To paraphrase a bearded man I saw on TV: I don't always handle customer support requests but when I do – I love it. Here's why:
It keeps me real
When we raised outside capital, the first thing we did was hire someone to take over day-to-day support issues. At first, it was a pleasant relief from what can be a stressful, time-consuming task. But after a while, I started to feel out of touch with what was going on with our customers. A weekly report summarizing the top issues gave me an idea, but with distance between myself and our customers, it was very easy to dismiss the issues as user errors or “we’re just not explaining it right.”
I don’t remember when I started handling some of the support load again, but it was immediately clear that I had been missing something very important. Having direct contact with our users puts a face on our customer base and helps me understand the problems customers are attempting to solve with our solutions.
When you see truth behind those "annoying" customer requests, it really lights a fire under you. There have been a couple "screw it, we're fixing this now" moments since I took over support…and often these were issues I'd be told about previously but just hadn’t understood. That's invaluable information for any CEO.
It WOWs customers
People get genuinely excited when they see that their issue has gone all the way to the CEO’s desk. I always find this a bit funny, because we’re clearly not a Fortune 500. Hell, we don’t even have a single VP in our org structure (wait, do we even have an org structure?). Nevertheless, that doesn’t seem to matter.
Mostly, I think it's because of what it says about them. That they're so important to the company that I’ve prioritized their support question above anything else I could be doing at that moment. And that's exactly the message we want to send to all of our customers because it a) is true and b) makes them want to tell other people about us.
It’s personally affirming
Handling support can be a real nightmare if you come at it from the wrong angle. It can be hard, especially hard as a founder, to answer support requests because people are complaining about YOUR baby! They must be wrong! How dare they! Once you get past this natural defensiveness, support can actually be a genuine source of personal affirmation.
These are people that WANT to be your customer. We know this because they've taken the time to try your product, and they've even taken the time to write you to ask for help (rather than just leaving). This is a huge opportunity. You not only have the power to help someone out but also create a customer (and probably an ecstatic, evangelistic customer) in the process. What's not to like about that?
It's not for everyone and I don't know that I could do this full-time along with my other responsibilities but I do consider it a core part of my role at UserVoice. And I do think every CEO (and hell, every VP of anything) should take a moment to think about what they might be missing, what they might be sacrificing by not spending time talking to their customers.