How to Scale Customer Service to Reach the Mass Market


When you serve your first customer, you get to spend as much time as possible to make that relationship right. When that first customer becomes one of many, you need a way to take that same energy and focus that you delivered to the first customer and make it available to the next one (however many next ones there are).

There is a repeatable set of steps that can help you from your first fan through to your 1Mth “True Fan” to reach mass market adoption. Those steps use People, Process and Tools to magnify and repeat the ideas you had at customer #1 and make them applicable at scale.

Scaling Customer Success Starts With People

You need to start by hiring for the attitude and aptitude. You can teach someone how to use new technology tools. It’s difficult to teach them to be resilient, to learn how to learn and to treat people well if they don’t already know those skills. And you need those skills for customer #1 and for customer #1,000,000.

What does a successful person look like who can help you scale?

They are probably a lifelong learner. They are probably interested and empathetic when hearing and speaking to new people. And they can probably make small talk with anyone. They also do a great job. And they are interested in taking on new roles and in teaching other people what they can do.

Building a Systematic Process to Delight Your Fans

When you find the right people to build the team that can scale, you also need to give them a framework – guidelines, really – that will help them make daily choices to provide great service for customers even when new situations occur that aren’t explicitly described.

The Incident Command System is a great example of such a system. This system, developed by the US Forest Service, has the following tenets at its core:

1. The system must be organizationally flexible to meet the needs of incidents of any kind and size.

2. Agencies must be able to use the system on a day-to-day basis for routine situations as well as for major emergencies.

3. The system must be sufficiently standard to allow personnel from a variety of agencies and diverse geographic locations to rapidly meld into a common management structure.

4. The system must be cost effective.

Delighting the customer results when the experience exceeds expectations, so how can you better understand the expectations? You can start by asking yourself how you would feel if you were in the customer’s shoes. And if you can exceed those expectations and remove the root cause of the issue at the same time, that would be awesome.

So that leads to another set of questions. How can you exceed customer expectations while removing root causes at the same time? Using a process like the Incident Command System can be an answer – and you should know that there’s no silver bullet in systems, technology, or process. But you can put steps in place that make what you do repeatable and better.

What Tools Do You Need To Scale Customer Support?

At the beginning, you really don’t need much. A simple VOIP tool might suffice for phone, and a shared Gmail inbox for inbound questions. And you will quickly need a bit more. As you grow you need to build systems that solve the present need of the business and can scale as well.

An example is case management – at the beginning you might need a relatively simple tool like UserVoice or or Zendesk or Helpscout to manage cases. As you need more people to handle cases, as you take on additional channels (apps, social media, etc), you may find that you have a more complex workflow.

Scaling is a constant exercise in balancing the tools you know against the switching cost of changing the configuration and adding risk to bring the benefit of new capability. My advice here – make the system as simple as possible, and be open to the possibility that you might have to consider new ideas from time to time.

The Customer Service Formula

It starts with the best people who are lifelong learners and who can adapt to the changing form of the business. To find the best process and tools, you need to identify the business drivers that matter to the business. Build the system that you need to meet the goals you know about – identifying the people that you need, the process they will learn and adapt to make change, and the tools that will get you there.

Worry about the current customers in the present. If you can please them, and you can do that for most of your customers (and over time, almost all of them), you’ll get to scale.

If you want to start today, here are 50 Small Things You can Do to Improve Customer Service that I came up with to help you delight your customers.

This post originally appeared on Clarity’s Blog

Image Courtesy of GlobalPost

Can you turn a critic into your biggest fan?

Don't feed the Trolls
photo by

Photo by Jonathon Colman.

Is it possible to turn a critic into a raving fan? Should you ever feed a troll? Should you even engage for fear of starting a flame war? In my experience, the answers to all of these questions are yes, yes, and yes. You can always win by hugging customers very, very tightly. No, you don’t have to hug them to within an inch of their life and you can always acknowledge what they are saying, redirect them to useful resources, and take the high ground.

