Editor's Note: This story was sponsored by the Ukraine-founded international tech service company SupportYourApp.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, the international tech service company SupportYourApp, founded in Kyiv, wasn’t sure what would happen to its business.
Its clients were worried: How would the company provide its services when its own specialists faced the constant threat of missile strikes and later – power outages?
The company’s managing partner, 33-year-old Daria Leshchenko, told the Kyiv Independent that her company weathered the storm, not missing a single day of work. Almost all of the company’s clients have stayed with the company since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022.
SupportYourApp provides customer and technical support around the clock in 55 languages to companies such as the leading U.S. app for sleep, meditation and relaxation Calm, Mastercard Ukraine, and Ukraine-based software developer MacPaw.
The company’s consultants are spread out across multiple continents, meaning those abroad were able to take on more work to help their Ukrainian colleagues survive the shock of the first days of the war.
Now SupportYourApp's team in Kyiv is working as usual – they have generators and Starlink satellite Internet terminals in case of power outages, as well as a well-equipped bomb shelter in case of missile strikes.
However, there are other, global challenges that the company must overcome – the rise of AI, which threatens to replace people in the customer support businesses, and the lack of specialists on the market. The new generation of young people does not perceive customer support as an opportunity to build a successful career and is looking for work in other domains.
Leshchenko, who has been working in the customer support industry for more than 12 years, says she is ready for these challenges.
“You have to constantly learn and adapt because the world is changing very quickly,” she said.
Wartime customer support
After waking up to the sounds of explosions at the end of February last year, SupportYourApp specialists, who usually help others, needed help themselves.
For Leshchenko, these were crazy days – she had to take care of the safety of her family and her colleagues, organize teams abroad, and convince the company’s clients that SupportYourApp could continue to provide its services no matter what.
Fortunately, Leshchenko had a plan. Before the war, the company cleaned its basement bomb shelter in its Kyiv office, stocked up on water and food, and made sure they had generators and stable internet access.
"When we were in a state of shock, this plan helped a lot," she said.
Besides, Leshchenko is used to challenges. She got into the business in her 20s when the customer support market was already crowded and clients were reluctant to buy English-language service from Ukrainians who spoke with an accent.
But Leshchenko says that she approached the work with humor and passion, and after a few years the business took off.
Before the war, the company grew by 70-100% every year. Now, it has more than 250 clients and works with 1,200 consultants worldwide. The company provides services in more than 55 languages, including English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Japanese, and Korean.
Expanding into foreign markets helped the company grow during the Covid-19 pandemic and saved it during the war in Ukraine, Leshchenko said.
Each SupportYourApp team consists of consultants from different countries and different time zones so that they can provide services to the client 24 hours a day.
With the approach of winter, the Ukrainian team faced new problems – power outages caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Customer support business depends on stable communication, so the company purchased Starlink satellite internet and connected to several internet providers to always be in touch.
What’s more, 15 of Leshchenko’s colleagues joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces and are now fighting on the front lines against Russia. The company does everything possible to help them, including purchasing night vision devices, equipment, and drones.
"In total, we donated $300,000 on volunteer projects and assistance to our colleagues in the Armed Forces," Leshchenko says.
Humans & AI
Customer support is a human-centric business. It’s now at risk of being undermined by artificial intelligence.
Leshchenko, a huge AI fan, is ready to add technology like ChatGPT to SupportYourApp services, but she is sure that AI will not replace people in customer support services in the nearest future. After all, this technology still has many drawbacks as it is prone to giving biased or irrelevant answers.
Still, in order to be more efficient and keep up with the times, SupportYourApp incorporated AI into its work by using chatbots, NLP (natural language processing), and text and documents classifiers. The company will continue to offer support via phone calls because they are still popular and there are many questions users would rather ask a person than a robot, Leshchenko said.
SupportYourApp also has a spin-off project called Label Your Data, which helps AI companies annotate their data properly to make AI training more efficient.
The company has also been hit by the global decline in the tech market fuelled by rising interest rates, post-pandemic inflation and macroeconomic uncertainty.
But more unique to the customer support market is that young people aren’t that interested in this kind of work.
In the past, customer support for young people was a "transitional" job and an opportunity to earn extra money. The new generation has a different approach, according to Leshchenko: “Zoomers” don't want to be overworked, they care about their mental health, and want to find a well-paid job immediately, she said.
In order to attract more young consultants, Leshchenko says her company makes its work environment as comfortable as possible by offering convenient working hours and interesting projects in the cutting-edge tech fields, the Internet of things, gaming, e-commerce, fintech, and telecommunications.
“People are the most important thing in business. You can’t implement great ideas without your team,” Leshchenko says.