231: Responding Fast to Customers — A Good Idea?

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Welcome to the Bootstrapped Founder.

My name is Arvid Kahl and I talk about bootstrapping,

entrepreneurship and building in public.

Today, we'll dive into just how quickly you should respond to customer service requests

and my experience with that,

having done it a bit too quickly in the past.

First, let me thank the sponsor of this episode.

Now, imagine this,

you're a founder who's built a solid SaaS product,

you acquired so many customers and the product is generating

consistent monthly revenue.

The problem is, you're not growing for whatever reason,

lack of focus or lack of skill or just plain lack of interest and you feel stuck.

What should you do?

The story I would like to hear at this point is that you buckled down and then

reignited the fire somehow and you got past yourself and the cliches and you

started working on your business rather than just in the business.

You start building an audience and you move out of

your comfort zone and do the sales and marketing stuff that nobody likes to do.

In six months, you've tripled your revenue.

The reality isn't that simple.

Situations may be different for every founder facing this particular crossroads,

but too many times,

the story ends up being one of inaction and stagnation until

the business becomes less valuable or even worse, worthless.

If you find yourself here or your story is likely headed down a similar road,

I can offer you a third option.

Consider selling your business on acquire.com.

Capitalizing on the value of your time is a smart move and acquire.com is free,

free to list and they've helped hundreds of founders already.

So go to acquire.com and see for yourself if this is the right option for you.

Now, let's talk about customer service.

I used to think that responding to customer service requests as soon as

possible was an unequivocally good idea.

After all, who doesn't want to show their customers that they truly,

truly care about them, that they would drop everything to help somebody in need.

But this dedication to responding quickly comes at a hefty price,

a very, very hefty price and I paid that price in the business that I ran back in a day.

Today, I will dive into the pros and cons of super quick customer service responses,

what software tuning has to do with it and how you can approach balancing

response speed with good business sense.

Because the balance between reacting quickly to a customer service increase and

dealing with this myriad of other business issues that you have to do as a founder,

that isn't something that new founders think about or think about much when they start.

I certainly didn't.

When I co-founded Feedback Panda, that must have been around 2017,

and I was responsible for all the technical questions that our users submitted through

email and our in-app chat widget, I quickly prided myself on getting

my average response time during the day to under 30 seconds, sometimes under 10 seconds.

It was crazy. It became a game to me.

How quickly can I turn the notification that I got on my phone into a message to the customer

through their intercom or whatever they kind of use, a chat bubble or an email.

I wanted to wow our customers and show them that they were my number one priority.

And that worked.

They were certainly surprised by it. And many times they told me that nobody had ever responded

so quickly to them before when they talked to customer service.

They felt special for being cared for with such urgency.

At least most of the time after I assured them that I was real, because most customers

who got this lightning fast reply thought I was just a bot, because in their minds,

nobody responds this quickly ever.

And often I would have to prove that I was actually the founder of the business, which

was also something people didn't expect.

Nobody talks to the founder.

They talk to some customer service agent.

And in a way, my initial speed would cost me several minutes because I had to establish

that I was the real deal all the time.

It's ironic to think that had I waited a few minutes, people wouldn't have been so skeptical.

It all boils down to expectations.

And as much as I did more than what people expected, my actions looked fully automated.

That's something a machine would do.

And I'm a huge automation fan.

I believe that good documentation and originating within that documentation, automated processes

are central to building a valuable and sellable business.

Yet I was doing all of this manually.

I would drop whatever I was doing to serve the customer immediately.

And it was a few months into building the business that I noticed that I had betrayed my actual

priorities as a solo technical founder here.

I was supposed to build the product, right, to stay in my flow state and work on these

complex technical implementations that would deliver massively valuable features to every


But here I was jumping up from my code base to help a single customer figure out if they

should be using their Facebook or Google or Twitter to log into our software.

I deprioritized my high leverage impact on all customers to prioritize a single customer's

problem, which often turned out to be pretty mundane.

This is the Facebook Google thing is a pretty common example.

I devalued my own time by not prioritizing the things that would improve everyone's experience.

And sure, this can and does work when you're just starting out, when you're dealing with

a very shaky prototype that breaks a lot, but you will quickly have to drop this once your

customer base grows.

This is quote by Spock from Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan, "The needs of the many outweigh

the needs of the few."

And for any low touch software business, this is a core tenant of successful operations.

You should focus on implementing things that really serve everybody, not just one person,

which is something that I realized once my developer productivity tanked noticeably.

I kept doing this for way too long and being constantly interrupted caused all my non-customer

service work to suffer.

Coding, product management, marketing, whatever I was working on that required me to build

this mental representation of a complex plan or concept in my mind, a single intercom ding,

like the little sound that it makes, could destroy hours of work.

And it caused my mental health to suffer as well.

I focused on responding to those intercom notifications so much that I developed waves

of anxiety when I heard this intercom ding.

I still have this.

More than four years now after selling the business, the sound of a chat bubble brings

it all back and causes my heart rate to rise too.

This shouldn't be normal, right?

So maybe optimizing for response times for customer service is not the best idea, at

least not exclusively, and at least not doing it all by yourself.

Apart from hiring a customer service rep, which is where this goes anyway, there's a

way to have your speedy cake and eat it too.

