Providing Phone Support When Bootstrapping

Q: I am bootstrapping a e-commerce web startup and working a day job to fund my business until revenue takes off. I am getting ready to launch but am worried how I can provide phone support for customer service issues and to close sales. Any suggestions?

I have some questions:

  1. How important is live telephone customer service to your model? What is your estimate for the fraction of your sales transactions will require a live conversation?
  2. If you don’t offer live support do you lose just those transactions or are more people uncomfortable buying? What is your estimate on the impact of sales of live support vs. email only (with some delay).
  3. Is the site viable without synchronous voice support? Is it the perception of live support that’s important? Can you post a phone number on the site that takes messages and check during your lunch hour or a coffee break. The number of people who call a number vs. see it may be 1% (I am speculating).
  4. If you were doing this full time but solo and managing the calls started to become a problem what would you do? The solutions you anticipate using at that point should be the first you consider.

Is This Really Your Biggest Risk?

I worry you are optimizing for a problem that you may not have instead of a challenge you are likely to face: no one is visiting your site. Is this telephone customer service issue really  the highest risk item you are worried about? Even if you lose 50% of your possible sales due to lack of live customer support it still may be viable to bootstrap and you may be able to use messages left or emails sent as a proxy for demand.

Predictable Quality Service Better Than Low Cost For Building Your Brand

Forming a business relationship with one part time person who can learn your products may do more to help you to scale than looking at a low cost per minute generic service, but I offer that as an opinion not backed by data. Finding someone that you know will be pleasant and patient can do a lot to help your brand.

Net Net: Your Brand Is The Promise You Keep

Net Net: make a promise you can keep: for example, commit to 24 hour response to emails. Or 12 hour, 8 hour, 4 hours depending upon your day job. If you are selling  globally even less than 12 hour response gets difficult unless you advertise “US office hours” or two different response levels depending upon time of day.

If you are selling something where every customer has to be able to call and  talk to someone then you probably cannot bootstrap it the way you are trying to without hiring someone or asking for help from someone who can answer the phone.

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