Involving engineers in customer support is invaluable to solving problems fast.

By Laura Behrens Wu (Founder & CEO, Shippo)

This is part seven of a series from one of our How To Conference speakers. Laura Behrens Wu spoke on our panel How to Create Value with the Right Business Model. Read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five and part six.

If you lead a B2B company in the e-commerce space, your customers are the backbone of your company and you are nothing without them. That means your customers will not stick around if you haven’t built a team of people who genuinely care about your customers. That’s why it is absolutely critical that you build a team who will love your customers as much as you do.

Customer service is the core of our business. We decided this early on. We are constantly in tune with our customers’ needs and solicit feedback from them often. We also onboard all employees with a start in customer support and have each of our engineers do a regular rotation of customer support.

The involvement of our engineers is a less common practice in the startup world, but we’ve found it invaluable. Performing customer support functions helps our engineers understand Shippo from the user’s perspective, including the language customers use to describe problems, which is often quite different from developer vernacular. Engineers can solve technical problems as they arise, rather than waiting for issues to move through To-Do lists and be relayed to them. This cycle of engineering engagement in customer support means the product is improved more quickly and the engineering project backlog is better prioritized.

You will never have a single employee who is too good for helping customers. Not only is it gratifying to help people solve their problems, but customer service is also, far and away, the number one way to determine your product’s exact value proposition and understand your product-market fit.

For engineers who spend their days waist-deep in code and wireframes, it’s very easy to become removed from the actual use cases of a product. Interacting with customers directly allows your team to understand exactly how or why a process, error or other element of your product is troubling them. The ability to see the product that you’re building with fresh eyes and outside perspective can go a long way in teaching you about aspects of your product you might not have even considered. I’m a strong advocate of founders doing customer support themselves in the early days, as well!

Whether you’re hiring a full-time customer support person or ensuring that all of your employees are involved in support in some way, you should be building a team of people who are intrinsically motivated to create the best experience for every customer.

It’s a tall order to find the right person to lead customer service efforts. For Shippo, our first customer support hire was Laura Berk, who built up the entire customer communication side of our business and operationalized our customer support processes. Laura was entirely overqualified for customer support, but far more impressive than her qualifications were her empathy, her ambition to learn about Shippo by learning from customers, and the fact that she genuinely cares. Just as important, I knew in my gut that Laura would be a good fit for Shippo (and it isn’t just because we have the same first name!) A few months ago, Laura hired Susanna to take over customer service. These are the qualities that Laura looks for when hiring ninjas like Susanna:

  •           Friendliness
  •           Empathy
  •           Resourcefulness
  •           Patience
  •           Inquisitiveness
  •           Adaptivity

Two other qualities that are often harder to spot during an interview process — but are no less important — are detail-orientation and conscientiousness. The shipping industry is convoluted and customers’ questions often have subtle differences, even if they’re on the same topic. Understanding and picking up on these subtleties is a must. Conscientiousness is important for managing dozens of customer accounts and communication threads at once. It’s easy to become lost in weeds of information and questions, but conscientious people don’t lose their focus.

Our team’s personalized care speaks volumes to our desire to engage and help our customers. At the end of the day, we want to empower them to grow their businesses bigger, better and smarter. We hire people who understand this mantra and are excited to contribute to it in a big way — including engineers!

About the guest blogger: Laura Behrens Wu is the founder and CEO of Shippo. Shippo simplifies shipping for e-commerce companies by offering discounted shipping rates and a streamlined solution across all different shipping providers. It provides Amazon-level logistics for e-commerce stores, marketplaces, and platforms. Laura is proud to be a first-time founder, currently leading a team of 14 people at Shippo. Prior to founding Shippo, Laura worked at LendUp and was educated at the University of St. Gallen & Harvard College. Follow her on Twitter at @laurabehrenswu.