10,000 customers, one customized helpdesk system and 3 support staff: A startup’s guide to customer support

There’s no doubt about it - customer support can really make or break a SaaS product - and for many products, especially in competitive markets, it’s the differentiator - the feature they are most proud of.

I talked about support a lot in the last post, and actually named kickass customer support as one of the three key factors in our growth over the last five years. We got a lot of feedback on the last post and a lot of people wanting to know more about our support structure - so here goes.

When thinking about this topic I remember a post I read on PandoDaily last year entitled “This just in: Startups will stumble with customer service. Get over it”. During the post, the author described a couple of different situations in which tech companies were unable to provide adequate support and it lead to an online backlash. At one point the author comments,

“Consumer early adopters who enjoy having access to the latest and greatest products and services need simply to set proper expectations for their relationships with these companies and to roll with the punches when things go poorly. Embrace the unexpected and the uncertainty that comes as par for the course when doing business with startups.”

Here’s the thing though. Whilst I liked the post and it raised a fair point, it’s not applicable advice to all companies. Our customers are not early adopters and they’re not tech savvy. They’re running small businesses - hair salons, one-person consultancies and bakeries. They’re not interested in “closed-beta periods” or “moving fast and breaking their stuff” - they just want the service to work. When it doesn’t - they expect help - quickly.

I of course understand that PandoDaily were talking more about consumer products, but the fact remains the same - as tech people we are generally pretty open to buggy software and can sympathise with small teams, but it’s always important as an entrepreneur to get in the mindset of your customer, because they may feel very differently about it.

So, you can see we’re in a bit of a tricky situation here. Like any small (13 person) company, resources are limited, so providing insanely quick customer support is going to be challenging. However, we’ve done OK so far. We’ve got over 10,000 active customers running on just 3 full time support staff. I’m proud to say that we also have a Net Promoter Score of around 68 - meaning that our support works pretty well.

So I thought I’d share a couple of lessons we’ve picked up along the way which I hope you will find useful.

Use support as an opportunity to learn more about your customers

Customer support is of course one of the best, yet most under-utilized ways of communicating with your customers. In addition, it’s a pretty great way to get customer feedback and find out more about who your customers are and the problem they face.
Make sure your support staff are engaging with all your customers. Find out a bit more about why they use your product, what about the product appeals to them or if they would refer the product to someone else.

If you think support is simply about solving customer issues, you’re doing it wrong. For many companies, particularly software companies, it’s pretty hard to get 1-on-1 time with your customers - don’t squander it!

Use support as a way to learn more about your product

Of course, support is also a fantastic way to find out more about your product. What works, what is unclear and which feature is causing problems.

Support tickets are also a great way to validate your product roadmap. If you keep getting support tickets for Feature X, you can be pretty sure you’d better include “Improve Feature X” in an upcoming sprint, not only will this reduce tension on support but you’ve successfully validated that it was worth working on/improving.

Above all, be realistic with your support capabilities

I see a lot of software companies make bold promises with their support - promises they simply can’t keep. In addition, over the last few months there has been a focus on “doing things that don’t scale”, mostly prompted by a blog-post of the same name by startup guru Paul Graham.

The thing is though, if you want to provide kickass support - you’ve got to be smart about it. Support is obviously very people and time intensive, so even from day one - start thinking about how you can maximize your support quality and minimize the strain on your resources.

Some of the ways we’ve optimized our support team:

  1. I have mentioned this before, and will repeat it - Invest time in building the best FAQ/Help center you can. This has undoubtedly saved us thousands and thousands of support tickets over the years - so it’s absolutely been worth the investment.
  2. Notify customers of new features through a blog or by email. This may sound strange at first, but again, this has saved us a bunch of time. Think about everytime you deploy a new feature to your application/site - how should users know how to use them? In our case, our customers are generally not overly tech-savvy, so sending a quick update email each time we deploy a major function is a great way to avoid bulk support tickets. Of course you can also add a note inside your product in special cases, informing users of a recent change.
  3. If you can't find a support system that suits your workflow - build it. Seriously. Yes, it will take time away from the developers, but this has been the best investment we've made in terms of customer support. Our home-built support system integrates with our application perfectly, and makes switching between user accounts extremely easy. Our support system can trace the users logs just before the "problem" occured, which makes bug spotting and squashing pretty easy. Of course, I don't recommend this to 1-developer startups in the early stage, but as you scale - it may make sense for you.
  4. Make sure your support staff know what the important metrics to track are, and keep those in mind when dealing with customers . For example, we let users choose between a happy, a half-hearted and a sad smiley to rate the answers they get from us. This is a super simple way for our support staff to get quick and easy feedback. Also we measure how much time we spend on average on each ticket and how many of the tickets that touch our second or third support line. This helps our support team set measurable goals and targets, so they're constantly improving.


Getting customer support right is tough - it takes time to learn the ropes and get your “support machine” cranking nicely. There’s a fine line between speedy support and rushed support - try your best to find it early.

Feel free to tweet to us if you have any feedback on the post!

Ludvig Granberg, CEO PagePicnic

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PagePicnic is based in Halmstad, Sweden. More than 10,000 paying customers use our product to build their websites. Our revenue for 2013 was 2.5 MUSD with a 40% profit margin.

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