Nick Francis is the Co-founder and CEO of Help Scout. Help Scout is a web-based product that makes it easy for companies to provide scalable online customer service. It provides all the efficiency and scalability of a help desk, but in a way that’s personalized for customers.
MO: What problem is Help Scout solving?
Nick: Have you ever shared an email box with someone before? It involves a complicated web of Cc’s, Bcc’s and Forwards to keep everyone on the same page. By definition, email isn’t designed to be collaborative.
Help Scout solves this problem and makes it easy for groups of 2 to 25 people to share an inbox. It looks a lot like email, but you can do things like delegate responsibility, add private notes and keep track of conversation history with all your customers.
With the tools we built into Help Scout, a customer service team of 15 people can work fast without answering the same emails twice or using complicated Cc/Bcc loops. From the customer’s standpoint, Help Scout is invisible. They get the same personalized email they would get from Gmail or Outlook, no ticket numbers or complicated ”please reply above this line” mess.
MO: Can you talk about the development process behind Help Scout?
Nick: I’ve been really lucky to work with my two co-founders Jared and Denny for nearly 7 years. They are extremely talented and I do my best to fill the gaps .
We had our own web design and consulting business for several years. We worked with startups, online retailers and small businesses of all sorts, which gave us a lot of insight into how small businesses work.
We thought about the Help Desk market for a couple of years and finally decided to build a product to meet the needs of the SMB clients we had, including ourselves. The moment we had something viable that worked, we launched it to the public (April, 2011). We’ve been listening to customers and iterating ever since.
MO: What makes you different or better than your competition?
Nick: Customers get to decide what’s a better fit for their business, but we certainly set out to do something different. We see the Help Desk market as one with many great companies, but all of them gravitating towards more of an enterprise use case.
Most SMBs simply don’t need all the complexity and additional tools that Help Desks are bundled with, so we proudly proclaim that we do 98% less. Less to customize, less to learn, thus easier for a company with no IT department to get going. We focus on a great email experience that’s easy to setup in minutes and won’t create confusion for your customers.
We built Help Scout for the Fortune 5 million. If they outgrow us, there are a lot of great tools upmarket that are more expensive and we’ll happily refer our customers to them.
MO: What were some of the obstacles you faced when creating Help Scout and how did you overcome them?
Nick: Someone once told me to never start a company unless I simply couldn’t be happy otherwise. It’s hard and we all face obstacles daily aboard the “startup roller coaster” as it’s aptly named.
We have very little funding and a small team, so one obstacle we all face is focusing on the right things. What can we do today that will help us move the needle? We all have plenty to keep us “busy”, but what things make us productive? That’s what we should be doing.
We overcome this obstacle by listening to our customers as much as possible. They help us decide what features make the most sense to build out. We also focus on a few metrics that we know move the needle in our business and spend time on tasks that impact those metrics directly.
MO: Congratulations on recently finishing your first ebook, “75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes & Statistics.” Can you give our readers some interesting facts or quotes that you don’t think that they’ve heard before?
Nick: That eBook is full of a couple of years of research, so there’s a lot of cool stuff there. One I think about a lot is that for every customer who bothers to complain about something, 26 others have the same complaint and remain silent. So if one person complains, we feel like 30 people have a complaint.
A quote that’s more true today than ever is the one that says, “Customers remember the service a lot longer than they remember the price.” Great service is much more defensible than price. It’s easy to compete on price, but I dare you to try and steal a loyal customer from Zappos.
MO: What are some of the key elements to great customer service?
Nick: I read a quote the other day that was very profound. “Behind every ‘problem’ is a person hoping to be understood.” The essense of customer service is how your company chooses to go about treating that person.
Customers don’t expect that much. Treat them with transparency, honor and a human touch and it’s hard to screw up.
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