Nonprofit Customer Service - 6 Tips To Get it Right From the Beginning

September 19, 2018 | Accelerator, Blog

Got an App? You Need Customer Support for That!

Field of Dreams was right with the whole, “If you build it they will come,” thing. If you’re building a tech nonprofit product that will (hopefully… scratch that – definitely!) amass a large user base, be prepared for those users to come running with support questions. And when those users come running, you better have strong supports in place. Nonprofit customer service is absolutely critical, because you are building products for vulnerable populations.

All of the tech nonprofits in our 2018 cohort have built customer facing products, and are in the preliminary stages of determining customer support strategies. Luckily, Fast Forward has partnered with the incredible folks at Zendesk. We’re so grateful that Dave Dyson, Senior Customer Service Evangelist, and Pedro Muller, Startup Initiative Manager, led a session at Fast Forward’s Accelerator. The duo provided an insightful training to our teams on the importance of setting up a strong customer experience from the very beginning.

Zendesk <> Fast Forward
Pedro Muller, Zendesk Startups Initiative Manager

It’s Never Too Early to Put Customers First

For a company focused on growing its user base, customer service can seem like a superfluous afterthought. A common question from small startups is, “Do I really need to care about building a customer service system?” The answer is YES!

Early-stage tech nonprofits have more issues to worry about than there are hours in the day (it’s not easy!), but making customer experience a priority in your organization early on is crucial. Zendesk recommends building a customer service plan before you even have customers. This is especially true for tech nonprofits that are serving sensitive needs like healthcare, human rights, and education. Your first users are make it or break it, so delivering an experience with “wow-factor” could lead to early customer advocates.

Zendesk <> Fast Forward
Alexander Aghassipour, Zendesk CPO & Founder, with Objective Zero team

Fire Prevention: Proactive Customer Support

Most people think of customer support as predominantly reactive, but Dave urges people to think of customer service as more than just putting out fires. Studies outlined in The Effortless Experience showed that what drives customer loyalty are not the ‘Wow moments,’ it’s making things easy for your customer. “And what drives customers crazy is when they have a rough time getting their needs met,” Dave shared.

Zendesk <> Fast Forward
Dave Dyson, Zendesk Senior Customer Service Evangelist, with Sam Gorman from Peerlift

“Can’t we just use an email inbox for customer service?”

You can, but there are much better tools for the job. Dave likens this to using a pen and paper for your accounting system. While it’s possible, no company with visions of making an impact is going to settle for that.

You might serve a small subset of users now, but imagine if a minor bug arises that’s not immediately caught because you’re receiving a low frequency of user feedback. When your user base grows and you suddenly have thousands of emails asking about the bug, will you be ready to handle the inquiries without established systems? Without having given much thought to your customer support system, the answer is likely no.

nonprofit customer service
The Fast Forward Accelerator Session, made possible by Zendesk

Great customer ticketing systems enable you to track emails and requests, so you can use the data to rethink how you support customers. Whether it be through something as simple as an improved FAQ page, to a more complex product redesign, carefully tracking customer feedback will greatly improve customer experience in the long run. According to Pedro, anytime you’re getting a question more than once, “Boom! Put that into an article.”

The Right Tools

There are lots of tools you can use to support your customers throughout their customer life cycle. The right tools might include:

  • Ensuring accountability across your customer facing team
  • Automation, which can range from automatic response to routing tickets to certain queues
  • A robust public-facing knowledge base so people can self-help and get their questions answered quickly
  • Ticket forms that ask the customer to self-select what they’re having trouble with. This can also help you divide your customers into queues by need
  • Macros so your employees don’t need to keep answering the same questions again and again
  • Channels to meet your customers where they need you – email, social media, chat, phone… you name it
  • Satisfaction surveys, which allow you to ask customers how their experience was
nonprofit customer service
Steven Yan, Zendesk Connect VP & GM, with Tarjimly team

Anticipate the Customer Journey

It’s critical to think about all the ways your customers will interact with your organization. Some questions to ask yourself to ultimately inform your customer’s experience are:

  • How do they find out about you?
  • How do you communicate with them?
  • What questions might naturally arise from how you are marketing to them?
  • How do they make use of your product or service?
  • When will they need help and where are they likely to be?
  • What device are they using?
  • What emotional state are they likely to be in, and how urgent will their needs be?
  • How knowledgeable will your customers be?
nonprofit customer service
Jason Smale, Zendesk VP Engineering

Answers to these questions will naturally guide you towards building a customer interaction system that supports your customers’ needs before they even arise!

Some Customer Service Tips ‘N Tricks

Dave and Pedro gave us lots of great tips. Here’s a list of the top things to keep in mind!

  • Be intentional. Value customer service in the same way you think about all the other pieces of your product
  • Keep the customer’s needs at the forefront
  • Invest in tools and people
  • Process < People. Your people will be delivering the customer experiences and services. The purpose of the tools is to make their jobs easier to ultimately give your end users the best possible experience
  • Refine, iterate, and improve.
  • Codify your processes! Really, write it all down, especially when you are a small organization. Word of mouth doesn’t scale, and to keep policies and processes clear across the board, keep them in writing

More Tools

For those looking to build up their Customer Support System, Zendesk recommends Zendesk Training (courses to support the people driving your customer’s experience), Relate by Zendesk (a deep dive into human interactions and empathy, among other things), Support Driven (an independent, global community of support professionals), and Zendesk for Startups (an incubation program including specialist office hours, a series of content curated for startups, and $2,616 in Zendesk credits for six months).

Huge thanks to Zendesk, who began supporting Fast Forward last year as part of its mission to provide support to organizations committed to improving our communities. And a special shoutout to all the Zendesk mentors, including Zendesk Co-Founder, Alexander Aghassipour, Zendesk Connect VP & GM Steven Yan, Zendesk VP Engineering Jason Smale, Senior Customer Service Evangelist, Dave Dyson, and Zendesk Startups Initiative Manager, Pedro Muller for teaching us a thing or two about customer experience!

Here are some photos from the 2017 Fast Forward Accelerator session at Zendesk: