigh down and take away valuable time that your post-sale management team or better stated post-sale individual can be using to assist other higher value customers. The importance of quality post-sale management in a growing startup doesn’t always garner the attention it requires. But when head count can’t be increased and your customer base is growing having the right procedures, processes and most important support in place is vital to retention and reduction of churn.
For 19-months I was responsible for all client facing responsibilities as the director of customer success with an ad tech analytics startup. Through brilliant content marketing they were able to acquire customers with no paid advertising or marketing. The company had over 100,000 registered free and premium subscribers to their SaaS analytics platform. This is a phenomenal accomplishment that also created a huge need for quality support and success. With users spanning the digital marketing spectrum from individuals doing affiliate marketing, to agencies all the way up to fortune 100 companies the post-sale support and success needs varied dramatically. This created urgency for an efficient and effective strategy to address the overwhelming post-sale needs.
To help alleviate the drain of the twenty percenters we organized a thorough support center which included a FAQ, knowledge base and use case repository. The company blog, the center piece of customer acquisition, would include in-depth write up’s linking customers directly to specific FAQ’s or use cases within the support center. Through phone, chat and email channels all customer inquiries were recorded and aggregated in a support and success platform. Though effective in providing customers the ability to communicate when needing assistance these channels would serve as gateways to the flood of support inquires.
I joke that when I started as I had a single laptop and when my contract ended I finished using three monitors. In the beginning there was a dedicated effort to reviewing & updating existing FAQ’s as well as adding new FAQ’s based on the data provided by the customer support and success platforms. It’s important to utilize the data provided by the platforms in order to provide customers a worthwhile support experience. There is nothing sexy about this process, it’s monotonous and time consuming but over time the benefits became clear. The quality of the support increased while the time it took to address the increasing number of inquiries had decreased. The information presented in the support center will become the number one resource when dealing with incoming inquiries across the customer spectrum. And most importantly it served as the primary and exclusive source of answers for the twenty percenters.
One strategy I used to help manage the high volume of inquiries and mitigate the time spent working with twenty percenters was to create a deferral tree. The basis of the deferral tree was to be proactive in the presentation of information in order to provoke a response which allowed me to create a user persona. To help alleviate the number of times I addressed the same inquiry, follow up questions and to assist in creating user personas I developed a series of formatted responses based off the initial inquiry.
For Example: < incoming inquiry through chat messenger> “I’m new to company A and want to track conversions”.
- Response one (Roots): Conversion tracking is only available with our premium plans which start at $19.00 support.companyA.com/conversiontracking
- Response two (Base): All premiums plans have a 100% 30-day money back guarantee support.companyA.com/guarantee
- Response three (Trunk): Use the grey (-) or green (+)to decrease or increase plan sizes on pricing page pricing.companyA.com
- Response four (Limb): We provide a comprehensive support center with full search function support.companyA.com
- Response Five (Leaf): A great place to start is with video tutorials support.companyA.com/videotutorials
Though the support could feel “robotic” it allowed me to address the initial inquiry and provide additional information. The idea was to leave the customer feeling that support was either being thorough or simply proactive. Just like in the game of poker there are tells associated in the follow up questions to my response to user’s original inquiry. These tells help create a persona which will then dictate how to proceed with the inquiry.
For example: <follow up inquiry>
- Can I use company A conversion tracking with my Google UTM tracking and or Google Tag Manager? We run campaigns for 10 customers and need a more granular method to managing ROI.
- I want to know how many people are thinking about visiting my website? Can your conversion tracking tell me how many people are thinking about my website?
Follow up 1 persona is showing signs of a sophisticated marketer that has potential to be a high value customer, which merits investing time into this inquiry and or scheduling a call to further discuss.
Follow up 2 persona is indicating they’re not a sophisticated user and struggle to understand company A’s technology as well comprehend how it can address their needs. This customer that can quickly eat up your valuable time with very rudimentary inquires that are available in the support center and most importantly take you away from addressing follow up 1.
The strategies required to mitigate the amount of time spent with twenty percenters is not a science and very much an art form. It will take time to develop, implement and test in order to find the most effective solutions. It all starts with a strong support center as the foundation which includes a through and consistently updated FAQ, knowledge base and use case repository. It’s important to believe that the time spent upfront to create and setup a quality and thorough support center will pay dividends as the company scales and adds customer at a rapid pace.
Jason Lemkin is quoted saying that “at 2mm ARR” you should start customer success. For many companies $2mm ARR means a lot of customers which translates to a lot of support inquiries. What strategies are you using to address inquiries as you scale your customer base and eventually develop a success platform?