“It’s the same as having the proper form with lifting weights; if you don’t have the right form, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
–Joshua Davidson, Six Customer Service Principles To Abide By
Taking care of people. It’s a calling, an art. It’s a service. It can also be a way of life, company culture, and doing business. Joshua Davidson is somewhat of an evangelist on the topic of customer service, preaching the principles of outstanding customer service with the conviction of a man who has religion.
And his principles, the quality and clarity of his thinking – are all of the highest level. The same can be said for the questions posed to him during this Startup Live chat, as well as this discussion on customer service as a whole. Given the unprecedented length of the responses posted within the strictly scheduled hour and the exceptional quality of the responses, this is recap of a Startups Live session has been broken into 2 parts. Without further ado…
“Morning everyone!” greeted Eileen Guan. “Today we have the author of today’s article, Joshua Davidson, joining us to chat about the principles of customer service. Joshua is the Founder and CEO of chopdawg.com and co-host of The Pawdcast! Thanks for joining Joshua!”
“Pleasure as always!”
“Why do you think we tend to suck at creating good customer service?” Wil Schroter got down to business.
“Because it’s hard work. I hate to see it that way but it is true. Good customer service means you actually need to care about the customer, and you need to put in action. Two things that require hard work and require being authentic. Think about how many ‘customer service’ folks do not truly care about the person/company on the other end… and hate to work any harder than a 2 out of 10 on the hardwork scale?”
“I hate to break it down so simple, but it is true.”
“No, I agree with the hard work part for sure. It’s almost like a cost of doing business mentality vs. a key product strength.”
“Totally agree with ya Joshua,” said Eileen. “I think this quote, ‘Imagine spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, months of work, your sweat and labor on the app of your dreams, just for it to trip out of the starting gate.’ sums up why customer service is so valuable. Did did you have to learn that lesson the hard way or did you always know the value of it?”
“So, hard question to answer for me personally. Reason being, I am obsessed with customer service. I run a service-based company. To me, it is in our DNA. We can’t afford not to have a service-first mindset. With that said, you see it often. How many companies fail because of a terrible first impression, terrible customer experience, etc? How many times you received the wrong order and a company basically gave you the digital middle finger? You’ll never shop there again, right? It is that simple!”
“You’re totally right! I had an awful experience with Delta where I had to cancel my ticket. When I went and got another I purposely chose AA AND paid more for it just to avoid using Delta again. Bad customer service = less revenue.”
“One of the messages I always deliver to our CS team,” said Ryan Rutan, “is to remember that what might seem like a mundane act on our side could be a life-changing enabler on the customer side. Password reset on Fundable = Now I can start raising funding for my dream business. It isn’t about the work – it’s about what it enables for the user.”
“Exactly. It transcends a service to any kind of company, product, value.”
“How useful is it to put your engineering team in customer service?” asked Imran Siddiq.
“It’s all about the relationship between the client and the company – needs to be one of trust. When we hire, we already know when talking to a candidate that we love their design or development skills. We sorted that out before interviews. When we start interviewing, we focus on two things: accountability and customer service (personality).”
“And as we operate as a company, Imran, I hammer home the importance of remembering our customers are the reason we exist, we can provide pay checks, we can grow. We don’t hire anyone at Chop Dawg who couldn’t work with a client or communicate for the team themselves.”
“Think about it this way – everyone you hire represents the total sum that is the company. One bad seed = the company is bad. If you hold yourself to that standard, you will excel.”
“It’s the why we have grown our team from just myself to 22+ full-time people.”
“For a lot of folks, though, Customer Service is something people dread,” said Wil. “How do you create an environment for the folks that work there where they feel like it’s not dreadful?”
“Here is a real example. Client emailed this to me just this morning,” said Joshua.
“Not to over simplify it,” he then replied to Wil, “but hire those who understand who is most important, the customer, and develop a culture that reinforces that often. Think about how many company cultures have people complaining about their customers behind the scenes, or worse, insulting customers behind their back.”
