There’s not much worse than needing help with a product only to be told to wait around until someone can get back to you. That’s why our support team strives to reply as fast as we can when you need that help. We track our average response times each day and work to get them as low as possible.
Today, our average time to first response is 2 minutes. On top of that, 99% of email to our support team are answered within an hour. We’re working on presupport but that might take some time to get right.
So what’s the secret? Like with most things, it’s a combination of things that we do to get that response time as fast as possible.
Make sure you have the right size team.
Jason talks about hiring when it hurts. If your support team is continually behind on answering cases, it’s a world of pain for your customers.
During the New Basecamp launch, people sent in hundreds and hundreds of emails with questions. There were times that we’d still have 400 emails waiting for answers at the end of the day. It hurt us, it hurt our customers, and it simply was not sustainable.
Adding more people to the support team cut that time down. It even gave us a little more breathing room. If someone isn’t at work that day, we’re still okay. We’re at ten people now on the support team, which is the sweet spot for our volume of emails.
Try whole company support.
If you’re a small company watching your payroll, hiring on a new support person can be tough. Instead, have people already on the team do a stint answering support emails. Having a designer or programmer spend some time working with customers helps you get those faster replies. It also lets the rest of the team interact with customers firsthand. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Use time zones to your advantage.
Our support team stretches from Berlin to Portland. We’ve got people working on cases in the bulk of our customer’s time zones. That means a Basecamp customer in London gets an answer right away rather than waiting for us to wake up here in Chicago. And by using time zones, we each work typical 9am–6pm hours instead of crazy overnight or weekend shifts.
Back to the New Basecamp launch, Kristin switched over to what we called a swing shift. She’d work 12–8pm to help us be ready for the next day. Staying later in the day made all the difference. It allowed us to reply to customers faster since we didn’t play catch up every morning.
Eventually, she moved to Portland and now stops answering emails at 6pm. All thanks to the power of time zones.
Bottom line – customers don’t like to wait.
I’ve needed help with products before only to find out it’s a 24 hour wait until I would get a reply. That’s insane!
Our customers use our apps to run their businesses. When they’re waiting around, it’s costing them time and money. I’m betting your customers are the same way.
Aim for those fast response times. Your customers will love you for it.
Devanon 27 Jun 13
Any thoughts on increasing your global support team spread to cover ALL time zones? Portland to Berlin still doesn’t cover the Asia/Pacific region, and I am assuming that you will have a goodly number of customers over here too?
Chaseon 27 Jun 13
@Devan – Maybe one day. Right now, the last person in Portland stops working around 8pm Central Time. The first person up in Europe starts working around 1am Central. So there’s a 5 hour slot there where no one is answering support emails.
During those five hours, we get an average of 3-4 new tickets per hour. So the volume isn’t there yet to bring on a person just dedicated towards that time slot. But as our customer base grows, we’ll adjust to fit new volume levels.
Randallon 28 Jun 13
Good design is presupport! :)
Markon 28 Jun 13
Chase, great piece. There is just one thing i can’t figure out, you wrote:
“Today, our average time to first response is 2 minutes. On top of that, 99% of email to our support team are answered within an hour”
I would think if the average first response is 2 minutes that 99% of all email to our support team would be answered in say…5 minutes. Maybe the confusion on my part is between first response and answering an email, are they are one and the same? What do you define as “first response”, is not replying to an email?
Devanon 28 Jun 13
@Chase – Thanks for the reply. Makes sense. I thought the ‘back of the clock’ support requests might have been a lot higher. What is your usual average hourly # of support requests?
In any case, I feel for the European support rep, who has to start her/his shift with a backlog of ~20 support emails already with a 2.5 hour average wait time… ;)
Des Traynoron 28 Jun 13
Pro-active (i.e. identifying problems & bringing to solutions to customers before they contact support) is, for me, the holy grail here. Whenever we’ve seen it done well, it has influenced conversions. (Example: http://insideintercom.io/proactive-support-with-intercom/ )
Pablo Corralon 28 Jun 13
I wonder why you don’t create a community to help on support ? Discourse is a great tool to create a customer support forum. It would help a lot, specially when people ask the same thing most of the time.
Emilon 28 Jun 13
@Pablo: They had a discussion forum in the early days, and a few year ago they released http://37signals.com/answers which was a great way to share tips between Basecamp users. This forum was sadly retired a while back.
Customer Support is a really broad concept. It’s quick and easy to send saved responses for easy questions such as “where is my credit card statement” or “How do I remove a user”. It’s time consuming to answer more vague questions on how to use Basecamp as a kids hockey team etc.
On the Answers site you could find really great threads with tips on how others used Basecamp with color coding to-dos etc.
Jennyon 28 Jun 13
What ticketing software do you folks use? We’re a small company (4 developers and 2 support people) and have found it hard to find a simple support software that will also provide us with statistics. Any recommendations?
Michaelon 28 Jun 13
Mark, the math works out because they are really fast on some of them. They may even be counting instant automated responses for feature requests, etc. And the ones that go over are only over by a max of 5 hours and are just a trickle, as Chase mentioned.
Play around with them in Excel or R and you can get the results he describes.
Chaseon 28 Jun 13
@Mark – Michael nails it in is comment. That 5 hour window where no one is working is where we get the 1% not answered in an hour.
@Devan – Our summer support volume tends be a little lower than the rest of the year. Right now we’re averaging around 30 cases an hour during the busy times of the day.
@Pablo – Personally, I don’t think customer powered forums like that work. It doesn’t scale, it usually only has a few active customers that are answering all the questions, and it requires customers to work for free. For us, the cons just outweighed the pros with the Answers community we had.
@Jenny – We’re using Desk (desk.com). It’s pretty good but might be overkill for just a few support people. I’d recommend checking Desk out but also take a look besnappy.com, helpscout.net, and uservoice.com.
Williamon 28 Jun 13
@Jenny: Our company uses “Zendesk,” which I find to be fairly efficient and easy-to-use. Hope that helps.
Chrison 02 Jul 13
I would love my company to embrace this ideology. We have three full time support guys and one full-time customer service/sales guy, plus the owners. The majority of our work is handled by the four of us.
We manage to respond to all new emails in 24 hours or less, usually under two hours during business hours. The problem that we have with support is not the scale of the team, but the scale of support. Some days/weeks/months two of us could handle every email and phone call that comes in. Other days, we would be behind with twice as many people.
In the early days, all support was handled by the owners of the company, because they were the company. Today, they handle some sales and customer service calls/emails, but for the most part, I don’t know what they do all day.
Being in the pain zone of support really is painful. It’s making all of us hate our jobs, we’re short with customers in our calls and emails, and support issues are stacking up because we have more customers than support/development can keep up with.
vikramon 03 Jul 13
Awesome point on “whole team support”. But when you’re throwing newbies into supporting customers, how do you still manage the quality of responses? Do you have some kind of controls that restrict them to just using canned responses? Or do you have someone making sure the responses are accurate? I think it would be great if you added metrics to show response accuracy (like reopens, or first call resolutions), and satisfaction scores to this too…
Great post though. As usual.
Chaseon 03 Jul 13
@Chris – Under two business hours is still far ahead of lots of crap support out there. Don’t beat yourself up over that. Try talking the rest of your team into lending a hand on those super busy days. If the owners can see those times are putting pain on you and your customers, maybe they’ll pitch in.
@Vikram – Anyone that works on support can always have their replies checked by someone on our support team. We help them with wording and making sure their answer is right. Once they’ve done a rotation or two on support, they’re usually good to go on their own after that.
This discussion is closed.