One of the questions I'm frequently asked is how I support 2000 paying customers for my business while working a full time job. In general it actually doesn't take much time. During my busy season (Aug to Oct) I get around 15 emails a day. It can be a bit overwhelming. The rest of the year it's closer to 1-2 emails a day. Here are some of the tactics I use.
Most of the support requests come in over email. I don't use a service to handle or track these other than Gmail. My system is to leave an email in the inbox and archive it once I've responded. The "Send & Archive" button, which can be turned on in Gmail Labs, is helpful here.
I try to reply to emails as soon as possible, but that can be tricky when I'm at work. Pretty much anytime I have a few minutes I'll check my phone and respond if it's something I know off the top of my head.
Swype makes this a ton easier. With Swype I can bang out an email one handed while walking to a meeting or waiting for the elevator.
If the email is something I need to look up or fix I generally have to wait until lunch or when I get home. I don't think I've ever received a complaint about my response time. In fact people seem to be impressed when I reply late at night or on the weekends.
Get One NOW!
I used to get emails asking for phone support and would think "Are you crazy? You want phone support for a $20 a year product?". I should have been thinking "Awesome I can get a real customer on the phone and not only help them, but use it as an opportunity to learn what they value and how I can grown my product. I should be paying them $20."
I'm using Grasshopper to handle the 800 number. Don't even waste time thinking about this, just get one. It's dirt cheap, no commitment and absolutely priceless when it comes to connecting with your customers.
Although most of the calls come from individual customers with miscellaneous questions there is a certain type of user who always calls. I'm talking about school systems who ask things like "I have a ton of teachers and we want to get a group account and pay you lots of money. How do we set this up?" These calls are awesome.
Right now (the slow season) I get around 3-4 calls a week. It will be interesting to see what happens during the busy season, especially since I'm running an A/B test right now that will likely result in the 800 number being more prominent on the landing page. More on this in a future post - make sure to sign up for the feed or follow me on Twitter.
I can only get to maybe 10% of the calls when they come in. This kills me, but there isn't much I can do since most of the call come during the day when I'm at my job.
The caller will leave a message, and I'll try to call them back when I get a moment and it will lead to an endless game of phone tag.
I'm trying to get to more of the calls "live". I have Grasshopper ring my home number for 10 seconds, then switch to my mobile for 10 seconds. After that it goes to voicemail.
My Secret Weapon
I have an unfair advantage here as well. My wife is a teacher and user #1 of the service. She's also on maternity leave. If the baby is napping she can pickup. If the caller leaves a voicemail she can call them back much quicker then I can.
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments or email me at email@example.com.