Going the distance with your customer

Going the distance with your customer

Enterprise Tech Startup50

Chargebee’s krish subramanian urges entrepreneurs running subscription-based businesses to adopt customer support as their mantra to sales


Selling to a prospective customer, someone you have little information on is bound to be a challenge for any entrepreneur. Krish Subramanian, co-founder, ChargeBee, runs a subscription billing and payments business, where thanks to the nature of the dealings, customers prioritize getting to know whom they are working with.  “It’s tough to sell when you are a nobody,” says Subramanian while adding that it is especially so in his business as there is a direct impact on cash flows. He makes a great point in saying everyone asks the same questions while doing business with a startup but only a few verbalize their concerns so it is in the best interests of a business owner to address these in the best manner possible. At the very beginning, he urges entrepreneurs to examine two factors, lifetime value of the customer and customer acquisition costs, as this would provide greater clarity on doing business.

Today, ChargeBee handles over US$250 million in global transactions annually with customers across businesses in IT, SaaS and e-commerce and venture capital firms Accel Partners and Tiger Global have invested in excess of US$6 million in the company. As Subramanian says, inspiring trust in these customers did not happen overnight. In its case, the company’s route to customer acquisition has always been through customer support and Subramanian believes that this is very important as most subscription businesses today go through a cycle of brief evaluation and a subsequent signing of deals. Gone are the days when a sales pitch followed by a demonstration was good enough to drive selling to enterprises. In Subramanian’s words, the purchase of software, for instance, has moved from being a capital expenditure to an operating expenditure as customers can now opt for monthly contracts. This also allows them to continuously evaluate support and performance and make decisions accordingly.

At the very beginning, Krish Subramanian urges entrepreneurs to examine two factors, lifetime value of the customer and customer acquisition costs, as this would provide greater clarity on doing business.

How ChargeBee won customers over

At ChargeBee, there are a few fundamentals in place that help the organisation with customer acquisition and these are as follows.

Build product for self service

First things first, the company’s website is the gateway to a relationship with a prospective customer and it should be self-explanatory. Subramanian stresses on appropriate calls to action in the website which will help the company gauge customer interest. He also talks of the importance of providing API (application program interface) documentation and tutorials that are updated with new product releases.

Assist customer usage of product

At ChargeBee, the company has set up a test dummy payment gateway which is bundled with its free trials and this has helped it tremendously with customer acquisition. Subramanian says that for a customer, this experience is paramount, as he/she understands data flows as they would happen in reality. The kind of customer support on offer also makes a big difference and in the case of ChargeBee, emails are the preferred choice of communication. Subramanian explains by saying that even when customers request a telephone call to gain clarity, the support team addresses the queries in painstaking detail on email, and this has at most times eliminated the need for a follow-up call.

Understand customer usage of product

Subramanian is very clear in his message that in this day and age, there are no excuses for being unaware of how your customer uses your product. He says that asking smart questions, based on data analysis and summary reports, leads to effective conversations with customers.

Enable sales of product

As Subramanian says, one of the most important things for a business is to preempt questions that prospective customers might ask and provide relevant answers on the company website. This is especially true in the case of a business like ChargeBee as other companies use its services to build their businesses on.

Varied pricing on product

With regards to pricing today’s customers expect a much higher level of transparency. In Subramanian’s words, nobody wants to see an asterisk on a price list on a website. In ChargeBee’s case, pricing travels with the customer so the company offers an entry-level pricing and this escalates depending on usage. At a higher pricing, it offers value-added services that are aligned with it.

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