Technology has transformed the scope of business in the past few decades, making it totally normal for a simple startup to find a client base in the millions. Customer service software platforms, like Zendesk and Desk.com, have been built in response, using features like ticketing and trigger automation to help companies handle an ever-increasing volume of customers.
But what happens when your business isn’t focused on volume? What if, instead, you’re more interested in connecting deeply with a limited clientele, with a profit margin that justifies your time? We’ve noted a trend in small businesses that have intentionally avoided traditional customer service software specifically because they deem it to be “low touch.”
“We don’t have a customer service program,” says Benji Markoff, CEO of Founder Shield. “We’re trying to be super ‘high touch’ with our clients, so we do everything through email and phone calls. We felt that, until this point, a Zendesk or Desk.com would have felt less high-touch. At some point, we’re going to have to upgrade because we just can’t handle all of the clients we’re getting, but we’re trying to avoid it. We’re going to try and go with something email-based once we do.”
According to our database, 71% of startups with fewer than 10 employees don’t use a customer service software at all. Pashmina Lalchandani, owner of Flow Simple, has a unique setup for her customer service process. “What people appreciate about us is that they have a single representative and point of contact. They have someone specific that they know by name, and they have all of their manager’s contact info. This is more useful than just going to a support bucket where no one knows the history of the client, or knows how to talk to that particular client (should you be hand-holdy, should you be to the point, etc.)”
It’s a dilemma that a lot of startups face: Automation becomes necessary as you scale, but personal connections are often lost in the process. Is there a solution to this conundrum?
Whether or not it’s a permanent solution we can’t say for certain, but it does appear that there’s some middle ground. Some of the customer service tools in our database, like Groove and Help Scout, are being chosen specifically because their features make them invisible to the customer.
“We wanted it to feel less obvious that everyone was interacting with a help desk,” says Daniel Kador, co-founder and CTO of Keen IO, which uses a combination of Groove and Intercom for customer support. “With Zendesk, it feels very obvious, and not particularly authentic. We wanted it to feel like individuals were responding to individuals, rather than like conglomerate trying to close your ticket.” Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO of Zapier, chose Help Scout for similar reasons. “We wanted a tool that just sent normal emails, like it was Gmail, but with a group inbox. When we signed up for it, Help Scout was the only service that made everything appear to be that simple. We love it!”
In contrast to the simple Help Scout email interface, the customer experience can feel more cluttered when run through other, more automated software options. When, say, Zendesk is being used to funnel customer inquiries, the first step is to direct the customer to a support portal. That portal will often have a “knowledge base,” which encourages the customer to solve his own issue without the help of a representative. The next step, if the customer tries and fails to resolve the issue, is to have the customer submit a ticket. He can then track his ticket to see where his request is in the response process. It’s a system that greatly reduces the burden on the company, and helps representatives respond to customers quicker, but it also becomes hyper-obvious to the customer that they’re interacting with an automated system.
While startups may be drawn to the invisible Help Scout or Groove experience, it’s not a viable business model for every company. Over 80% of seed, series A and self-funded companies are using either no customer service software or one of the subtler options like Intercom, but that strategy doesn’t suffice as startups scale. Bigger and later-stage companies, many of whom have far more customers and much slimmer profit margins, simply can’t afford to operate that way. Not surprisingly, 75% of Series B and growth-stage companies are using Zendesk or Desk.com to process customer requests.
The right customer service solution for your company really depends on your business model. If you intend to stay small, personable and “high touch,” then less visible platforms like Intercom, Help Scout or even Streak would be good options. But if your intention is to scale, the more comprehensive, ticket-based customer service solutions, like Zendesk and Desk.com, are your best bet.