“The second you develop that culture, it will turn into a virus. Even if you ‘present’ yourself differently. I do not tolerate that at all. Our clients are freaking amazing and gave us the luxury to work with them – and a purpose to our operations. We are in business for THEM. That is how you enforce that, where it turns from a chore/job to knowing your purpose.”
“This is where the importance of EQ [emotional intelligence] comes in,” noted Dr. Deborah Hecker, “the ability to empathize with a customer.”
“Yup! Understand context. Understand their perspective. Also understand they hired you for expertise/value, and sometimes your role is to be an educator as much as it is to provide the direct utility/value they hired/paid for you for.”
“Any tips on how to spot customer-oriented tech guys, I usually find that they are more introvert type, so how do u spot them in hiring process?” asked Imran, underscoring that one challenge of creating a customer-service oriented culture is finding people who buy into it.
“You’ll be surprised how many great programmers are extroverted. You need to create a company and culture that supports them. You need to actively look in the hiring process for them. You need to create an environment to make them want to come out of their shells and flourish.”
“I am lucky. I work with about 50 people total at a time right now. I know everyone’s face, name, kids, beliefs, personalities.”
“I think in scaled businesses,” Ryan singled out another area of difficulty, “it is also easy to lose sight of the customer as an individual – particularly at the upper levels of management.”
“Yup. If you have 15,000 customers, you may start thinking of a customer as a number, not a person. That is the WORSE thing you can do. You have to stay grounded. As you grow, you need to try your best to remain grounded and focus – Customer service and relationships go hand in hand too, don’t forget that.”
“If you treat customers the same way you treat business relationships, which they are, you’ll never lose.”
Jude Al-Khalil drew a light onto the part of customer service that turns a lot of well meaning people into timid souls trying to avoid notice – when things go wrong or not according to plan. She asked, “What do you think is the best way to approach a situation where you need to say ‘no’ to a customer or stick to a company policy? Do you find it helpful to explain why you’ve put the policy in place to the customer?”
“Happens often for us. We prevent ‘scope creep’ all the time at Chop Dawg for example. What I’ve learned and I highlight in my article: provide context. Don’t just say no. Explain why. Explain what has resulted in that. For example. Client asks us for a new feature not in scope. I’ll politely explain no, that it isn’t in the scope, but explain what happens if we allow a small detail to slip through the cracks what could happen to their timeline goals, budget goals, and even walk them through the idea of keeping something tight in order to be lean, collect data, validate, etc. I provide context. You understand their perspective, but do not be afraid to educate.”
For those familiar with dread of customer service, Eileen made an important observation. “A bunch of my friends work in customer service, and the biggest difference I see between their two experiences is the company culture. The ones that work for a company that has poor communication and treat support as a nuisance, really don’t enjoy their job. The other works for a company that tries to make CS fun by integrating their goofy culture into their CS responses. She’s the one that really enjoys her work! I think that makes the biggest difference.”
“It always works,” said Joshua. “Same for our own team members. We explain context to our process with our customers. We explain what over 8 years we learned to arrived at a certain way we work. And what happens? Instead of saying ‘I do not get this’ or ‘I disagree’, they understand and adopt it.”
“People just want to know the WHY. And it isn’t much more difficult to explain that. Corporations suck at that. They will introduce a new policy with no context. What happens? Employees disagree. Don’t use it. It falls to the corporation for not doing a good enough job explaining, providing context, understanding…”
“…we’ve got a lot of startups here,” said Eileen. “Joshua, do you have any customer service tools that they can implement if they don’t necessarily have the human capital to do so?”
“Of course. Response time is a biggie. Too many startups, companies alike suck at that. When someone has a problem, they give them the cliche ‘I will get back to you within 2 business days’, when literally blocking out 5 min to write an email or hop onto the phone could resolve something, quick. That costs everyone $0 but makes such a dramatic difference to a customer relationship.”
The fun was just beginning. Be sure to catch the Part II of this discussion.
Keith Liles is a freelance writer who loves travel, music, wine, hiking, poetry, and just about everything. He practices saying “yes” to life vigorously, rehearsing for the phone call when he’s asked to tour with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Follow Keith on Twitter @KPLiles.