Customer support is one of the fundamentals of growing and building a successful SaaS business. Every SaaS stakeholder should know by now that retention and churn are two of the most important KPIs to keep an eye on. If you're not constantly striving to improve both, you'll face an uphill battle when it comes to attracting new users and retaining existing ones. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but a good SaaS customer support strategy, when implemented correctly, can make or break your company.
Why customer support is essential in SaaS
SaaS customer support comes in many forms: a comprehensive help center where users can go to look up any question they have, a dedicated team of support agents who are always at the ready to guide existing users to success or attract new ones, a few thoughtfully-designed chatbots to ease some of the burdens of level 1 support, a killer cobrowsing solution (ahem, Fullview) to get immediate context and real-time interaction with a user...the list goes.
It is precisely because SaaS support encompasses so much that it is crucial to get it right. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great your product is if your users aren't experiencing it the right way: with friction and pain points kept to an absolute minimum.
If you take anything away from this article, here's what it should be: a SaaS support team isn't just about hiring an agent or two, training them half-heartedly and then investing in a support solution. It's a philosophy about how you want to present your brand to everyone who walks in the door or signs up for your product and interacts with you. You have to build a customer support team in line with your business goals. A structured customer support function is vital to delivering customer experiences that encourage people to stay with you and expand their accounts. Startups, unfortunately, often wait too long to segment and structure their support teams and workflows, leading to longer waiting time for frustrated customers. Don't let that become your story.
Customer support is not an afterthought — it's an essential growth-driver.
What are the three different customer support levels?
Before we dive into exactly how a growing SaaS startup should structure their support team, let's take a look at the three different levels of customer support. These tend to vary in technical complexity and/or customer size.
There are several reasons for structuring your support around tiers and levels:
- Helps in addressing your customer needs in a more strategic manner
- Easier to allocate your internal support resources according to customer size and ticket complexity
- Derives a protocol and schedule for hard-to-solve tasks.
- Easier to manage high support ticket volume for your team.
- Obtaining feedback from customers concerning product development is much easier when your team is segmented by tiers and support levels.
Level 1 customer support
Level 1 support is most often classified as simpler cases where a single support agent can usually handle multiple tickets at once.
The primary roles of the operators in Level 1 are to:
- Answer clients phone calls, emails or support chats swiftly.
- Collect customers’ data that can be helpful to understand issues.
- Conduct questionnaires to investigate the support required.
- Provide product information.
- Point customers towards self-serve solutions for simple issues (e.g help articles for lost passwords)
Generally, level 1 support teams consist of more junior, non-technical agents who can offer users solutions guided by the standard operating procedures (SOP). Once there are no solutions as per the SOP, level 1 personnel can forward the case to the level 2 tier.
Level 2 customer support
At level 2 support, the agents receive queries directly from level 1. The support at this level handles in-depth troubleshooting and backend analysis.
Initially, a level 2 agent goes through the task handed down by a level 1 specialist and determines the depth of support given to the customer. Additionally, they check the customer problem and how long the client interacted with the level 1 agent. After the overview, the level 2 agent initiates communication with the user to further analyze the issue before looking for a solution. If the agent finds no possible solution right off the bat, they forward the query to level 3 support technicians.
Level 2 support agents usually possess a deeper outstanding and deep knowledge of the company's products on a more technical level, and have more experience in troubleshooting. They're also usually more experienced; although, in smaller companies, level 1 and level 2 support may be handled by the same person.
More progressive SaaS companies have also started recruiting support engineers onto their teams. These engineers can look under the hood and diagnose issues without moving the ticket over to developer teams for level 3 tickets.
Level 3 customer support
Level 3 support is most often more technical and deals with bugs and technical errors in a product.
Level 3 support comprises of following the experts and specialists.
- Technically support agents (often skilled in basic front-end development, at the very least)
At level 3 support, agents seek to define the root of the problem and coordinate with development teams to fix the issue for the entire product and user base. They do so by investigating the console and network logs of a user session, and often need to get their hands on a recording of the user journey.
After identifying the problem, the team may forward the findings to the developers to make changes to the products at scale. It's also important that level 3 support agents speak directly to the customer and communicate why the error occurred. They should also notify them when a solution is being put in place.
