Software companies that are poised to succeed provide timely support and education.

It’s a pattern that I keep seeing when speaking to SaaS companies—so much of their daily activities involve not just speaking to customers and answering technical questions, but also educating them by providing methodologies and knowledge.

Todd Curtis

I spoke to Todd Curtis, Chief Knowledge Officer at You Need a Budget (YNAB)—a personal home budget software that’s infused with practical methodology to help you get out of debt and master your finances.

“We are a software company, but we like to think of ourselves as an education company,” Todd said in our chat.

Indeed, take a peek into YNAB’s content and you’ll see how they’re tailoring their educational content for their customers to succeed: transparency in their methodology and philosophy, free online courses, customer stories, a blog, and more.

But their content isn’t the only voice for education. As a company whose customer support is entirely email-based, they ensure their teams are experts of the product and wise in the domain of personal finance.

YNAB product

YNAB’s Support Playbook

Tone and language are the building blocks to a customer’s perception.

At YNAB, they focus on four elements of support: friendly, accurate, direct, and fast. This is such a large part of their support culture that they put it in their playbook, or what they call The YNAB Support Ethic.

The YNAB Support Ethic

“The support reps are the face and voice of the company,” Todd said. “We look for people who are really good communicators, particularly in writing, since our support is all email-based… .We look for people who understand the product well and have used it in their own lives, which helps them connect with the customer.”

YNAB is a collaborative culture where you have to be willing to have your work visible to everybody, because feedback and learning together are staples in their day-to-day activities.

New support reps begin by answering customers’ questions so they feel involved from the moment they join the team.

“The objective in this onboarding is that each time you work, you finish smarter than you were before,” Todd said.

New hires are coached and given one-on-one feedback. As they learn the skills, they vicariously learn the culture.

“My vision is that no matter who fields a customer’s question, they’re going to give the best answer… .The idea is to level everybody up, so they’re equally good at everything. Of course, people do develop specialties. We ask those people to share what they’re good at so that everybody becomes good at it,” Todd said.

Let’s dig into that.

Teams That Learn Together, Grow Together

A culture of learning ensures that everybody on the team is on the same page; it ensures that everyone feels involved, motivated, and driven with purpose.

Indeed, learning is as important at YNAB as it is to remember to put the dollar sign in front of numbers.

Help Scout Happiness Report Happiness Ratings as seen in Help Scout

“Every week, one or two reps will do something called an autopsy. They go into the happiness reports and pull something from the previous week where they got a great rating or not-so-great rating. Then they do a post for the team that says, ‘Here’s what my objective was,’ and if it was a great report, ‘Here’s where I think I nailed it!’ … If it was not-so-great, “Here’s where I think this could be better.”…The idea is that they’re owning it and sharing it with everybody. Everyone can learn from the experience,” Todd said.

When the post is written up, it goes on Slack, where YNAB communicates. People will chime in and add comments and suggestions. The effects of this learning system echoes throughout the team:

  • New hires become familiar with the product and culture quickly
  • Reps can learn from one another to prepare themselves for tough questions
  • Feedback is clarified so it can be funneled to engineers and designers as the seeds for iteration.

In the pursuit of learning together, Todd and his team set up an internal knowledge base that is continually built upon. “It’s not just a list of snippets,” he said. “There’s intro material that says, ‘Here’s the potential use case for this response,’ and sections for each response that say, ‘Here are connections to the YNAB method. Here’s a sample case. Here are other resources that you might need.’”

All of this is fruitful for onboarding new hires and for helping existing team members answer difficult questions and record interesting conversations that may lead to product changes.

Fast Response Times and Why You Should Level Up Your Support Team

“We look at response time every week,” Todd said. “We do it because one of the things that we feel is most important for our customers is that they get a timely response.”

For YNAB’s team, it isn’t about individual response times, but rather how the entire team is operating in unison.

“It’s about, ‘How are we doing as a team?’” Todd explained. “We use happiness reports for the autopsies that I mentioned as a way to flag down if something was really good–or not. If someone feels like they need to improve their craft, such as their response times, we’ll bring the data in our one-to-one conversations. Our long-term goal is to have our average response time under an hour.”

Fast response times fulfill our innate desires for immediate gratification. We feel appreciated and heard when it seems that someone on the other end is patiently waiting for our email.

Curious as to how YNAB plans to achieve such a feat, I wondered about their long-term strategy for scaling the team and keeping response times low. Most companies, especially those with smaller teams, don’t have 24/7 support, but that doesn’t mean providing fast responses isn’t feasible.

“One of the reasons we don’t want to have specialists is because if somebody writes in with a question that falls in the realm of a specialist and that person who normally answers doesn’t work until 28 hours from now, that’s just too long for the customer to wait. If every rep is a specialist in everything, we can improve our response time for customers. Not to mention, it also makes the reps feel better as they’re working because they can handle whatever comes their way,” Todd said.

Help Scout is purposely designed to drop you into the next conversation after you finish replying to a customer. It removes the possibility of avoiding conversations that you feel are out of your league, and it inadvertently nudges you to become familiar with the array of customers’ needs in pursuit of the goal of inbox zero.

Thank you to Todd Curtis and You Need A Budget for being so generous with this valuable insight!

Paul Jun
Paul Jun

Paul is head of content at CreativeMornings and a Help Scout alum. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.