Daria Leshchenko: “Give the right tools and the right amount of freedom”

Don’t make fake promises, if you can’t deliver the expected results. I would also say, stick to your promise and overdeliver just a tiny bit. Let’s say you promised a customer their order delivery within 3 days, and you know that you can deliver it within exactly 3 days, but you might as well deliver […]

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Don’t make fake promises, if you can’t deliver the expected results. I would also say, stick to your promise and overdeliver just a tiny bit. Let’s say you promised a customer their order delivery within 3 days, and you know that you can deliver it within exactly 3 days, but you might as well deliver it within 1, and you make it happen. That’s when a wow-moment takes place for a customer.

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daria Leshchenko. Daria is the CEO and Partner at SupportYourApp — turnkey customer support solutions’ provider for the latest companies in Tech from all over the world. She is Harvard Kennedy School alumni and the first Ukrainian woman invited to the Forbes Technology Council. Daria is also a mentor at Google Women Hackathon, Startup Weekend Ladies, and Seedstars. In 2018, Women Ukraine magazine named Daria one of the 500 most powerful women in Ukraine.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

SupportYourApp kicked off as a one-man army in 2010. In the beginning, there was only one client, and I was investing all of my time into work, answering calls and requests 24/7 while practically living at the office.

Without any experience in hiring, I learned which questions to ask and how to conduct interviews. It was really intense and challenging but I managed to build a great team that helped the company to thrive.

A friend of mine from a successful startup came to our office and asked if we could help him with customer support and that’s how we realized that there’s a demand for our service.

In 2010 our company was called “Yellow Media Group”, and during the first 2–3 years it was all about the “trial and error” approach. By the end of 2012 it was becoming clear that something didn’t work, we couldn’t attract as many clients as we anticipated, and something had to happen.

That’s when we made a strategic decision to rebrand our business, and became ‘SupportYourApp’. The message became more clear to our clients, and we got on the growth track, and haven’t stopped ever since.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I joined the company there were up to 5 customer support agents, and shortly after our Customer Support Team Manager quit. While our co-founder Peter was looking for a new manager, I was offered to temporarily fill in this position for a few months. Naturally, I agreed as I felt it was an amazing opportunity to bring in the ‘wow’-factor to support processes.

At that time after a few trips to Europe and to the States I felt our service standards had to be raised, and I was full of ideas for improvements. In the blink of an eye my teammates became my subordinates, and the funny thing is they didn’t take me seriously. Very quickly I realized that one can’t manage a team they’ve never hired or trained. That’s how I came up with a very bold decision — I fired everyone in the team! It sounds really crazy now, especially since I forced myself to be the only one in a support team. For quite some time I lived in the office 24/7, handling all the requests from customers, but most importantly I started hiring a new team.

And it was one of the best business decisions in our company. I think any company should pay attention to how they hire and train their staff for Customer Service. Only when you hire the right people with a customer-service mindset, you can build great customer service.

We promote the same principle with our clients nowadays when we build teams for them. Each client can have an interview with their prospective team member and make sure that a person fits in culturally, and, of course, has the necessary hard skills for their product.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My business partner and company co-founder, Peter Bondarevsky, has always had a huge influence on me. He saw my potential, and always believed in me, set ambitious goals for me, and mentored along the way.

Around 2012 I felt that I needed to grow as a manager, as we wanted to grow and attract more clients. This is when Peter recommended me to go for a pre-MBA course in Kyiv Institute of Management. It certainly opened my eyes to many business processes and helped me come up with new ideas for all departments in SupportYourApp.

Our partnership grows stronger every day, we brainstorm new business ideas and consult on strategic decisions.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Today it’s all about the customer’s experience. We know some surprising statistics from our own business, as well as we’re aware of the trends in the industry. My recent takeout from the “American Express”, for instance: “US consumers say they’re willing to spend 17 percent more to do business with companies that deliver excellent service”. One of the reasons is that we serve more and more Millenials, and they expect far more than a product alone, they expect meaningful interactions with businesses. Many businesses realized that this generation is ready to pay more for a better service, and are successfully monetizing it.

That’s absolutely a positive trend, but there’s a negative side to it as well. In case of customer experience is negative it’s more likely to give you a bad reputation. Think about it, one unsatisfied customer writes a bad review on AppStore or on company’s Facebook page — 10, 100, 1000 or more potential customers choose a competitor and spread a bad word around. The damage caused by 1 negative review online is daunting for any business.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

Many startups, medium businesses, and especially huge enterprises are most often focused on growth and scale, be it a new product line to launch, acquiring new markets, opening offices in new locations. Sadly it often happens that customer support gets a lower priority among other business processes, although we all know that it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than to attract a new one for any business.

It’s often forgotten that high standards for customer service also come from top-management.