How to structure your SaaS customer support team
While there is no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to structuring your SaaS support team, there are broad principles businesses should follow based on what stage they are, their user journey and even what industry they operate in. The customer support setup at a startup will look very different to that of a scale-up or a legacy company. Similarly, customer support for the healthcare industry is a completely different beast than for the IT industry. But that's the beauty of a customer service philosophy that is informed by your growth stage, industry and user journey: you get to tailor it to the KPIs you are trying to hit and the business objectives you are building towards.
It's all about adapting and iterating to figure out what works best for you and your customers.
For a startup: keep things lean and make sure everyone is involved
There's nothing more important for a burgeoning startup than making sure everyone on your team knows your product and value proposition so well they could recite it in their sleep. One of the best ways of doing so is by making sure everyone on your team has access to and takes an active role in customer support. Not only does this ease the because everyone now shoulders some of it, but it also means everyone on your team — from sales, to product, to marketing, to operations, to development — knows exactly what you are working towards and what they can do to get you there.
Startups would also benefit immensely from finding the right customer support tools from the get-go and implementing them early-on to make workflows as easy and seamless as possible. That could mean a CRM solution, a ticketing solution, a dedicated way to manage customer feedback and an all-rounder solution like Fullview, which has in-app calls, cobrowsing and session replays as just some of the features in its roster. One pitfall to avoid is automating everything: it may seem tempting to do so, but this early in the game, every customer counts and every customer deserves your undivided attention with personalized customer support that doesn't skimp on the human touch. Leave runaway automation to behemoths that can afford higher rates of churn than you can.
Leave runaway automation to behemoths that can afford higher rates of churn than you can. This early in the game, focus on providing personalized customer support with a human touch.
As far as what a customer support team looks like at this stage, you'll probably want to consider hiring a CX manager and one or two support agents with a direct line to your technical team (Fullview offers this with session replays and debugging capabilities).
As you scale: growth-oriented omni-channel support across targeted touchpoints
As you grow your business, you will likely need a larger customer support team to help align your CX philosophy with your business goals. Creating sub teams under the broader Director of Customer Success role may be just the ticket. More granulation and striation will also be necessary as you go along, with dedicated stakeholders assigned to various areas of CX. Account development, onboarding and customer operations are just some examples.
You may also want to start thinking about how to organize these teams: whether that be by geographical region, product, or speciality, a good foundation to build on is key as you grow.
Organizations of this size will also need a tricked-out customer support and CX stack, with a robust ticketing system, extensive CRM, phone support, a technical support and debugging stack, onboarding software and others. Fullview combines some of these functions under one roof to make things a little easier and eliminate silos across support and product teams. You can learn more under 'Features' and 'Solutions' in the main menu.
As you grow even larger, it's likely you'll have more time and resources to dedicate to further expanding and specializing your customer support, customer success and CX teams. But it's important to remember that customers expect the same level of support no matter how large your company grows, so it's important to remember to cater to your users. Never lose sight of their journey, never ignore pain points and bottlenecks and don't lose your human touch. Automation has its place, but customers would much rather talk to a person than a bot.
Ways to structure your customer service team
The way you structure your team will depend on the size of your organization, but the overall goal is to keep your staff as efficient as possible and equipped to keep up with customer service demands.
By product/solution offered
Depending on your product or service offerings, you can choose to have dedicated agents for each of your products. This will allow representatives to focus on becoming experts on the products assigned to them. Rather than have your entire team address problems for your entire product line, you’ll be able to deliver more efficient service, since your team will be consistently addressing similar issues.
By region / time-zone
Whether you have offices all over the world or operate solely online, chances are you have customers from different countries and time zones. A lot of companies divide their teams up based on what regions they serve. This makes it easier for your staff to become acclimated with their clientele and be able to respond to inquiries in a more efficient manner.
By customer tier (eg: freemium, paid, enterprise customers)
All customers should be treated equally because you never know when a freemium customer might decide to upgrade. However, if you have a lot of customers and they’re mainly broken up into different tiers of products, it can be helpful to dedicate individual support teams to each segment.
- Freemium customers: support can focus on getting customers to upgrade their service.
