What is SaaS Customer Support? Examples and Best Practices

Illustration by Bronwyn Gruet
Illustration by Bronwyn Gruet

You’ve built a great product and launched it successfully. Your website is up, and the sales are starting to roll in. Have you forgotten anything? Oh, shoot! Your customers have questions!

No matter how well you’ve designed your product, you will still have to answer questions from your customers. However, most founders don’t come from customer support backgrounds, which can make setting up a support strategy difficult.

Rest assured, we have all the answers to get you started in this guide to delivering top-notch SaaS customer support.

Defining SaaS customer support

SaaS customer support is the act of assisting customers during both the pre- and post-sale journey with your product. When customers run into trouble or have questions, your support team will be there to provide answers and help them find success with your product.

Your SaaS customer support team may also be responsible for continuing education for your customers in the form of webinars, knowledge base documentation, and other educational resources.

Why is customer support important for SaaS companies?

Customer support for SaaS companies is one of the best ways to understand your customers’ feelings about your business. Often, before any issues surface in customer satisfaction surveys, they will become apparent in your support inbox.

Your SaaS support team is an invaluable resource for your product and engineering teams to gain deeper insights and inform their future planning.

Beyond that, your customer support team is a reflection of your brand. Customer service is often the first (or only) place your customers come into contact with real people in your business.

The mission and values your staff demonstrate to those customers will define your business reputation, and a great reputation can retain customers even more effectively than your product itself.

In SaaS — with monthly subscriptions and high customer churn rates — it’s essential to retain as many customers as you can, and your support team plays a key role in doing that.

Critical components of a great SaaS support strategy

It’s a common misconception that all you need to do to have a good support function is hire caring people. While that certainly is incredibly important in the long run of your support strategy, a few other components are also profoundly impactful.

A well-defined customer service philosophy

A well-defined set of goals naming what you’re trying to accomplish and what your customers need will help you provide the support your customers will value and appreciate.

Answer the following questions to understand what your support should look like:

  • Are your values easily applicable to your support strategy?
  • What tone and language do you want your team to use?
  • How do your competitors currently offer customer service, and how can you differentiate yourself from them, both through your product and through your support strategy?
  • How will you handle customer escalations and disagreements?
  • Is there any form of customer service — email, self-service, phone, social media, or live chat support — that you will not or cannot offer your customers?
  • How will you measure quality, and who is responsible for measuring and delivering it?
  • How would you like your customers to describe the service you provide?

The answers to these questions will shape your ideal customer service strategy, and you can build your support system with these answers in mind.

The right customer service tools

While you probably could dig a moat using just a spork, it would take you significantly longer than if you had an excavator. The right tools make every job more manageable. To understand what tools you’ll need, answer the following questions:

  • Where do your customers need help?
  • What do your customers expect from you?
  • What skills do your team members currently boast?
  • Where do your competitors accept support requests?
  • What types of questions are your team usually answering?

Reliable customer service on just a few channels will always beat out inconsistent customer service across every channel. Use these questions to balance your customers’ hunger for content with where your team can provide the best customer service.

For instance, if you have customers asking deeply technical questions, directing them to submit a support ticket may not be as effective as a channel that allows you to co-browse with them.

If customers are complaining about long response times, adding live chat support as an option could help you increase customer satisfaction.

And it you’re struggling to offer support on your main channels, it likely better to just focus on improving your support where you’re already offering it then to add social media support and extend your team even further.

Add tools to your team’s tool belt only if they will help you deliver on your customer service philosophy and only if you’ve done the research to understand their impact.

A great SaaS support team

Not everyone has the right skills and attitude to deliver excellent SaaS customer service. At a minimum, an excellent support agent should possess emotional intelligence, empathy, and creative communication skills.

From there, you can hire for specific sets of skills required to work with your product and within the context of your support team. That may include domain-specific learning, experience with particular tools, or even legal requirements based on location.

Define what the ideal candidate looks like for your team, and then hire with that in mind. Without an amazing group of people providing your support experience, all your strategies and tools won’t make a difference.

Once you’ve hired a fantastic team, decide how to measure their success. Not only will this prove to the rest of your company that support is valuable, but it also gives your team members the tools to improve their work and build their support careers.