Listening to your critics unlocks problems your company hasn’t faced

Your most passionate critic has the possibility of being your most passionate supporter, and you should help them to get there. There’s no guarantee that you can turn a critic into a raving fan, but the critics are telling you things you need to hear about your product, your brand, and your company, so you should listen (even when you feel that they’re wrong).

The process of turning a critic into a raving fan takes three steps. First, you need to let them know that you’ve heard them. That doesn’t mean ranting back at them. It does mean thanking them for their contribution, and clarifying (by sharing the facts, not your opinion) any counter-factual statements they’ve made. If you can do this action quickly, all the better — time is on your side when someone is yelling at you, because they’ve often been secretly annoyed with you for a while and something happened that immediately brought their frustration to the surface.

Empathize and learn

Second, you need to find out what the critic feels you did wrong. This part is perhaps the most important: the ability to place yourself in the shoes of the critic, to understand and empathize with their frustration, and to truly get what’s going on for them and what caused them to be so annoyed that they shouted at you (publicly or privately). It’s also really important to understand the one thing you might be able to do to make things better for your customer, so it’s important to ask them how to fix the problem.

Third, you need to reach out to the critic and demonstrate your good will. There are lots of great ways to do this, from engaging in public conversation to sending t-shirts or other goodies, or sometimes even to send cookies. The key item here is to address the specific concern the critic raised. If you’re never going to fix that problem, politely agree to disagree and suggest an alternate product or service. If you screwed up and need to do something to fix it, tell the customer how you can make it better. And if there’s no fixing it, just apologize and share the steps you’re taking to ensure that it never happens again. And you’ll know whether you got this right if they also thank you for reaching out (bonus points if they do this publicly) and let you know that they are happy(ier) again.

Know when to walk away

Except when they don’t. Because part of of the task of turning a critic into a raving fan is that — even if you believe in the basic goodness of people and try like heck to improve whatever it is they asked you to fix — you might get it wrong, be misinterpreted, or run into a critic who simply will not be mollified by any of your efforts. And at that point the best thing you can do is hug the customer (as tightly as you can) and move on. Responding quickly and effectively while offering a solution and steps for future improvement is the best way to move forward.

This post originally appeared on

How do you quantify the value of an online community?

Online Communities are similar to and different from their physical counterparts
photo courtesy of

What’s the value of community?

How can you define both the idea of a community and the value of that community for a marketer?

A physical community can be hard to describe, and hard to grasp, as Phil Bartle suggests,

“we can not see a whole community, we can not touch it, and we can not directly experience it….Like the words “hill” or “snowflake,” a community may come in one of many shapes, sizes, colours and locations, no two of which are alike.”

An online community is a strange thing – it’s a hybrid of an idea (a shared space that people experience through their computers, tablets, and phones) and a thing – the interaction of that community in many channels (both online and offline.)

I propose a simple definition for the kind of community that marketers care about – a community is a place where people talk about and to the makers of your product. One of these communities happens online (we’re not not talking about channels – we’re talking about relationships with people)

Communities provide a place where you can have a conversation about the meaning and purpose of your brand, promote new ideas and products, and learn more about how people feel when they interact with you and your team. They are also places where you can guide the conversation, and not control it.

And by the way, how can you evaluate that?

Once you’ve defined the idea of a community, you need to find out who’s participating there. And establishing some hard and soft measurements of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will help you measure your progress so that you can know (both directionally and absolutely) whether anything is changing in your community and who’s talking about and to you.

One of the first things you need to do for your community is to learn more about the people who are already there. Who are the existing influencers? Where are they talking now? To whom are they talking, and how often do you engage with them? There are lots of tools and services that can help with this process, and if you stay focused on the idea of activating your 1000 true fans or identifying the 1% of web visitors who contribute the most content.

Ok, so get talking. But that’s really just the beginning. Continue reading “How do you quantify the value of an online community?”

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