Customer Service Lessons I Learned from AngelList Co-founder Naval Ravikant
Let me start off by saying, I'm a pretty big AngelList fanboy. When we were raising our seed round for GiveForward in 2011 we turned to AngelList and, because of it, we ended up oversubscribed. But that's not why I'm a fan. I'm a fan because the customer service lessons I learned while interacting with AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant will last me a lifetime. I hope they can be as helpful to you as they have been to me.
Lesson # 1: Hustle like it's your first startup.
When I was creating our AngelList profile, I sent over a customer support email to AngelList and to my total surprise, instead of hearing back from some fresh-out-of-college customer support agent getting paid $15 an hour, Naval responded himself. WTF?
Here’s this very successful entrepreneur, a thought leader and a legend in Silicon Valley and he is rolling up his sleeves and responding to customer support emails like he's a 20-year-old kid bootstrapping his first startup.
Takeaway: You can't always outsmart your competition but you must always out-care the competition. There is no substitute for passion in the startup world. It doesn't matter if it's your first, fifth or tenth startup. AngelList works in part because Naval and his team care more than humanly possible and treat AngelList as if they still have everything to prove.
Here's a little secret: When it comes to customer service, your customers don't actually care all that much about the answer you give them. What they care about most is that you respect them. And part of respecting someone means answering their emails in a timely manner.
When I was corresponding back and forth with Naval I remember two things: (1) He never gave me the answers I actually wanted to hear; and (2) it didn't seem to matter at all, because his response time was lightning quick. It was crazy. As fast as I could type, Naval would respond to my questions. And this wasn't just during business hours. I'd send him emails at 11:30 PM and by 11:32 PM I'd have a response in my inbox.
I've seen this same phenomenon occur over and over again at GiveForward. No one becomes a fan of your company because you gave them the exact answer they were seeking. They become a fan because you listen to their problem with empathy, and you wow them with your stupidly fast response time.
Takeaway: Respond to your customer support emails in 30 minutes, and you'll have a happy customer. Respond within 3 minute and you're going to have a fan for life.
Lastly, this is by far the most important lesson I learned from Naval: Treat everyone with the same level of respect, regardless of who they are.
A few months ago Chris Dixon wrote a great post on "big timing". This is the practice where "people who are 'higher ranking' act disrespectfully toward people who are 'lower ranking.'"
What I admire most about Naval is that he does the exact opposite.
Instead of big timing, Naval does what I call small timing. He makes people who are not important, feel as if they are the most important people in the world. He doesn't do this, because he hopes to get anything back in return. He does it because he’s a mensch, and because it's the right thing to do.
When Naval emailed me back at 11:32 PM within minutes of me asking him a question, AngelList gained a fan for life. Here I was, a nobody with a tiny startup and this Silicon Valley legend is taking the time to answer my silly questions and treating me as if was the most important person in the world. He made me feel as if I was the CEO of Google or Facebook. And that's important.
Takeaway: Small timing > Big timing
Final Thoughts: Your goal with customer service at your company isn't to simply answer customer's questions. Your goal is to be like Naval. Hustle like it's your first startup, respond to people with empathy in a timely manner, and treat everyone with the same level of respect and kindness regardless of who they are, even when...scratch that...especially when they are a nobody.
And if you're a co-founder or CEO of your company, every once in a while, try answering a customer service email yourself. I can promise you that getting a personal email from the CEO will create a little bit unexpected joy in somebody's life and leave a long lasting impression on that person.
- One small caveat: I don't wish to set any false expectations with this post. My interactions with AngelList were in winter 2010/2011 when AngelList was still relatively small. If you are using AngelList today, chances are you're not going to get a personal email back from Naval, as AngelList has grown significantly in the past year and the extremely high touch level of customer service exhibited in their early days would be nearly impossible to scale.