- Paid customers: support team can focus on retaining customers
- Enterprise customers: support team can focus on managing B2B clients and retaining larger accounts
By support channel (phone, chat, etc.)
Another useful way to divide up your team is by support channel, which reduces the chances of your staff becoming overwhelmed trying to keep up with different platforms and communication formats.
Instead of asking your team to simply respond to all inquiries, you should assign different mediums to different teams. For example, one portion can focus just on phone inquiries so they can become comfortable with all the different aspects of it, thereby improving their efficiency as a customer rep.
You can have others focus on chat correspondence through your website, and even have a select few keeping up with social media inquiries.
Common roles in a support team
To ensure that your customer support department runs smoothly, it’s important to fill all the necessary roles.
- Agent: offers direct support to customers & requires extensive product knowledge.
- Customer support manager: oversees all customer support agents.
- Technical Support: available to troubleshoot any technical issues that can’t be addressed by regular support agents.
- Senior Manager / Team lead: generally oversees lower-level managers and takes the lead on all CX project efforts.
- VP / Director of Customer Support: sometimes known as VP or Director of Support and Success in smaller organizations.This person is responsible for delivering results that reflect customer needs and expectations. They may also be directly responsible for keeping churn low and for improving retention and renewals.
When to increase headcount and when to invest in technology
If your user base increases, you need to invest in making necessary changes to continue to offer the same quality of support.
If your user base doubles, you can’t just double the size of your support team
It isn’t as simple as increasing your support team as you gain more customers. You need to make sure you have the technological capacity to support new agents and make room for improvements.
Investing in improving processes is crucial
If your organization is growing, you need to evaluate your current processes and identify any areas that might need updating. For example, if you aren’t responding to customers in a timely fashion, you either need to expand your team, improve your technology, or maybe both.
Failure to keep up might lead to you falling behind and cause you to provide subpar customer support, which is completely avoidable with the right strategy.
Investing in the right technologies is crucial - and making sure they are all integrated, not separate tools stacked on top of each other
Instead of just adding on to your tools and resources, think about how they can all work together. If your team has to use tools that don’t correlate with each other, it can lead to a decrease in efficiency and slow your processes.
For instance, what is considered the best customer support software for live chat will differ from technical support. So depending on what type of need you have, you’ll want to curate your own mix of tools.
How do support teams should work with other departments
Your support team is like the backbone of your company—without it, you could wind up losing valuable customers and miss out on valuable business opportunities.
Alignment with customer success
Customer support and success can work together to highlight issues and address them appropriately and according to organizational priorities.
Alignment with product and engineering teams
Customer support should always report to product and engineering teams to make them aware of common issues, bugs, use cases, and any other insight that will lead to product improvement. It is typically the responsibility of support teams to sync with development teams to ensure necessary issues are addressed.
Alignment with marketing and revenue teams
A great way to improve surveys and overall customer empowerment is for customer support to liaise with marketing and revenue teams. This helps get everyone on the same page with how the customer is feeling and how to better connect with them. Your revenue team might be focused on data, but your marketing team has the know-how to gain the right reaction from your customers to improve those numbers.
Customer support mistakes to avoid as you scale
There are a number of commonly made errors that SaaS companies — especially startups or scale-ups — make when setting up and expanding their support teams. From poorly implemented automation, to a lack of dedicated tools, to subpar customer centricity, here's what to keep an eye out for and do better at.
You have poor automation at level 1
Before human intervention comes in to the picture, many SaaS companies try to automate repetitive support requests. This is usually done via chatbots, help center articles, or in-app product messages.
The motivation behind automating receptive tasks is clear: personalized customer support takes time, money and resources. Automation is easier, especially for a SaaS startup that's just getting started. However, the implementation often fails and leaves customers frustrated, lowering customer satisfaction scores in the process. Automation also requires a whole lot of legwork, contrary to popular belief: agents need to constantly follow customer forums for comments and requests, and keep self-service content up to date. Given the fact that automation is used in order to reduce customer service workloads, this is completely counterproductive. Most SaaS companies would do well to invest in more face-to-face (or webcam-to-webcam, these days) interaction with users. It may seem harder to begin with, but it pays dividends in the form of happier users and less work keeping self-serve content current.
