Be sure to catch Part I of this discussion
“The customer is why you exist. Why your company chooses to exist. If you don’t put them on a pedestal, if you don’t remind yourself, your team, your operations why you’re a business, why you’re here, you’re destined for fail.”
–Joshua Davidson, Six Customer Service Principles To Abide By
New, new, new, new…. We tend to grow the most excited over new things and to obsess over them, so it’s no surprise that startups focus tremendous energy on new customers. So much so, that a vey important player in the destiny of companies gets overlooked: existing customers.
Unforgivable as that might be, the good news, according to Dr. Deborah Hecker, is that “respect, empathy, good listening, recognizing that your customer has a different perspective than you and respecting those differences, good communication, ability to put personal goals aside. All of this can be taught.”
And there is perhaps no better guide for learning the importance of customer service and how to scale it along with your company than Joshua Davidson, Founder + CEO of Chop Dawg. Here is the second half of his Startups Live conversation on customer service.
“It is funny to me,” said Joshua.
“I see sales drop everything to immediately talk to a new lead, but customer support take days to get back to something with an existing customer.
Isn’t that an example of a messed up company culture?”
“This often comes down to enabling CS teams to re-prioritize efforts,” said Ryan Rutan, “rather than taking things in a first come, first serve basis – to be able to make qualitative calls on what is critical and what isn’t. Requires enabling them with the freedom to do that as well as the knowledge to know the difference.”
“It seems customer service is viewed as a secondary thing, to sales, marketing etc.” noted Stephen Moore.
“…true. Businesses value new customers over existing. Yet most fail to realize how much more affordable – and ROI maintaining – existing customers are!”
“Crazy. Repeat business is so key!”
“People think ‘10 new customers’ is sexier than ‘100 existing customers’. Screwed up metrics. Same people that celebrate raising a round as if they ‘made it’ as a company, and continue never generating profit and ROI.”
“Does this come from boards of directors etc? Is that what they prefer to see?”
“Investors. Board of directors. Founder egos. Marketing departments. A lot of fingers to point at.”
Ryan added a critical observation related to where and how things go awry: “I think there is a common misconception that if you can simply drive top-line sales – that retention is something that will figure itself out – that the hard part is bringing in a customer. The reality is that retention is the business.”
Another issue that came up is the difficulty of measuring customer retention in comparison to other objectives, such as new sales. Ankit Khanna asked, “What kind of metrics should a start-up customer service team have to ensure that they are doing an excellent job of retaining their customers (apart from the obvious one of customer retention, of course)?”
“So, number one is ROI, amount of times a customer repeats with you. But I also do one step further as a service company. I do what is called one-on-ones with our clients every month. I chat with them to hear how they feel things are going, what we can improve, anything I can help them with, etc. That is something huge, and though not a direct metric as you asked, it has helped all other metrics.”
“As Chop Dawg grows, how have you and your team changed how you handle customer support at a larger scale? Have you had to utilize tools that you weren’t using before?” questioned Devon Milkovich.
“We have a much more defined process for everything we do. The process was developed from years of working with our clients. Process is from wireframing, high fidelities, product flows, programming, quality assurance, after launch, onboarding a new client, maintaining an existing client…”
“One of the things I’ve done,” shared Ryan, “is to track specific and pivotal moments in CS / Customer relations – things like downgrade request outcomes, refund request outcomes, cancellation request outcomes – things with a fairly binary outcome set – these are measurable and impactful.”
“It’s like in baseball,” said Joshua. “How can you grade the defensive performance of a third basemen VS when the third basement is up to bat? One has real identifiable metrics; other is in theory, subjective (even though we know great defense from terrible).”
“I’ve been rereading Moneyball.”
“Repeat sales can be a metric,” pointed out Imran.
“Yes, but what about maintaining an EXISTING sale. How do you know you didn’t lose a customer if you didn’t handle it right; or managed to maintain that customer?”
“Joshua is there anything in your current CS workflow that you would change?” asked Eileen Guan. “What are you looking to improve as you scale?”
“Yes. The longer answer is we are trying to figure out how to scale the unscalable. For example….”
“The clients we get to meet in-person on average are with us for five years longer.”
“How can we make that happen for EVERY client we have around the world? I also ask our clients, every month, what can we do to be even better for them? What can we do to improve? What about us is weak/lacking? How can we exceed expectations beyond what we are currently doing?”
We might intuitively know that individual attention pays dividends, but the extent to which this holds true – the numbers – might awaken people.
“The world needs more people like you,” said Dr. Hecker.
“Wow, so interesting to hear that in-person clients stick with you so much longer!” exclaimed Eileen. “Do you have any ideas on that front?”
“Easy! Even with web cam, phone calls, text messages, Slack… you will never have the same emotional relationship as with someone you’ve met in person.”
“It is like right now. How many reading this feel like they know me BUT it doesn’t feel the same from the same person they spoke to at a bar one night for ten minutes? Yet I’ve probably shared more with them on here then a drunk guy a bar. But that drunk guy in your mind feels more real. More authentic, because it was a real person, in reality, next to you.”
“All our customer interaction begins face to face,” seconded Stephen. “We think it is a great selling point of ours. Definitely has a positive impact.”
“Exactly. I wish we could do that. We have clients all over the world though, such as Canada, Mexico, Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Thailand, Kuwait, Egypt, New Zealand, Australia, and China.”
“That doesn’t even include the United States!”
“How often do you think you have to get together to build that in-person bond?” asked Ryan.
