Starting a business is exciting – with owners full of optimism and passion for the products and services they are offering and willing to put in long hours to be successful. This leads to a lean, get it done, attitude towards customer service where everyone in the company does whatever it takes to win the sale and make the customer happy. Startups and small businesses don’t often have a lot of formalized processes and systems because they don’t need them early-on. But then as the company starts to grow, things begin to change.
The lean, informal activities begin to become overwhelming and it becomes difficult to manage the volume of issues that staff need to address for existing customers without taking attention away from acquiring new customers and developing new products and services.
The curse of small-business success has struck, and now it is time for the company to grow. For most companies, start-up success leads to a period of hyper growth and during this period it will probably feel like things are moving too fast and the company and its employees aren’t ready to deal with all the things that they are being asked to do.
Enabling Effective and Safe Business Growth
Managing (surviving) a hyper-growth period requires company leaders and employees to acknowledge that change is necessary. You can’t grow if you keep doing everything the same way. You also can’t “hit reset” and start over from scratch or change everything at the same time. Enabling effective and safe business growth requires making deliberate controlled changes to introduce new capabilities and refine the ones you already have, to support operations at the next level of company scale and maturity. Customer service capabilities are one of the most important areas to address in this stage of your company’s evolution.
As your company grows, the perceptions you create with your customers about the quality of your products and services and the interactions you have with them throughout the sales and fulfillment lifecycle will determine whether they give you repeat business, are open to upselling (selling other products and services to them to address additional needs they may have, and their attitude towards referring your company to their friends, family and co-workers. Customer perception can make or break a small business.
Creating a Customer Service Function
While the company was small, you were able to give each customer focused and personalized attention. This likely contributed to your early success and the transition into the hyper-growth stage. The challenge is now to continue to meet the high bar of expectations as your customer base grows. To achieve this, you will probably need to introduce a formal customer service function with dedicated resources to broker customer interactions.
Your first customer service hire is essential and getting that role right will set the stage for growing the function in the future. As you add a second and third customer service resource, you will likely start to encounter some new challenges as you strive for consistency of performance and perception and begin to address coordination issues. This is the time when you will probably need to introduce some formal customer service processes, policies and standards as well as some technology to help your staff manage requests, prioritize their work and ensure customer issues are resolved in a timely manner.
Challenges Companies Face During Periods of Hyper-growth
Fast paced growth is a good thing for a company, but it does present additional challenges to an organization. It’s important that careful consideration be given to the following aspects of the business:
When existing staff can no longer handle the volume of work they are tasked with, your company will need to look at hiring additional employees to increase your capacity. Finding the right candidates to meet the near-term needs, with a mindset that will enable them to thrive in a high-growth environment and the potential to address future needs as the company matures can sometimes feel like you are looking for a unicorn (a mythical creature that doesn’t exist in the real world).
The hiring process challenges are compounded by the overhead created on existing staff supporting the recruitment process and onboarding of the new employee(s). It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem – existing employees need some capacity relief to have enough free time to effectively train new employees.
As your company grows, the culture will (must) change. Many company founders and leaders try hard to maintain the start-up mentality and culture through the hyper-growth phase – causing them to resist some of the necessary processes and changes required to operate effectively at the next level of maturity. That doesn’t mean that the company should discard their start-up culture entirely, just that everyone needs to recognize that change is a part of growth and the more willing the company is to embrace change, the greater likelihood of achieving sustainable long-term success.
How you introduce processes and the expectations you set with employees (both new and existing) about growth and change will have a great impact on how your company culture evolves. Introducing a lot of process formality in a short period of time or failing to articulate why processes are necessary is a good way to breed resistance among your employees. Introducing the right set of processes targeted to address existing pain points and scalability challenges on the other hand may be helpful and openly embraced by employees.
This is the biggest growth challenge for most companies. Enabling hyper-growth requires making investments in additional capacity and new capabilities often before you start seeing the revenue to support them. If your company has ample financial resources and can afford to invest in all the capability needs you have up front, fantastic. Most small companies aren’t so lucky and financial resource constraints require careful attention to prioritizing and sequencing of investments.
The key to navigating financial constraints is to look at the big picture – the end-to-end business processes you are trying to put in place, your overall staffing plan and the customer experiences you are trying to enable. As you grow, you need to keep your operations whole and balanced to avoid having increased capacity and performance in one area causing other areas to be overloaded. For example: you don’t want to increase sales faster than your fulfillment and customer service teams can catch up. Likewise, you don’t want to grow your customer service team faster than you acquire customers and have them under-utilized or idle. Finding the right balance of investments and changes for your company requires a structured and thoughtful approach to growth and timing new capabilities for when you are ready to consume them.
The Role a Helpdesk Software can Play in a Growing Company
People and process changes are necessary to help your company grow, but leveraging technology is the key to enabling your company to scale. The hyper-growth stage requires more than expanding capacity – your company needs to increase productivity to balance out the overhead of managing a larger team and taking advantage of the efficiencies that come with greater scale. These include things like job role specialization, the ability to load balance work across resources, capturing best-practices and reducing the cost of routine tasks through automation.