You may ask, what can a CEO or founder do when they oversee numerous processes in the company? Surprisingly a lot. A few suggestions:

  • Become a secret customer. Every once in a while, weekly or biweekly, as your schedule allows, take 5 minutes to call your company’s hotline or to email your support team. Ask a few basic questions about your product or service, and immediately you’ll have a vision of what needs to be done in your Customer Service team.
  • Communicate mission and goals. This is crucial. No matter how good of a team you have in the Customer Service department, like a great ship they need a direction to sail to the right destination. A customer support team always needs to be reminded of how their everyday work helps reach a company’s mission, yes, it’s always built around that. Inspire and motivate!
  • Give the right tools and the right amount of freedom. Take some time to check if your team has the tools they need to efficiently help your customers, whether your team is authorized to process refunds, or if they have access to admin areas for replacing an order quickly — if your customer support team has to escalate every case to developers, marketing, or any other manager, and have to make a customer wait for a long time, it’s obvious that no matter how amazing their soft skills are, a customer won’t be happy. It’s not about a mistake, it’s about how we fix our faults for a customer, and their experience in the process.
  • Show appreciation to your support team. Make their weight in the company as important as the one of marketing, sales, finance, R&D or any other department’s. Your support team retains and in many cases upsells your customers, therefore brings you profit, and must be respected in your organization. If your customer support team feels their value, it is empowered.

There are many more things we can do as top-managers, however, it all comes down to empowering your customer support team with a mission, providing them with enough resources and checking regularly if that works. And lastly, we should all dare to experiment and adjust our processes to win our customers.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Absolutely. Consumer service trends evolve with consumers’ wants and needs. If one business is better at guessing customers’ needs than the rest, they are already 5 steps ahead of their competition. Naturally, no company wants to lag behind and lose customers to a competitor. We know that customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product. Instead, they stay loyal to companies due to the experience they receive.

Omnichannel support and a quality product is already a must, the only way to compete is that ‘wow’-effect a customer gets when interacting with a company.

Thinking of external challenges, I will certainly mention AI as the next step for the industry. I sense we will very soon reach the point when it will revolutionize everything we’re used to in customer support, the ones who adapt faster will succeed.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

There’s one case. An elderly customer called to a support line of one of our clients as he couldn’t install an iOS utility (an app that helps you transfer files between an iOS device and a desktop) on his Mac. Our agent understood very quickly that it’s not a developers issue, the reason for a customer not being able to install the app was that he had a very outdated Operating System on his Mac, and it wasn’t technically possible for a customer to upgrade his OS. Usually in a case like this, not much can be done, as typically app developers can’t keep on supporting more than 2 versions of an app — they have to move forward and be compatible with 2–3 latest Operating Systems.

What our agent did was unexpected, to say the least. Although he had only 2 versions for the latest Operating Systems available, he didn’t give up, and went through all possible resources, found a legacy version from a few years back in product archived documentation. He walked the customer through the steps, successfully installed the app, and the customer was absolutely delighted!

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

Oh, yes! The same customer wrote to a founder (our Client). The customer praised the support staff who helped him and bought a few more products from the company. After the founder (our Client) talked with the customer, pretty soon he reached out to me wondering if we can upgrade our support services to Tier 2. That’s how we got an up sell based on a wow-experience of one customer.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

When we talk about Wow! Customer Experience, we must understand that in order for a wow-moment to happen there has to be a solid base to build on. Certainly, it’s very easy to build personal connections and have that special spark at a startup phase, but when a business grows I’d suggest focusing on the following:

1. Hire right and invest long-term into the team. Your team has to be service-minded. In this business I learned that hard skills may be gained, soft skills though are more of a given. And yet it’s not enough either. After putting all the amazing people together, we, as founders and CEOs must invest into their knowledge and expertise every day.

2. Learn the product and be an expert. Only when your team knows the product inside out, they can go stellar with the service.

3. Automate as many processes as possible. It may sound obvious, but after we documented our processes, there’s no room for distraction, there’s no mundane work that demotivates people. As a positive result we have more time for creative decisions, wow-moments included.

4. Don’t make fake promises, if you can’t deliver the expected results. I would also say, stick to your promise and overdeliver just a tiny bit. Let’s say you promised a customer their order delivery within 3 days, and you know that you can deliver it within exactly 3 days, but you might as well deliver it within 1, and you make it happen. That’s when a wow-moment takes place for a customer.

5. Learn to be empathetic. Your support team has to be really ready to listen, to understand the needs of your customer, and to genuinely strive to build a personal connection with them every time.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

I’d suggest encouraging customers to leave positive reviews online, whether it’s a company’s Facebook page or website, distribution platform, Google review. That’s the best way to let other people know about the service level of your company.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve been actively involved in supporting young women entrepreneurs in Tech, right now I’m a mentor at Google Hackathon for Women, Startup Weekend Ladies, GirlsSTEM. And I’m pretty confident this movement will be growing only stronger all over the world, and especially in Ukraine.

I think it’s important to also empower youth, here I refer to the younger generation that needs guidance on their way to success. Many countries still don’t have or lack quality education, where kids would develop critical thinking and leadership skills. I am a strong believer it can boost young talents’ professional development and acquire the needed job skills to help youth become community leaders and active, informed citizens. We can already see how the younger generation is shifting the perspective, take Greta Thunberg, for example. Teenagers have a lot to say and offer to the world. And it’s our mission as adults to empower them.

There’re a few formats of interacting with young talents I can think of on the spot — summer camps for young entrepreneurs or business school for kids. If I were to compile pieces of curriculum, I’d definitely have a strong focus on basic finance education, as well as bringing in some fun business cases young guys and girls can already brainstorm on.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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