The biggest brands in the world become what they are with the help of one elusive ingredient: customer loyalty. In a world over-saturated with scattershot marketing messages, successful companies take the time to truly get to know their customers — their motivations, fears, ideas, and priorities — and tackle customer service with relentless dedication.
If you’re an entrepreneur, this is good news and bad news.
The bad news? You’re likely competing against established brands that have worked for years — or even decades — to build loyalty among customers.
The good news? You can make customer-service commitment part of your company’s mission early on and be hyper-focused on giving a smaller number of customers the best experiences possible.
If you commit to offering better customer service than your competitors, then your customers are far more likely to tolerate growing pains and stick with you as you scale. This is why developing a customer service culture should be a table stakes commitment for all startups.
Over the past several years, there’s been a constant influx of new technologies designed to make the customer service experience better for both businesses and customers.
Often, bigger companies will invest heavily in sophisticated customer service automation tools, quality call center technology, intelligent customer relationship management systems, and vast knowledge databases, hoping to “solve” customer service.
If you’re at a startup with a limited budget, you may think you can’t compete because you can’t afford the latest tools. But the simple fact is that world-class customer service starts with people.
Maybe you’ve invested time and money into building a custom platform to help you serve customers better. Maybe your customer service technology of choice is your cellphone.
Regardless, you need to be sure that the people on your team who regularly interact with customers can communicate with empathy.
As a founder, you should get comfortable speaking with customers in their language and thinking about your product from their viewpoint.
Set the tone, the rest of your team will follow, and you’ll be on the path to developing a customer service culture that permeates all aspects of your company.
Especially in the early days of your startup, you’re going to have to do things that don’t scale. But as you grow, you have to balance quality service with cost.
Despite all your best intentions, having your lead developer or top product manager regularly answering customer calls isn’t a good idea.
As soon as you can, either hire someone or transition a current team member into a full-time customer success role. You’ll want this person to be able to handle a variety of customer touchpoints.
It’s great to have live phone support, but it’s not always enough: Live chat and email, along with automated FAQs and tutorials, are all extremely important today.
You’ll often find that what worked one year may not work the next year because of growth, new product offerings, and the emergence of new communications tools.
Likewise, keep in mind that different customers have different communication preferences. Learn what those preferences are early on and coordinate with your team to make sure you’re always up to speed on how customers are trying to communicate with you.
I speak from experience when I say that investing in customer service pays off.
At Phone.com, we do everything we can to make using our product as easy as possible — offering tools like a customer control panel and self-guided tutorials.
But when customers do need help, we make sure they’re able to easily get in touch with an experienced, friendly customer service rep.
Every day, we have customers both old and new write us unsolicited thank-you notes describing their experiences.
Quality customer service has always been a key component of business success. But it’s arguably more important today than ever before, simply because it’s easier than ever before — anyone can do it, and customers have come to expect it.
Take advantage of the array of tools and channels available to facilitate customer interactions. Avoid making assumptions. Instead, try to get feedback from customers whenever you can — and not just anonymous surveys.
When you’re talking with a customer, ask them how they think you’re doing. Feedback is a gift!
Finally, remember that you can’t please everyone, so don’t try to. Instead, focus on providing top-notch service to those customers who best fit your business.
Stick to your word, do your best, and try to improve each day. Your customers will reward you.
Have you had an especially rewarding experience as a customer or business owner Share it in the comments below!
Ari Rabban is the CEO of Phone.com and a veteran of the IP-communications industry. Phone.com’s virtual phone service builds on the digital VoIP-industry experience of its founders to deliver a complete suite of enterprise-grade unified communication services at an SMB price. Ari was named among the Top 20 Most Influential People in VoIP 2012 and currently serves on several boards, including the New Jersey Tech Council. You can follow him on Twitter @arabban.