Minimum viable customer support

We like to think of ourselves as a company that offers minimum viable presence for its customers. As we move towards our upcoming Indiegogo campaign, we’ve asked Laura who heads our customer support to write a little about her work here. Please share and give us feedback!


What do you do when you start a job where previously no job existed?

You learn quickly and as you go. You make mistakes, and from day one you begin to work together to create and build something. It’s one of the reasons I love working in startups. It’s challenging, there’s lots of problems to solve, you can experiment and put your personal touch on things. Plus all the work you do matters, so even a boring task is worth doing.

This post is a little insight into how I’ve tackled things since I starting work at Good Night Lamp.

Where we started

I started at Good Night Lamp in April 2016 after working for several startups in the role of customer support. I work remotely, 5 hours per week and I’m the first and only customer support person. Good Night Lamp is a growing company that started way back in 2005, read more about our humble beginnings here.

My job was to look after the growing number of customers, to fire fight through the early stages of a small product company’s teething problems and to build processes that become more robust and scalable as the company grows.

To do this you need a strategy, to build a strategy you need to know the product, it’s history, the customers and the tools currently used. So unfortunately you need to delve into the dreaded ticket backlog!! (in our case Zendesk’s open tickets)  

So I started by tying up those loose ends.

There were a lot of them. Before a dedicated customer support role exists everyone pitches in and it’s possible that some customers could slip through the net. 

We use Zendesk to capture all of our tickets (open customer support cases) which is linked to a general support email address. I went through all our past communications researching and digging. Many were cases were resolved though we you couldn’t see how, I needed to figure out how. I was resolving the unresolved and in doing so learning about common problems and a lot more about our customers.  

For a company of any size your customers are extremely valuable, they are your reason for being so you need to ensure every case is handled well and has come to a successful resolution. My job is to find ways to make that happen. Some of those customers were our first customers and are also the most valuable as they took a chance on an unproven and new product, they allowed us to continue to this day. They believed in us and we appreciate them so much for this.

Key learnings from this process

  • I understood a lot more about the product, how and why it had changed and evolved in the way it did
  • I understood the processes involved in manufacture and delivery
  • I understood company values from how cases were handled by others
  • I saw how decisions were made and what is seen as a priority for the business
  • And…through all of this I could see where things could easily be improved and come up with strategies for more long-term changes.
  • I was able to improve our FAQ and website content from commonly asked questions.
  • I was able to ensure all cases were resolved happily with care and a personal touch.

After that, I began to create and implement processes informed by the learnings I’d obtained (I’ll get to what they were later). Although useful, this information wasn’t enough. I wanted to find out what was happening to the people we’d never heard from.

Were they happy and just busy loving the product? Best case scenario, yes. Or were some of them struggling and dissatisfied masking hidden problems with product, service or something else as yet uncovered.

Start calling out in the dark

It’s a brave thing to do, because it’s risky. To go in search of potential problems, to potentially open the gate to losing money through refunds or repairs. But for us it was worth it. We needed and wanted to know how our product was performing in situ to understand it’s value and to guide us in future R&D.

We couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t as we want every customer to have a great experience with our product. It’s something that has made mine and Alex’s (Good Night Lamp’s founder) relationship so easy, we agree on these things. We want to keep making GNL better and to do that we need to know how.

Customer outreach

So we contacted all of our customers for their feedback. I used different email copy depending on whether they’d contacted us before and relevant to the nature of contact.

I emailed each person individually, not through mailchimp or a list. This was more time consuming for sure, but we thought it’s the small things that matter. This wasn’t a campaign, we wanted it to be personal as we were asking some important questions and opening up a conversation. Letting our customers know we care. Luckily as a small company it’s something you can make time to do and it makes a big difference to people.

After receiving lots of responses it wasn’t long before I realised this product was extremely emotive for people. It was used in many different ways with loved ones and relatives overseas, to keep in contact with children when a parent is at work, between offices in different time zones, between pregnant mums keeping each other company at night despite living continents apart. We always find these stories touching and moving and it makes my day every time I get to read one

One such customer mentioned to me that it had taken him some time for him to find a meaning for his lamps with hi family, he had succeeded but after a couple of failed attempts. It was then we realised these stories had value, not just as a testimony on a website, but also to show our customers the many different and meaningful ways they could use their lamps to bring more connection into their lives.  

Key learnings from customer outreach

  • We discovered customers who’d been struggling, maybe even given up, and were able to turn things around for them and win them back. We took time and we fixed things remotely or repairing and refunded. We resolved things.
  • In fact these customers were so appreciative for us turning this experience into a personal and overly positive one we ended up with some big fans of our team and of Good Night Lamp product. People willing to support our campaigns and write blogs about our product.
  • As I mentioned the lamps were being used in beautiful and meaningful ways. We collected those stories, used them on our website and later made them into a booklet to inspire other customers to find their own meanings for their lamps.
  • We were able to further improve our FAQ and website content based on responses.
  • Were able to highlight and prioritise improvements in software and hardware for our technology partners with useful feedback.

The next big thing we needed was a bit of organisation.  From email signatures, to spreadsheets to Zendesk. I got busy making sure things could talk to each other, were updated and functional and experimented with processes to find what worked and could be be refined and scaled over time.

I began to implement Trello from my first day.

Trello as a CRM, personal management, bugs board…ok for everything!!

Trello for it’s versatility, cost effectiveness and integration is one of my favourite tools to begin using in any startup or small business. It’s got a nice user interface, can be used on all devices and you can tailor it to your needs easily and most importantly quickly.