“Just once. Crazy, but it is true. Based on our data, one time makes a dramatic difference. Multiple times can cause a smaller increase, too, but nothing substantial like a one-time in-person meet.”
Solution: Airplanes for every startup!
Joshua went on, “We make it a goal to see every client we can. Every time I have a speaking gig somewhere in the world, I try to make time to see a client nearby. Example: I am going to Prague for a conference in November. Stopping at two spots in Europe to see some clients while out there.”
“Client Summit?” Ryan proposed. Wil Schroter immediately was on board with the idea.
He then added his voice to the growing chorus touting the importance of face time. “…even spending 10 mins is a huge win. I think that people really underestimate the in-person aspect of relationship building.”
“And overestimate the ability to create that virtually,” interjected Ryan.
“Part of what I think helps is knowing that even when you’re having communication digitally there is this understanding that the person you’re talking to is a real person. They have real emotions. That’s so easy to lose in a one-dimensional medium.”
“A lot of people need to read the book ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’ suggested Joshua, and then make a revised version ‘For the Digital Age’.”
“I think there’s this sort of baseline persona that gets constructed when you meet in person,” continued Wil. “You sort of now have a real human to connect to. Short of that, something just feels off.”
“I know there is a whole other school of thought that says the fact that we can interact without the overhead of in-person awkwardness makes us more honest and I’m sure that’s true, too. Getting to that point with your customers is tough.”
“Stealing this from Moneyball: but people are subjective even when they do not want to be. In-person decreases that subjectivity (or increases depending on the circumstance).”
“I think about all of the things that people say online (read: twitter) that they would never say in person,” said Wil. “And I wonder how much of that is ‘real’ versus what you can/will say in a consequence-free environment.”
“Yup. I make it a point to always say online what I would do offline. Great practice. Remember, everything you type online someone can probably see. Even on apps like Google Drive, drafts in your email.”
“When people sign up for Startups.co,” said Wil, “they get a welcome email from email@example.com. I get quite a few people who respond, and so I end up fielding customer issues first hand. 99% of the time the issue is that they want to know they are being heard. And so they want to know that there is a person on the other end that cares about their issue.”
“Yup! At ChopDawg.com, if you contact us about potentially hiring us, one of us on the team personally responds. No automated message. Nothing impersonal. We are developing a relationship right at the get go.”
“My responses are usually the same. ‘I just got your email and I understand where you’re coming from. I’d be frustrated too if that happened to me, so let’s figure this out together.’ Some version of that. I also think when people say things like ‘I want a refund!’ it’s another way of saying ‘I want you to feel my pain.’ And I think the lack of authenticity in a response makes that 1000x worse.”
“EXACTLY”, the doctor in the group agreed emphatically.
“Even the most irate customers – people who have a really bad disposition in life to begin with – really just want to know that someone is listening and that they care, first and foremost. Obviously you have to solve the problem, too.”
Sherad Louis-Charles arrived late, and seized on the chance to ask a brass-tacks question, “What are some tactics, besides a knowledge base, a growing company can use to reduce CS requests?”
“We’re trying a few things ourselves,” answered Joshua. “First is with our new site, which we are (hopefully) launching tonight: a transparent FAQ page. As well – to better educate customers in the sales cycle. Manage expectations. Hell, the latter is the biggest. If you set expectations, I bet 98% of CS-related issues are managed. Most often, people reach out due to terrible expectations set and miscommunication.”
“There’s something magical about really good customer service,” said Wil. “Especially when you don’t expect it. I buy a lot of furniture from a company called Room and Board. I never thought a furniture company could be a ‘magical customer service experience’, but these people go so far out of their way to make me happy that I can’t even think about buying anywhere else. They will ship me a whole living room set, and if I think the color feels off, they will replace it again for free. And again after that. (I’ve tested this theory). Incredible.”
“As someone else said in this thread,” Sherad reenforced, “the best policy is to put yourselves in the customers’ shoes, but solve the issue with your professionalism. Also, kindness is king.”
“I also find that putting myself on the customer’s side of the table works 100% of the time,” Wil agreed. “Instead of trying to defend why our product is good/right, I say ‘Wow, you’re right. We need to work on that.’ And in every case, I’m being 100% authentic. I’m not patronizing.”
“Kindness is the vehicle, with empathy as the driver,” said Ryan. “Back to the notion of authenticity – if you get kindness that feels like placation – it doesn’t help.”
“Yeah I think it’s really obvious if you’re being placated,” said Wil. “It’s like when someone at a hotel says ‘It’ll be my pleasure to
“‘It’ll be my pleasure for my manager to overhear how I’m treating you, Sir!’” joked Ryan.
“In our case, all of our customers are entrepreneurs, so I find that it helps tap their worldview when they have issues. In other words, ask ‘What would you have done here?’”
“Alright everyone, it’s about that time…!” Eileen tried to wrap things up and keep everyone on schedule. “Thanks so much to everyone that joined in today, and especially to Joshua for fielding questions!”
“PS: Final pro-tip, everyone loves gifs. We respond to our clients approvals with ‘gif parties’ for when they approve wireframes, hi-fis, to launch, etc.”
These GIFs made for the perfect unscripted ending, as it felt like everyone had just attended a customer service awards ceremony / party.
For anyone interested in hearing more from Joshua and Chop Dawg, you have some great options. They now have a YouTube with their new site coming up: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJgqdZX5b0NW7Gr6eItNF8A (please subscribe!).
You can also follow them on:
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.