We talked to Daria Leshchenko of SupportYourApp about making customer support services into a separate business, and she had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Daria Leshchenko: I think my family and I are not different from thousands of other families experiencing challenges with social distancing and health threats. However, I feel lucky to have everyone in my family healthy and to be able to stay in business during the crisis.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SupportYourApp.
Daria Leshchenko: I’ve been working in customer service since I was 19. I joined the company named IIG Group as a customer support representative. Soon I was promoted to the head of the support team. After some time, we received an inquiry from our friend’s startup to cover for their customer support. They had a technically enhanced product and needed qualified specialists who could help their customers with the product. I realized that with a growing tech industry and fast-paced startup movement, the market for affordable tech-oriented turnkey support was going to explode. I suggested making customer support services into a separate business. My partner, Peter, believed in my idea. Together we co-founded what today is known as SupportYourApp. I became CEO when I was 24. We’ve been on the market for 10 years, and within this time, we became a Top 3 customer support provider, grew to 800 people on the team, and landed 140 clients in 28 countries. Recently, I also founded a startup, Label Your Data providing data annotation services for machine learning.
How does SupportYourApp innovate?
Daria Leshchenko: We innovate in the directions of technologies and people management.
From a technological point of view, we created and kept improving the in-house developed CRM-system — QCRM.
Starting with basic features, over time, we developed two sub-technologies that helped us optimize the processes within it. For example, QUIDGET is an AI-empowered online live chat that can be incorporated directly onto the web page. QUOSTON is a machine learning algorithm designed to support agents’ productivity. It detects the intention of the inquiry and analysis sentiment of the ticket, flagging angry or frustrated customers. Based on these indicators, the system prioritizes the tickets with the most urgent issues and provides a suggested reply.
Despite the growing role of technology in customer service, it’s in its nature a human2human business, so our innovative approach goes beyond tech. We experimented with our workspace transforming it into an office-art gallery.
My co-founder and I were personally involved in the construction of the second office, aimed to design a creative environment, and introduce the team to the local art scene. Since people are reluctant to visit art galleries, why don’t we bring a gallery to people? This thought brought us to a fruitful cooperation with modern Ukrainian artists. Our walls became a blank canvas for them, and today it features ten unique murals.
The experiment with art as part of the workplace was so successful that our team requested to do the same in our third office that will host over two dozen paintings.
We noticed a positive impact of art on the work culture and team spirit. It makes the workplace more comfortable, work — more enjoyable, and the team more productive and proud of their company.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Daria Leshchenko: In March 2020, SupportYourApp lost 15% of the business. Just like any service provider, we lost clients in the travel and entertainment industries. At the same time, we had 500 to keep on payroll and switched to WFH mode within days. Since we work with clients’ sensitive information, switching to remote work had to happen with the preservation of the highest cybersecurity standards. It was a challenging time, but with the help of the team, we were able to make all the necessary changes.
I personally negotiated the possibility of remote work with the clients. When they insisted on a physical presence at the workplace, I organized a safe transfer for the team. My business development team jumped on new opportunities to compensate for the business losses. We landed 35 new clients in 2020 and achieved a projected annual growth despite all the challenges COVID-19 brought upon us.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Daria Leshchenko: I think the hardest choice I had to make was to decide — to open the third office or not. We had to decide by April when there was no certainty when and how the world gets back to normal. We didn’t know if we needed it after all with the growing trend of remote work. I took a risk and decided to plan for the future — one way or another, we will grow, and if not soon, at some point, we will need more space. We pursued the construction. After a couple of months of remote work, the team started asking to come back to the office. One thing Covid-19 didn’t change — the need to invest in people.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Daria Leshchenko: We use Slack for chatting and Google Workspace tools for formal communication. In our case, it’s not about the software we use but about the culture of communication.
With switching to WFH mode, we established a schedule of regular syncs between the departments, teams, and teammates. Our representatives were left without direct management for the first time, probably, ever. We wanted to make sure they get enough guidance and don’t feel left out in the team, so we briefed managers on the importance of regular syncs and emotional support of subordinates.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Daria Leshchenko: I think any BPO company would consider itself our competitor, but we work differently. Our pricing model, service packages, and approach to cooperation with a client is nothing like other BPO providers have. We are a Support as a Service company that provides augmented customer support, integrating into client’s product and service teams, not just outsourcing people to answer the emails. I think this wholesome approach and high flexibility is our major advantage over our competitors that will make us stand out in the market.
Your final thoughts?
Daria Leshchenko: Like any crisis, COVID-19 was a test on adaptivity and flexibility of business, and I’m happy to say that SupportYourApp has passed it successfully. Innovations and creativity have always been antidotes to any crisis, and this one is not an exception. I’d recommend any startup not be afraid to pivot and change when circumstances require it — sometimes, it’s the only way to survive in times of uncertainty.