Here’s the punchline: If you’re a start-up founder, make sure you’re a point of contact for help and support requests. It’s essential to your venture’s future. If you’re a leader in a large organisation and not spending a few hours each month in a call centre listening or taking calls from people your company serves, there’s a better than average chance you’ve lost touch with your customers.

My first job after leaving the Army was as a call centre consultant at a bank. I helped customers answer simple questions about their personal finances many times each day. After leaving this role for one in the bank’s ‘corporate centre’, direct contact with customers was rare. I missed hearing about their needs first hand and why the service we provided helped them live their lives.

Without these interactions, reports that presented summaries of data collected in customer satisfactory surveys became the primary source of knowledge about customers. I soon realised that organisations over rely on this data and use it as a key input to make decisions about strategy, marketing and product development.

Two years later I had the chance to return to the call centre for a day to jump back on the phone to customers. The calls varied as they used to be, some people were happy and others were frustrated and disappointed.

That day reconnected me to the people I was ultimately paid to serve and reminded me about the importance of preserving empathy for customer needs, no matter how far you might be from the front line.

Although most startups don’t have vast call centre operations to support customer service, the more compelling ventures have made user or customer support a core capabilityAirShr is no different. We want to be known for being responsive to ideas and think that can make AirShr essential to the lives of many. That’s why my co-founder Opher and I are the people who receive and manage all support communications from radio broadcaster (our customers) and radio listeners (our users) in addition to everything else that we do. Our obsession with user experience means that each time someone reaches out, we focus intently on the issue or feedback and move to address it as soon as possible with our engineering team. This approach has helped us uncover new product ideas and manage unexpected bugs that had the potentially to affect large audiences.

Here are three things we’ve done to create value from feedback and better connect with the people we serve:

Be grown up about dialogue

Gone are the days where having a support@ or info@ email address is sufficient. Today the expectation is that a conversation will take place soon after an issue has been raised with a human not a queue or an autoresponder. “But what if people know my contact details? I’ll be bombarded with calls and emails”. As absurd as this statement sounds, I’ve heard at least 10 first-time founders make this comment only for them to find the opposite when they start responding to support requests which include their contact details.

My friend and serial entrepreneur Adam Theobald taught me the value of this years ago when I sent him feedback via his BeatTheQ app. Only four to five minutes passed before I received a personal email from Adam addressing my issue. Impressive. Our contact details are made available in each of our responses to broadcasters or listeners who reach out to us. In fact, the more people that hear directly from Opher or me, the more we are greeted with

Our contact details are made available in each of our responses to broadcasters or listeners who reach out to us. In fact, the more people that hear directly from Opher or me, the more we are greeted with surprise that a company leader would make the time to respond. The truth is that this is one of the only ways for us to get raw feedback and we love it. Even if the call is difficult because the listener has been let down for some reason, we can understand the issue and make quick decisions to resolve their issue.

This played out for us just last week as one listener helped us understand that our Android app wasn’t playing nicely with the Galaxy S7, Samsung’s new flagship handset. This issue affected a portion of our audience with the same device and thanks to that listener engaging in a dialogue with us, the issue is a long way to solved.

Organise support workflow

It’s never been easier (or cheaper) to receive and respond to support requests from people using your product has never been easier. UserVoice and zendesk are two platforms that do this very well. We use UserVoicebecause it also helps us receive and organise new product ideas from people wanting to champion new AirShr features. Listeners can reach out to use from inside our apps or via our website and our customers can ask a question or suggest a feature right from within our online broadcast platform. And importantly we can access and respond immediately to any contact from our iPhone. Simple.

Spread the word

All team members need to understand why customers celebrate your product or why they recoil from its use. That said, not all feedback is gracious and constructive. It can vary from being complementary to abrasive and everything in between. One thing is for certain; for every person taking the time to contact you, there is a larger number of people who decided not to. So we make it a point to characterise each issue that we see via UserVoice. This typically involves having a call with the person who raised the issue, attempting to replicate the issue and then designing a solution if one is needed. This process involves the entire team which means we get to leverage the combined creative talents of the team to dissect and understand what we’re up against.

If all of what I’ve said sounds completely foreign, do yourself a favour and take three customer support calls in one day. What did you learn?

And remember, glowing references about your business don’t count 🙂