To build a globally relevant startup, the CEO has to be on support

Written by on July 24, 2014

Krish is the CEO of ChargeBee, a Subscription Billing Solution for SaaS and eCommerce Recurring Revenue Businesses. Incidentally, ChargeBee’s well known for its customer support (every customer review waxes poetically about their service first and then their product). Initially, the team was a little bothered but they decided to roll with the punches and have taken to calling themselves – “the billing platform with exceptional customer support”.

The role of a startup CEO is something you as a founder grow into. And as a first time entrepreneur, I learnt the skills of running the company on the job. When you think about it, you realize that you’re not only the CEO, focused on long term goals, but you’re also part of “whatever it takes to do the job” – Product Management, HR, Sales, Marketing, Finance, Investor Relations, Customer Support, Growth and sometimes, even the handyman (the coffee machine breaks down a lot).

All of these functions are equally important. And I know that as the days rush by and our customer base expands, I’ll have to spend more time being the CEO and less time actively going over our books or writing copy for our website. But I’ve promised myself that the one thing I’ll never compromise on is customer support.

To me, customer support is about more than just solving problems and answering queries; customer support gives us opportunities – to turn a happy customer to a raving fan, to turn angry, frustrated customers into loyal advocates, to turn a PR disaster onto its head. It gives us a goldmine of information, from which we can reap features. And that’s why I’m a #CEOonSupport, and why I’ll always be on Support: because it’s the underlying thread that ties back to all the teams.

If you look at global startups that customers just adore, there’s one common thread – their CEO is always listening to customers and responding where they are. Patrick Collison of Stripe always hangs out in HackerNews answering questions. Lanham Napier built Rackspace as a global giant in cloud infrastructure, focusing just on Customer Service as their core message.

If it were up to me (and it is at ChargeBee), everyone would be on support. It’d be all hands on deck because when everyone’s an agent, it’s so much more easier to arrive at answers, figure out workarounds and achieve product-market fit.

Why being a #CEOonSupport is the best:

1) Product development gets a whole new definition

As an integral cog in the process for a lot of our customers, it’s a constant struggle for us to rapidly innovate and keep up with their growing needs. Every other support ticket is a new feature request – reports, integrations, insights, metrics and so on and so forth. In fact, that’s how our integrated business analytics platform for subscription metrics even came about to be: a support ticket.

The team and I noticed that more and more of our customers were demanding insights, based on their account receivables, and SaaS metrics, delivered real time. And as the days went by, the demand just kept growing. So, one day instead of just owning up to the feature not being ready just yet, we just crunched the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet and provided them with the reports. And we kept doing that until our product team managed to scramble together a system to automate this process and make it available to all of our customers. And that’s how one of our most popular features was built.

Initially, some members were skeptical and scared about the manual approach – that we’d be flooded with routine non-scalable tasks, day in and day out. We did things that don’t scale and it has paid off pretty well. Now, SaaS Metrics as a Service is a distinct advantage for us over the competition.

2) It helps you understand your product/market better

Every person on the team has a favorite feature – some like the business analytics platform best, others specific integrations, but it always surprises us when features that we don’t pride ourselves in become popular with our users. Except in the United States and some parts of Europe, the state of payment gateway infrastructure is nothing to write home about. Interactions with our users not only helped us understand this better but also helped us take a unique approach to solving their needs, opening up new business opportunities.

3) Actions, not words, build a successful team

The CEO going all out on Support really sets the bar high for the rest of the team. My team is not only highly motivated but they also know that it’s okay (and expected of them) to step beyond the shackles of their job descriptions and go the extra mile for the customer. I’m not just going on and on about how it’s done. I get an opportunity to show them how it is done, every day.

With the business models shifting from a product centric ROI to a customer centric ROI, there is a need to keep your customers happy at all costs. These new age businesses are built on trust and can only thrive by delivering value every single day. And customer support helps us do both; strengthen relationships and make the product the best it can be. And that’s why I’ll always be a #CEOonSupport.

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