8 SaaS customer support best practices

While the basic principles of support are straightforward (reply to customers, be kind and helpful, and solve their problems), delivering great support requires strategies that aren’t always obvious.

Here are 8 SaaS customer support best practices that you may not have considered, but they’ll make your life (and your customers’ lives) more manageable.

1. Prioritize documentation

One of the first support tools you should build is a thorough knowledge base. Any time you spend creating documentation will pay off ten-fold later on.

Not only do 70% of customers say they prefer to answer their questions using a self service option, but encouraging customers to search your knowledge base will reduce your incoming ticket volume.

Onboarding new employees is much easier if you’ve written down the information they need. Without documentation, your employees store everything in their heads. When agents leave, take a sick day, or are simply busy, your team will struggle to answer customer questions effectively.

Having documented product knowledge is key to providing a great customer experience, especially as your company grows.

2. Build a close relationship between support and product

It can be tempting to hire a few entry-level employees and put them to work responding to customers. But creating a silo between support and the rest of the company will cause a whole host of problems down the road.

Customer support spends the most time talking directly to customers. They know what customers want, what they struggle with, and how they communicate. Building a strong connection between support and the rest of the company will help keep your focus on the customer as you grow.

To develop this cross-functional communication bridge, bring customer support members into your SaaS product team’s meetings, circulate support conversations within the company, highlight customer satisfaction survey responses in Slack, and build connections between employees in different departments.

3. Measure your progress

What does “good” support mean to you and your customers? Without measuring the results, you won’t know if you’re delivering great support that makes a difference to your business.

First, you’ll need to measure the performance of your support team (even if that’s just one person). The most critical customer support metrics to keep an eye on are:

  • Number of tickets: Is the volume going up, down, or staying the same?
  • Average response time: Are you consistently responding quickly to customer requests?
  • Customer satisfaction: Do customers indicate that they are happy with your service?

It’s also essential to understand how your customer support efforts are impacting your growth. When the Help Scout support team focused on support-driven growth strategies, they found that 70% of the people who chatted with them while on trial ended up as paying customers.

To measure this number for yourself, consider analyzing the number of customers who upgrade from trial to paid customers as well as the number of customers who churn after talking to customer support.

The right help desk software makes it easy to track key metrics and use that data to continuously improve your team’s performance and your customer experience.

4. Make guidance easy to find

Since support is a driver for SaaS customer retention and growth, it’s crucial to make it easy to find. Instead of hiding your “Contact Us” form down within the footer of your site, include live chat boxes, document searches, and links to documentation throughout your product.

Make it easy for your customers to find out where they need to go to get help — maybe even going so far as to provide in-context support where you can, like what’s available in Help Scout’s Beacon.

5. Choose the proper channels for your team and your customers

Many companies assume that the faster the channel, the better it will be for your customers. In actuality, though, that’s just not true.

Take time to understand which channels your customers are using to contact you and if they are hungry for a different contact method. You should be able to look, for instance, for the number of times “phone support” has been mentioned within a ticket in your help desk.

If your customers aren’t asking for a specific channel, you probably don’t need to offer it unless there’s a real opportunity to provide significantly better support.

It’s better to do a few things excellently than many things poorly. Your customers will be more impressed by an excellent response (even if it’s not over their preferred channel) than they would have been waiting for a long time to get a poor answer in a channel they like.

6. Offer support proactively rather than reactively

For most support teams, reactive responses are their bread and butter. A customer sends an email, and your support team responds. In SaaS customer support, though, there is a ton of value in providing proactive support before your customer ever becomes upset or lost.

Over 67% of users prefer self-service support over contacting your team and waiting for an answer.

Take note of the types of questions your customers are asking, and consider writing up easy-to-find documentation or in-context support within the form of product guides, tooltips, or searchable documentation.

Of course, if a page is super confusing or tons of people are reaching out about a specific issue, fixing the product is the best solution. Still, excellent documentation can be a good bridge if a fix is not imminent.

Not only does this provide a better experience for your customers, but it also frees up your support team to work on more complicated issues.

7. Ask for and listen to customer feedback

The best people to tell you how you are doing with your customer service are your actual customers. Give them plenty of opportunities to tell you what you are or aren’t doing well.

