In July I interviewed for this podcast an entrepreneur in California. His business sells custom dental guards and, importantly, offers 24/7 customer support. How, I asked, can a small business afford 24/7 support?
“We use a third-party live-chat service called HelpFlow,” the entrepreneur told me.
It turns out that yet another entrepreneur founded HelpFlow. His name is Jon Tucker. I ran him down, seeking to understand that business.
What follows is my interview with Tucker. The audio of our entire conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about HelpFlow.
Jon Tucker: We run live chat and customer service teams for ecommerce brands. We’ve been doing it since 2015.
From the beginning we knew the value to any brand of good service. It’s tough to provide a 24/7 experience with fast response times. All owners think their business is complex, and they’re correct to a certain point. We’ve built an in-depth onboarding process, taking in tons of information about the business. It’s an intense form wizard.
We will know what you sell. We learn specific customer questions about shipping time and returns, as examples. We have a method of getting answers that apply to any store. Then we have a process to obtain info about the products — we pull in all your product pages, descriptions, and reviews. We have a crazy amount of data to answer product-specific questions, including the questions and answers from competitor sites and Amazon.
The result is a solid knowledge base from the first couple of days of onboarding. Then we work with the client to find additional queries. If we’re still unsure how to answer something, we’ll discuss with the client ways to respond.
It’s a very data-heavy process upfront to understand the business. We then update that data over time when people chat and clients give us feedback.
Bandholz: What’s your revenue model?
Tucker: We do a three-month initial contract, and then month-to-month. A new client is committed to 90 days, so there’s a bit of a financial buy-in. By then we’ve projected our costs and potential profit.
On the chat side, we charge a flat rate, depending on the chat volume, for 24/7 coverage. We don’t charge per chat, avoiding misaligned incentives with our clients.
We’re rigorous on tracking the sales generated from chat, knowing a client’s breakeven point and generating far above that, even with misattribution because some people who chatted would have bought anyway. We keep the pricing simple but make the reporting super granular for clients to understand the profitability.
Bandholz: Are you doing live chat only? What about email and web-based tickets?
Tucker: We started with just live chat until mid-2020. Then we launched customer service teams to run the entire helpdesk process — from tickets, social, and so on.
We did that for a couple of clients, and it worked well. So now there are two parts of our business. One is chat, which focuses on conversions. The other one is customer service operations. We can run an entire customer service team.
We offer staffing, too, for clients with a built-out process but need good agents.
Bandholz: Your agents are in the Philippines.
Tucker: Yes, we built the team from day one in the Philippines. The cultural differences are minor between that country and the U.S. and Western economies. In other regions, such as the Middle East, the differences are more pronounced. However, the Middle East is highly process-driven with phenomenal engineering. There’s a reason why they excel at software development.
Also, English is native in the Philippines. It’s a very Western culture, and the customer service industry is established.
Bandholz: What’s your technology stack, your software?
Tucker: If we’re responding to customer queries or staffing an agent, it’s all done on a client’s own systems working alongside the team there. Clients have access to every chat and provide feedback. We’ll have more access to a client’s systems if we’re doing full customer-service operations.
We’re super nerdy on forecasting. We project how many tickets will come in, how much manpower we will need, and when to start staffing. Our whole business revolves around forecasting and capacity tracking.
Bandholz: What is your vision for HelpFlow?
Tucker: The journey so far has been exciting. We were well positioned for Covid when ecommerce blew up. We grew a ton during that time. We’re focused now on scaling and expanding beyond ecommerce into other industries.
There are a lot of opportunities in healthcare, although it’s complex. All types of businesses need to provide 24/7 support.
Bandholz: Where can people connect with you or buy your services?
Tucker: Our website is HelpFlow.com. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn.