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Customer Support by Founders

by Alex Yumashev · Updated Sep 9 2019

I love answering support tickets. And - even though my team hates this - I try to do that every day. No, really, ask our customers. Nothing gives me a better understanding of how things are going, than spending an hour or two talking to our clients.

But the most frequent reaction to a "CEO" in my signature is:

"CEO", really? Wait, how big is your company exactly?

I get it - not everyone's happy to buy from a "one-man-band" company. I even tried removing the "CEO" from my signature for a while - pretending I'm just an "Alex from techsupport" - to stop freaking people out, but then restored it back.

Look at this differently - the only reason people freak out is because a CEO/founder's reply to a ticket is very uncommon. In fact, it's so uncommon, they jump to a very sad conclusion "they must be really small and desperate". That's how low the bar is in customer service.

But once you address that first objection it's nothing but a smooth ride from there. Here are the "pros" of founders involved in support (I'll cover the "cons" in another post):

Dogfooding on steroids - you're not just using your own product, you're in constant contact with people who use your product in ways you wouldn't imagine. And that stupid design decision you made last week? Here, have some frigging feedback in your face right away.

Authority - people are more... uhm... sensible when they know they're talking to a founder. Helps a lot when dealing with angry feedback or when you're about to say "no" to a feature request.

Helps with churn - nothing helps you win a loyal customer better than a founder willing to solve their problem.

Vision aware - you, as a founder, know your product (and where it's going) better than anyone else. You know when to say "no" to a customer, but also - when to say "yes" and maybe even shift your whole vision of the product. A dozen times I found myself revising our whole roadmap or marketing positioning based on one support ticket.

Quality - a founder typically provides better support. Even if the founder actually hates doing it. As a founder, you, of all people, know exactly that providing good customer service is not just about getting a "5 star/smiley face" rating after closing a ticket.

And finally here's a free advice. As a founder/CEO you probably read a lot about "customer development", "client surveys", "net promoter scores" and "focus groups". Well, before diving into all that crap just spend a day or two answering frigging support emails. And make sure everyone in your company - developers, marketers, even the executives - spend a portion of their time talking to customers directly.

It's not for everyone though

Once it stops being fun - hand it over to a professional

Support can be annoying. Customers can be irritating. If you find yourself cringing when you think about all the unanswered tickets waiting for you - it's time to hand it over to a dedicated support person (or your cofounder).

I admit, a founder is way overqualified for this job, if it's just a job, not fun. And since the quality of customer support is directly correlated with your revenue a founders burnout can and will have a negative impact on your business.

It's time to hand it over when it becomes a burden - if it becomes one