You might as well embrace the bots that people think you are.

Your first layer of defense can be tools, and I think they should be tools, because

tools are always awake and they can respond faster than any human agent.

And your customers will appreciate that.

They actually like this because they don't want to talk to a person.

That's not why they reach out to you.

They want their problem solved.

And ideally, you don't even have to be involved because most people prefer to solve their

own problems all by themselves instead of having somebody tell them how to solve them over


It's a self-confidence builder to be able to figure things out with a little help.

And if that help is just a video or a few bullet points, well, ever the better.

Immediate self-service trumps the late hands-on help almost every time.

And self-service can be very helpful, and I would suggest it to everybody building a

self-service, particularly when you're good at guiding people through the use of multimedia.

I have found, in my experience, that people love founder-narrated video walkthroughs, even

if it's just a few clicks on the UI of your product.

A demonstration that's easy to follow is something that most people prefer to being hand-helped

to success.

Try using images or better video as much as possible when you build your self-service knowledge


And here's a tip from my experience with Feedback Panda fulfilling that knowledge base.

Whenever you solve a problem manually through chat or email for the very first time, and

then you expect it to happen again for somebody else because it's something that they might

run into, document it right after you help that person.

Take the 15 minutes you need to record a Loom or VidGuide video and just integrate it right

into your help desk.

Write a few paragraphs, too, to make the solution text accessible and indexable, and you're done.

Now you have it in your knowledge base and you're able to pull it out.

You're done for now and you're done for the future because AI tools make it self-service

particularly easy now.

They have access to your full documentation and they can automatically suggest suitable

articles within a second of a customer asking any question.

And if nothing can be found, these tools can always escalate the conversation to a real

human being, likely you.

So you might want to wait even with that.

Chat GPT-based systems can hand-hold your customers through multi-step processes while

answering their questions at the same time.

It helps to have a very elaborate knowledge base for that particular purpose.

And that's why it pays off to write the article immediately after a solution.

All future occurrences of that problem will be something your customers can solve themselves.

I highly recommend it.

And I know it's time you don't spend on other things, but I would spend it on this.

Just one warning and a big one here.

When you use software tools, don't act like your bots are people.

Be honest and tell people that they're being helped by a smart documentation tool.

The moment you lie to your customers about who they're talking to, you play with fire.

People are smart and they will never trust you or your business if you tell them that

the obvious robot is a real boy.

Don't do that.

You don't need them to think your tools are people.

Consider what your customers actually need when they reach out.

They have exhausted their capacity to either solve their problem by themselves or find a

solution that gets them there.

They probably googled already and they clicked through every part of your software they could

find trying out everything before they had to jump over the hurdle to reach out.

Their problem is critical enough to reach out to you and warrant risking this confrontation

with a person, with a company rep.

They don't want to talk to people to begin with.

What they want is workable advice as soon as possible.

The way they get there matters very little to them in the end.

What matters is that their problem gets solved.

It took me a long time to understand that my customers also wanted something that I

was actively working against by responding as fast as I could every single time.

They want my business to succeed because they have a business that helps them succeed in

my business.

In retrospect, my customers felt more empathy for me than I had for myself back then and

for my priorities.

I was scared to leave a bad impression.

So I overcompensated and that was not a good idea.

The way out is to set realistic expectations around replies.

More for yourself than for your customers really.

They have a much higher tolerance than what you might think.

They can wait a few minutes.

In fact, they probably got up and grabbed a coffee right after sending that customer

service message.

They don't even see your thing, your 10 second reply for the next three or four minutes.

Just optimizing for response speed is reductive for you and your business and it can actively

harm your entrepreneurial impact.

The exception if you're solving a particularly critical problem.

But for that you need designated customer service reps that are always on call anyway.

It's not a founder thing at that point.

But if your product doesn't need real time answers all the time, a few minutes, a few

hours delay won't hurt anybody either.

This is something you can even ask your customers about in a follow up message once they get

done with what they asked you to help them with.

How quickly did you actually need that answer?

Don't jump the gun.

Consider that as a founder your customer service is just one of the many many hats that you


We all want our customers to be king, sure.

But a quick reply isn't the only way to do that.

Another way?

Building products that need fewer customer service interactions.

That's another way.

Or focusing on building features that save your users so much time that they can then

go read that documentation you wrote thoroughly and help themselves.

That can work too.

So when that chat bubble dings the next time, consider that what you're doing right now

might be the more important thing to do than immediately reply.

And then once you're done, help your customer.

And that's it for today.

Thank you for listening to the Wood's Up Founder.

You can find me on Twitter @AvidKaal, A-R-V-I-D-K-A-H-L.

You'll probably find me on threads as well if that is still around today.

You'll find my books and my Twitter course there as well.

And if you want to support me on the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get

the podcast and your player of choice and leave a rating and a review.

That's the most important stuff.

The most impact you could potentially have on my life is by going to rate this podcast.com/founder

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A kind one would be nice.

Any of this would help the show.

And thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful day.

Bye bye.

Creators and Guests

Arvid Kahl
Arvid Kahl
Empowering founders with kindness. Building in Public. Sold my SaaS FeedbackPanda for life-changing $ in 2019, now sharing my journey & what I learned.
231: Responding Fast to Customers — A Good Idea?
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