Along with a handful of coworkers, I spent the past week in San Francisco. Our primary reason for being there was to attend Userconf, a one day track focused on support. Admittedly, I had very little expectation for this event. Not low expectations, but simply no expectations at all as my attention is usually on conferences that focus on design, development, and creativity.

But as someone who provides support for a SaaS product, I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

Support in our industry

Providing support for a SaaS product, especially one that offers complex features, is an interesting thing. It's entirely possible to staff your front line support with the typical call centre staff, people who can read from a script and pass you through a gauntlet of options. But you may not stay in business for long with type of support.

If you want to show your customers that you care, it starts with your support team. And giving good support for a SaaS product means you need talented, intelligent, and experienced people doing the support. To illustrate this, my own teammates are the perfect example. The following are some of the problems we help customers solve every day:

  • why images in an HTML email are cutting off text in Outlook 2013
  • why AOL bounced emails to 450 subscribers and how to get better results with email campaigns
  • how to configure custom authentication in the DNS settings of your web server
  • how to use web fonts in HTML emails
  • why engagement and clean lists are so important with email marketing
  • help customers solve basic problems when using our API, in various programming languages

This is just a small sample of the issues we deal with at Campaign Monitor. On top of this, you have your typical password resets, "how does this feature work" questions, and lengthy sales inquiries. Oh yeah — we offer our service as a white label opportunity as well. Variety is the way of life for a Campaign Monitor support team member.

Further, knowledge is not the only requisite for the job. You have to be able to be a good listener (reader) and ensure you understand what the customer is asking. And of course, you have to effectively communicate with the person who needs the help … and so the ability to write with empathy and clarity is the most important skill in this type of role.

It takes a unique individual with a varied background to have the right skill set for working in support in the current state of the web.

Keeping them around

And yet, despite having a unique skill set, support staff are rarely viewed in the same light as the creators: designers and developers who build SaaS products and services. You don't usually see the same type of respect afforded to these people. And even in an industry where service is given a little more attention, you only need to look at the average salary for a support member to see that most companies do not value this role as highly as others.

And yet, the case could be made that these people will have the biggest impact on the success or failure of a SaaS product. They interact with the customer. Every. Day. They're the first interaction most customers have with your brand after the sign up process.

So many support teams see members come and go. It's the stepping stone for "more respectable" jobs. This can be okay in certain organizations, but most of the time it simply results in lower quality of support for the customer. High turnover means training, re-training, and undocumented processes … your customers suffer, and usually the bottom line does as well. Keeping support members who are good at the job is vital.

So how do you ensure this happens? From my experience, three things help a lot. First, pay them accordingly. If the support team is vital to the success of your business, then make sure they are paid well for what they do. Specialists, like designers and developers, are paid for their depth of knowledge in several key areas. But a support team member should be compensated for their required breadth of knowledge … they are the purposeful generalist who has to have a good level of understanding of a lot of different things.

Second, give them ownership in your team. Make support a part of the process of building your product. By the nature of their role, they have a great understanding of the pain points in your software, the areas where customers are feeling a lack. Each team’s process might vary, but include your support team in it so that they feel validated in their contributions to the company and that they have a hand in the final product. They'll want to give the best support possible when they've had a hand in the creation of what you offer.

Last, give them autonomy. This happens a little bit by default in a remote team, but treat your support team (your entire team) like responsible adults. Give them direction on how to do their job, certainly. But then just get out of the way.

I'm very thankful to work for a company with founders who understand the importance of support to the customer experience. There's always room for improvement and we can always do better, but our support team is paid well, treated well, and have insight into the future of our product. I am blessed in this job!


Back to the subject at hand, Userconf. Created by Sarah Hatter, founder of CoSupport and former member of 37 signals, and the folks at UserVoice, this is a conference that is focused on the people who grease the wheels of most SaaS companies and startups. The repeated refrain of the conference was, “You are awesome!” And they believe it.

It's good to have people recognize the importance of the role of support workers. You simply have to think back to the support you've received from large organization like your bank or ISP. There's nothing good to say about those experiences and no one wants to have them. A good support experience stands out!

After one year at Campaign Monitor, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed my time here in support. Primarily, this is due to the enjoyment I get from working with this team. Quality people with talent and a passion to do the job well makes for an infectious work environment.

I hope you all have (or give) leadership that allows this type of team to grow and thrive.