In the case of customer service functions, helpdesk software is an essential tool to enabling a team of employees to work together to address customer problems. Modern helpdesk platforms provide a consistent means of capturing customer issues and requests and tracking them throughout their lifecycle. It also enables employees to see all of the communications, contacts, sales and touch-points where someone from the company has engaged with the customer and capture notes about what the customer’s needs, challenges and opportunities are so you can figure out how your company can best fulfill those needs in a profitable way.
The use of helpdesk software should extend beyond the (post-sales) customer support function. Customers expect a consistent and unified experience when engaging with your company, regardless of whether it is to make a sale, deal with billing issues or get help with your products and services. They expect that your employees are aware of past interactions and active engagements taking place with other business functions.
Customers don’t care about your operational process issues, staffing challenges and internal coordination challenges – those are your company’s problems. Customers care about their own problems and expect you to care about their problems as well.
The 4 Capabilities that Growing Companies Need
Scalability with safety controls
Growing your organization means involving more people in your business processes. With each new human interaction, the potential for errors and mistakes increase. Helpdesk software enables you to scale safely by enforcing processes, policies and business rules to ensure that activities are performed correctly, completely and consistently
Job-role specialization is the key to increasing efficiency in a growing organization. Instead of having each person handle everything end-to-end, activities are broken into tasks that can be performed by different individuals and coordinated through business processes and workflows. Facilitating these workflows, managing hand-offs between employees and ensuring the appropriate data is captured and shared is one of the core functions that a helpdesk solution will provide.
Whether you are seeking to enable self-service capabilities or desire to have your staff directly engaging with customers, providing consistent, effective and efficient customer experiences is important to customer retention. Humans like predictability, so when a customer contacts your company for support, you need to be able to provide a consistent experience whether it is their first call or 100th.
A helpdesk solution can help your staff collaborate better internally (through things like shared data and workflow) and engage more thoughtfully with customers (by not having to worry about the mechanics of the process and instead being able to focus on the customer’s issue).
Information to drive decision making
Things change quickly in growing companies and management needs data and insights to understand opportunities, risks and challenges that require attention. Helpdesk systems provide valuable information about the support being provided to customers (things like sentiment), happiness with products and services (net promoter score), productivity of customer service staff (call volume, number of engagements, time to resolve), and unmet customer needs that could be converted to new business opportunities. Reports from the helpdesk system can help leaders keep their finger on the pulse of the business.
Reasons to Implement a Helpdesk Software
Helpdesk software (like any technology solution) shouldn’t be implemented just for the sake of having it. It should help address real and tangible challenges that your organization is facing (pain points) and/or it should provide new capabilities that you will be able to consume to help you scale and grow.
Operational Problems that a Helpdesk Software can Help You Solve
— Overburdened staff
— Unorganized workspace
— Reduced productivity
— Long waiting times for customers
— Missed customer calls and email messages
— Un-attended social media accounts
— Repetitive questions
— Low customer satisfaction
— Reduced sales
New Capabilities that can Help Your Company Grow and Scale
— Ticket management
— Email tracking
— Multi-channel support
— Knowledge Management (FAQs and best practices)
If you are facing any of these problems or could benefit from these capabilities, helpdesk might be just the thing that your need to help your company grow. When combined with process improvements, strategic hiring decisions and employee training, your company will be well positioned to grow and develop lasting and profitable customer relationships.
When is the Best Time to Start Using a Helpdesk Software?
It is best to implement helpdesk software as a foundation when the company is small and before the period of hyper-growth starts but if your company is already experiencing challenges and growing pains, it is not too late, but it is imperative to act as quickly as possible to avoid the situation getting worse.
When your company is just getting started and there are only a few people interacting with customers, a helpdesk solution may not be necessary. At the point you are considering making your second customer service hire, you should really consider whether some technology support is appropriate. Modern cloud-based helpdesk solutions like Freshdesk can give you the lightweight capabilities you need today but also the full and robust set of features that your company will need in the future as you grow.
The key is to implement the features you need without a lot of overhead that you don’t need. When you are ready to layer on more advanced capabilities, you should be able to add them easily without having to re-work things that are already in place.
If your company has graduated from start-up mode into the stage of hyper-growth, things are going to need to change. Your processes, team and systems will not only need to grow, they will need to scale to become more efficient. Remaining focused on the customer, giving them consistent, high quality experiences is key to unlocking customer satisfaction, repeat business, referrals and increased lifetime value.
Growing safely and effectively requires paying attention to challenges like hiring, culture and financial resource constraints and making thoughtful decisions that lead to deliberate actions and investments. Helpdesk software can provide the technology foundation to enable workflow orchestration, consistent customer experiences and informed decision making.
If you execute on these things well, this period of rapid growth will transform your company from a small start-up into a mid-size business with happy customers, happy employees and profitable results for owners.