For me, support requests have been simultaneously one of the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of running Sifter. What I’ve found is that by making myself acutely aware of the value of those emails, it feels less like an interruption and more like an opportunity.

Currently, we get about 5-10 support requests per week that I spend anywhere from 15-45 minutes responding to and resolving. Sometimes it’s a matter of fixing a bug while others it’s just a matter of discussing feature ideas or explaining some of our design decisions. Over the last couple of years, there are a few techniques I’ve adopted to make support more useful.

Care. This comes naturally for me since I’m responsible for all aspects of Sifter, but caring deeply about every single support request makes a big difference. They aren’t tasks to be completed. They are opportunities to interact directly with people who use Sifter. After spending years consulting where we didn’t always have direct access to real users, it’s exciting to be able to do this, and it’s almost impossible not to be anxious about each and every email.

Turn it into a conversation. It would be a lot faster for me to just say, “Thanks! we’ll keep that in mind.” However, if I did that, I’d never really understand how people are using Sifter. By asking some additional questions or sharing some of our unpolished ideas, I’m able to get a clearer picture of how we can best help the most customers. These conversations have also served as kindling for ideas. I can’t imagine handling it any other way.

Respond quickly. I firmly believe in responding as quickly as possible without sacrificing the quality of the response. While this isn’t always easy, and was a huge source of frustration at first, I’ve been able to adapt. In my experience the speed of our replies has been the one thing that people regularly thank us for and truly appreciate.

Set boundaries. As obsessive as I’ve been about speedy replies, it was important to also set boundaries. The expectation of a speedy response is entirely my own. I put more pressure on myself than our customers ever could. In order to address this, I explicitly added “office hours” to our support page not for our customers but for me. I still regularly respond off hours if I can or if it’s urgent, but having the hours posted has helped me relax and not be so hard on myself about always turning emails around quickly.

Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, I get support requests that on the surface either don’t make any sense or seem like the person put zero thought into something before firing off an email to us. Sometimes, that’s the case. However, most of the time, it’s a simple misunderstanding. Email is a challenging medium for communication. By recognizing that and assuming that if someone has taken the time to email us, they have a good reason for it, I’m able to do a much better job helping them.

Don’t take it personally. In my case, Sifter is a huge part of my life. I didn’t build it just to make a living. I built it so that I could be excited about work every day. There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not spending a significant amount of time thinking about Sifter. Weekends. Vacations. It’s always on my mind. As a result, it’s incredibly difficult not to take everything personally. Sifter is a lot less like a job or career and more like having a child. So, while not always easy, I’ve found that it really helps to remind myself that it is never personal despite how much I care about it.

Make it personal. We’ve been trained to expect negative experiences anytime we have to request support from a company. People expect that the most likely scenario is that the person on the other end doesn’t care. I added a very brief personal message on our support page, and almost overnight, the general tone of support requests changed. People didn’t have to worry about whether they were going to get a cold response. They would immediately know that they have a direct line to some who cares and has the power to enact change.

Be ready for criticism. it’s going to happen. Take it with a grain of salt. The important thing to remember about criticism is that he alternative to criticism is’t praise, it’s silence. People don’t criticize something that they don’t care about. They only criticize things that are close to meeting their needs. You don’t need to worry when people criticize you, you need to worry when they stop.

There’s been many other lessons that I’ve learned, but these have helped me the most as I learn to balance support and development. I’m sure it will be a challenge if or when we reach a point that it makes sense for someone else to handle support, but for the time being, I wouldn’t change a thing.