For instance, include links at the bottom of all of your support emails that prompt the customer to say whether the response was excellent or could have been better.

You can use surveys to gauge your customers’ satisfaction (Customer Satisfaction Score), how much effort they need to put into getting help (Customer Effort Score), and even whether they would recommend your product to a friend (Net Promoter Score).

Offer these surveys often and within the context of customer interaction, and you’ll gain tons of excellent insights on how to improve both your product and your support strategy.

8. Automate routine behaviors

If you find your team members repeatedly performing the same specific actions, it may be time to automate them.

For instance, if you are manually handling refunds every day, it may make sense to automate the process to save time and effort.

The same applies to many day-to-day activities on a support team, and saved replies or tools like TextExpander and Zapier can be enormous savers of time and effort. Many customer service software platforms offer automation features you can take advantage of.

Examples of SaaS companies with great customer support

Companies that deliver great support don’t just benefit from happy customers — their focus on the customer experience becomes a unique selling point. Customers will pay up to 25% more to work with a company known for its outstanding service.

The companies listed below have become well known for their support and likely enjoy much of their success because of it.

Zapier

Zapier supports a wide range of users — from beginners who are just trying automation for the first time to power users running advanced scripts across many different integrations.

Why is their support so good? They offer a variety of ways for customers to get help, including community support. Plus, they’re big advocates of all hands support, which helps every employee feel connected to their customers.

SkySlope

SkySlope is a real-estate broker software company that saw a record high customer satisfaction rating of 97.5% in 2019.

Why is their support so good? Customers say their support team’s patience is notable. SkySlope’s support team prioritizes taking the necessary time to provide complete resolutions:

“We strive to provide as much time and resources needed to meet the requests of our customers. At the same time, we are committed to providing a phenomenal, delightful, and positive experience for everyone.”

Buffer

Buffer has mastered its tone and style, which should come as no surprise given that they are a social media company.

However, it’s not just their excellent online banter that sets them apart. Buffer makes it extremely straightforward to find a solution no matter where you are within the product. They offer easy-to-find support on every single page within their app.

Customers can find answers without leaving the page they’re on instead of searching for and then navigating to their help docs. Even better: When the customer does find the information they need, they are already within the product, ready to pick up where they left off.

Why is their support so good? Buffer helps customers help themselves without ever having to leave their product. Life is better when you don’t have to email support.

Headspace

Headspace does a fantastic job at onboarding and retaining new customers, almost entirely due to their onboarding email strategy rather than the stickiness of the product itself.

Their first email includes tons of tips about how to get started and why their product may be valuable for you, whereas the rest of the email campaign is designed specifically with traditional user patterns in mind.

For instance, when the user inevitably drops off in usage, Headspace has a clever guided email with the user’s persona in mind.

Why is their support so good? Headspace has taken the time to get to know its customers and has written compelling and helpful guidance.

Grovo

Grovo isn’t a household name like some of the other SaaS products on this list, but they’ve indeed differentiated themselves when it comes to support. The microlearning company has done an excellent job at creating a helpful and comforting chatbot — not two words typically associated with bots.

Using their own product, they’ve created a chatbot that automatically prompts users with questions they might ask based on the page they are on.

Many people instantly shut down when they realize they are speaking to a bot rather than a “real human,” but when the bot suggests the questions, it takes all of the work out of the interaction and helps customers find the answers they need.

Why is their support so good? Preemptively volunteering a customer’s potential questions is next-level proactivity.

SaaS customer support adds more value than you think

Customer support feels like a necessary evil for most companies — you have customers, and you have to support them, right? But when done correctly, it has the potential to be hugely impactful for your bottom line, retention, product velocity, and even product adoption.

A great support experience can smooth a customer’s path through the buying cycle. And if you provide excellent support to a customer when they are considering a competitor, it may be the differentiator between sticking with your product or going elsewhere.

Start by developing your strategy. From there, pick the right tools to get you where you want to go, and staff the team that will get you there. Ensure that your team is giving your customer what they want most, and track your metrics and your progress.

There are tons of great companies doing excellent SaaS customer support, so take inspiration anywhere you can, and implement some of their best practices into your own support strategy.

Mercer Smith
Mercer Smith

Mercer is the VP of Customer Success at Venafi, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter.

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