It’s not perfect and as you grow there are better tools for ticketing and CRM, too many to name. But deciding which CRM to go with is difficult. They cost money and each one has a USP and different features. And it’ll takes a while for you to know what features you really need from a tool to make the best decision moving forward. So in the meantime Trello is a great stopgap.

I linked Zendesk and Trello through trello’s ‘powerups’ and utilising the the ‘mail to card’ feature. I wanted to ensure information was captured in a reliable and replicable way and in so doing minimise human error as much as possible.

How I use trello

Personal task board

  • To keep track of all the tasks I’ve got on the go for weekly discussions, great for prioritising of important, urgent and long term projects.
  • Keep track of meetings and tasks/decisions from meetings. We have always had regular meetings where we discuss our week, current customer cases, projects, ideas and future planning. Trello has a log of all we discuss so we can plan and look back at things easily if needed.
  • I can email my trello board to create a task and connect to Zendesk tickets, google docs, pictures websites etc. So is great for many aspects of the business.

Customer support board

  • All incoming contact creates a card, in essence a ticket. We have integrations with typeform, gmail (big big fan of) and Zendesk so all comms are logged and never lost.
  • To make our cards useful they need to contain some standard information. I make use of ‘template card’ cards. A template card lays out all the info needing to be collected e.g. order number, customer name, date reported, lamps, nature of the problem, next steps. The template card is copied so every new card created in the same was. The template card evolves based on what information we learn is most valuable.
  • We have lists these cards go into for status, people assigned to the cards, colored tabs for location and type of inquiry. You can use it however works best for you, we’re still finding our best way.
  • We discuss the all aspects of the case through comments on the cards. This way we can look up a customer and lamps history easily and know how and why we handledthe case in the way we did.

Customer files

  • All contact with customers or prospective customers is kept on a board as a sort of archive.
  • If a customer gets back in contact with us we can draw their card out and have a full communication history of what we have done internally and externally for them.

Product development and future plans

  • Company wide board of long-term, current and future projects and campaigns. It’s great to keep updated and to make sure you do’t forget that great idea forever. All can access and contribute.
  • Track common problems resulting in software updates and changes to hardware or manufacture. We can document failures of hardware, software and updates that fix particular problems.
  • Future features wish lists and marketing campaigns.

Creating effective internal communication

If you are effective in customer support you know that you need to support your internal customers as well as your external ones. You can do this by being a positive force, full of optimism and ideas and taking charge of all those internal communications.

I care about the people I work with and making their job easier. I find out what they’re like, their priorities and limitations. Simple things like how they like to be contacted (Skype, email, instant messenger), when and how frequently they like to be contacted and how quickly they are likely to reply, are they someone who needs reminders, prefers lists, tasks, conversations… 

I pay attention to the questions they ask and identify what information do they need to do their job in the best way. If you find out how they work best you take up minimal amounts of their time so they can spend more time working on their job and you can do your job better and with more support. Plus it’s nice to be nice.

It’s challenging keeping track of tasks and communications, but at least at the start of a business that ends up being your role. Especially in Good Night Lamp where we all work remotely and have other jobs and responsibilities. Communication is vital to make any progress.

Each week or two me and Alex discuss on Skype the current cases, ongoing challenges, priorities and ideas and projects for the future. This keeps me on track, allows me to discuss things and keeps me connected with the business. It’s always a pleasure as we have a wonderful working relationship where we can honestly co-create and grow as founder and customer support person.

Be autonomous and take responsibility – do what needs to be done

In customer support you need to be the font of knowledge for all the customers, for the founders questions, for marketing, for the techy team members. You’re one of the few people with a great vantage point of the product, development processes, and future plans. Your voice counts as you can speak for the customer and your colleagues and help prioritise things for the future of the business.

Luckily me and Alex have always agreed we want every customer happy, we want them with a working lamp of the quality we want to deliver. High. I was given the freedom to be honest and open, caring and supportive. I can offer as much support as I determine is needed, free returns, repairs/refunds and get technical support for every customer. I decide many of my own priorities and tasks based on my experience and opinions.

For example as time has gone on we’ve needed to find better ways of keeping track of things like customer satisfaction, orders and speeding up part of the process. Automating as much as possible without losing the personal connection with our customers is key, here’s a quick list of some of the things I implemented to combat these challenges.

Automating, optimising and tracking

  • We recently started using Hively to track customer satisfaction. It’s a very simple way of checking people are happy with your service and getting their feedback. Plus on a small scale it’s free.
  • We work using google drive for many documents. But we moved over from a spreadsheet, which was great but had many limitations, to a bespoke software we call ‘lamp manager’. Alex wrote a blog about that process here. I painstakingly had to check all the info was correct before we could archive the spreadsheet, but it was well worth it to now have such an easy and fit for purpose tool to use.
  • I’ve been creating canned responses for standard questions to speed up response time and limit time expenditure, I only have 5 hours per week. They are optimised and will continue to be.
  • We created a personalised contact form through typeform that acts as a point of contact for current customers, press and prospective customers.

I’m sure there’s much more that we’ve implemented that I can’t remember/blocked out due to the pain it caused. Also some of it simply doesn’t seem that important. There is no right way to do this as every business and group of customers is different.  But I hope reading how we have approached it in some way helps you on your journey. It’s been nice to look back and reflect, too often we’re so busy doing we don’t see how much we’ve done and the progress we’re making.

The next step is a re-design, a crowdfund campaign and entering the US. Wish us luck!

Thank you so much for reading. If you’ve got any questions or just want to get in contact feel free to contact us through the contact form. I’ll always reply to you personally!!

L x