Most SaaS companies would do well to invest in more face-to-face (or webcam-to-webcam) interaction with users.
You lack dedicated customer support tools
Your clients are committed. They expect you to address their problems on whatever communication channels they find suitable for them. If your customer service team lacks the necessary specialized software to reach out to the clients, the support process gets slow and frustrating.
For instance, your customer service agents have to spend time hunting down basic information about a product that a client needs. That means making customers wait while trying to decipher solutions from long paragraphs of written text (e.g over email or traditional support chat solutions). May we humble suggest cobrowsing tools at this juncture? They can speed up time to resolution and improve CSAT scores — if only SaaS companies would begin to see the light.
Use Fullview's cobrowsing to offer your customers the best workflow and guide them to the solutions they need faster.
You are still manually reporting and analyzing bugs
Whether you need to report issues in developer tool such as GitHub, Trello, or Jira, choosing an efficient bug reporting process so your customer support agents can easily communicate issues to developers is critical. Of course, different companies require different processes. The more complex your product, the more detailed your reports need to be.
When customer support agents are forced to manually collect information for bug reports, it makes it harder to:
- Find issues raised by customers earlier.
- Collect all the necessary information for developer context.
- Prioritize issues based on customer impact.
Automated bug reports can save time and provide more detailed information for developers. And would you look at that! Fullview offers something for that too.
There's a disconnect between your CS workflow and user journey
It's the company's work to map out the client's workflows to avoid bottlenecks and breakdowns, which, if left unchecked, can increase churn rates and decrease retention rates. Not a good situation to be in. Customers should not have to adapt their workflows to your product to accommodate your support set up.
If you haven't built a customer journey, it's time you mapped out every detail. Ensure that you get into every touchpoint your client goes through and also make sure each of those touchpoints allow for easy access to customer support in some way: whether that's a chatbox, a support email, a call button or a bug reporting tool.
Don't forget that each support point must conform to the customer's needs. For instance, if you know that your clients often have questions during checkout, your support team should be easy to contact at that stage.
Not understanding the changing needs of customers
Like everything else, customer expectations constantly change, and you'll need to understand them clearly to satisfy them. If there is a disconnect between your customer support workflow and your users' expectations, you need to rethink how, when and where you're offering support. You need to invest more into getting feedback from customers to understand how their needs change as they mature in your customer journey. You can conduct customer surveys, make a chat log review, or get direct feedback from people using your products.
Improving your service doesn't necessarily mean an overhaul of your entire strategy. Ensure you are making those small steps day-by-day. Though they may seem insignificant, they add up to a big deal over time.
Things these days are hyper competitive, especially in the SaaS business, so it's all about staying one step ahead of the curve. Previously, a simple chatbot was enough. Today, you need an omni-channel system to compete.
You're not putting customer centricity first
As your business keeps expanding, it's easy to lose customer-centricity, which is the art of placing the customer at the center of your business. Such a mistake has seen many businesses go down. This brings us to the next issue: the internal barriers that lead to behaviors distracting the venture from establishing a customer-centric culture. Some reasons are:
- Not thinking of existing customers while looking to acquire new ones.
- New and untrained customer agents are not capable of addressing customers effectively.
- A company’s lack of investment in new and dedicated support tools to empower agents.
How SaaS customer support has changed
Establishing a solid technical customer support team is hard, especially when your organization is growing. Once you've developed a viable support structure, establish how you can continue to assist your support staff in acquiring the right tools to create the best customer experience. Customer support has evolved over the last few decades. Technology and processes that once moved at a glacial pace are picking up speed. What started as a simple helpline that connected users to a call center is very different today: an omni-channel experience across chat, email, video calls and cobrowsing to make sure that a user is supported at every stage of their journey.
Customers these days expect you to meet them where they are.
Interactions these days are not a one-way street, consisting only of a frustrated user that reaches out to you when they encounter a problem. It's now incumbent on any ambitious SaaS company to offer proactive customer support because customer support now has a greater calling: to aid in creating outstanding customer experiences. Customers these days expect you to meet them where they are.
Forward-thinking companies understand this and take it into consideration when building their CX strategy.