Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

Icon

How to get from where you are to where you want to be

A Great Customer Service Experience

“One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” Lewis Carol

I have been a GoDaddy customer for as long as I can remember. Somehow years ago when I bought my first domain they must have been the first one which popped up in my Google search. I have had limited interaction with their customer support department and usually only call when I am traveling or if I think of a domain name on the go, and want them to process my order. One can expect to be kept on hold a fair amount of time during peak hours, however this problem has become better recently. Whenever I call, there is the usual protocol for verification and the operators are usually helpful and I get my order processed very quickly.

Yesterday I called them up to register a domain and when the operator answered there was something different about her manner and voice from the very onset. She greeted me and made a conscious effort to get the pronunciation of my name right which can be a bit difficult for some people. During the course of the call we had a pleasant discussion of the importance of renewing personal name domains for a large period of time and she  made a concerted effort to make a larger sale without seeming too pushy. There was so much life and passion in her voice that I really didn’t mind and subconsciously became a lot more open to some of the suggestions she was giving me. All this simply by making an extra effort and showing  enthusiasm, thus differentiating the service entirely.

I have noticed that it takes very little effort to go from average to good customer service. If your business has a lot of direct contact with customers and prospective customers through  the phone, make sure that you provide them sufficient training to ensure that they give your customers the best service possible. Taking customer service from good to exceptional requires a lot more effort. Most of it must originate from the customer service representative. Are they truly passionate about what they are selling/servicing? This clearly came across from the GoDaddy representative who answered my call yesterday and I felt that service which had been good, has suddenly become exceptional.

Advertisements

Filed under: Customer Service, , , , , , , ,

The Little Things

“People expect good service but few are willing to give it.” Robert Gately

I was having a meal at a restaurant today (Nandos) where I experienced a very high and professional level of service. This is a place I frequent occasionally. On some occasions the level of service is high for a mid tier eating place where the emphasis really is on turn-around time on the tables. However there have been occasions when the level of service has left a lot to be desired. Thinking about it today as we were being served and looked after by the individual assigned to our table, it really takes very little effort to make such an experience turn around from an average one to one that gets me blogging about it. There were a couple of things that I think were done really well:

1. We were greeted with a smile and asked about our day. That just made the entire relationship get off to a good start.

2. I wanted to make some difficult changes to what I was ordering and he made sure it got done without getting flustered. He did not give me a flat out yes or no when I asked him whether the changes could be done. He merely said he would do his best and let me know as soon as possible. Needless to say the changes were made and I was very happy when I got my meal.

3. During our meal he checked up on us a few times. He was never hovering around the table while we were eating, but was always there when we needed something.

4. Upon presenting the bill he asked us to fill out a feedback form on his service during the meal. This was a person who was serious about the job he was doing and was making sure that he got feedback to ensure he could do better.

The things listed above can surely be duplicated relatively easily among the staff of a restaurant. It depends largely on management to ensure that their staff provides customers with superior service and provide them the necessary training to help deliver it. The importance of good customer service is paramount irrespective of your  line of business.

Are you doing all that you can to ensure you give your customers the best level of customer service possible?

Related Posts:

Non Financial Metric #1: Customer Satisfaction

5 Steps to Better Customer Service

Filed under: Customer Service, , , , , , , , ,

Non-Financial Metric #1: Customer Satisfaction

”The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.” Peter Drucker

Acquiring customers is a challenging task and takes days, months and even years to do. Once you have acquired customers a sense of complacency often sets in. One feels the hard work is done and now we can sell to this client for a very long time. How I would like that to be true. Unfortunately, as we all know the real world works differently. Acquiring customers is the first step, providing value and satisfying the customer is where the actual work begins. It is a well known fact that acquiring a new customer is 5-10 times more expensive than retaining your current customer base. Therefore as business owners we have to do whatever we can to ensure that we provide substantial value and our customers are satisfied with our products or services. Listed below are a couple of steps to help measure customer satisfaction:

1. Identify Touch Points: A customer comes in contact with your product or service either directly or indirectly. Measuring indirect contact such as interaction with other customers or reading online reviews is challenging to track and measure. However we can keep a much closer eye on direct touch points such as websites, telephone operators, retail stores, office or any other points where the customer is in direct contact with us. To do this we need to build a list of all possible touch points and track them closely to see where and how our customers interact with us.

2. Selecting Sub Metrics: A customer satisfaction index is made up of several sub metrics which contribute to a final score. For instance speed of service, perceived quality, and pricing and trust are a few sub metrics one can use. The selection of these sub metrics will depend on the type of product or service to be provided, the type of touch points used and any other factors which impact directly on  the interaction between the customer and the business. It is important not to overload oneself with too many metrics. Select them carefully,  understand and align them with what you deem necessary for an accurate customer satisfaction score.

3. Select Measurement Method: Once we have selected the metrics, we have to select the best way to measure them. Some of the commonly used measurement methods are surveys, focus groups and live observation. These are effective in collating information in a reliable and valid manner. Depending on the size of your sample and the amount of information that needs to be collected,  select a method which has the ability to generate a reliable and valid result.

4. Technology: With the advent of the internet, collecting information from customers at major touch points has become easier. Many website have incorporated feedback widgets which allow the customer to leave their comments and opinion, some websites have live operators which interact with customers to get their feedback and other tools such as, http://www.getsatisfaction.com. This provides a community platform where customers publicly rate and talk about the service. As entrepreneurs we need to leverage these tools to get information faster and more reliably from major touch points.

Once data is collected, there needs to be a structured way to process and assess the business. Unless the business can use the data collected to enhance customer experience, there is little point in undergoing such an elaborate exercise. It is therefore essential that you have  a clear idea about what you want to measure and why from the very beginning. Align your goals and targets in selecting appropriate methods.

Filed under: Advice, Communication, Customer Service, Strategy, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Genuine Concern

“If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” Buddha

An individual or business can have high levels of integrity, be competent and communicate with consistency, yet, a lack of genuine concern for others or your customers, will dramatically slow down the trust building process. I believe a genuine concern for your customer with honest intention is the ‘x-factor’ in the trust building process. We have all encountered situations where a business, restaurant, hotel or individual went out of their way to assist you and remember the impact it had. This could be something as small as having your laundry picked and dropped to your house free of charge or giving you a complimentary meal when your food did not arrive in time. These gestures communicate genuine concern for the customer, and an honest aim to make sure they are completely satisfied. 

When a business puts making X amounts of money in a calender year or achieving a certain amount of ROI every quarter as the only aim, they tend to miss out on this factor. Therefore, to build an organization which takes into account the aim and will to ensure that each customer is looked after to the best of the company’s abilities is a challenging task. It has to begin with senior management, they must lead by example. A couple of days ago, I had a prospective customer email me regarding taking some psychometrics courses. Unfortunately, his email got buried and I completely forgot to respond. When I uncovered his email a week later, I promptly sent him the information along with a free test to apologize for the delay. We must always remain vigilant of our intentions, attitude and actions from the customers point of view. 

As a startup it is important that a culture for genuine concern is developed from the onset. Listed below are a few steps to help you get started in the right direction.

1. Listen: Understand your customers in as much detail as possible. Learn what their goals, objectives, threats and concerns are when dealing with vendors, who may be providing similar services to yours. Armed with a thorough understanding of their needs and wants, we will be better equipped to cater to them.

2. Communicate: This needs to start internally in the business, the team must be made aware of the focus, agenda and achievement targets of the company. How the company plans to achieve targets as well as the necessary actions that need to be taken. Such information empowers the workforce as can be seen at Southwest Airlines, the company has the best service standards by far in the industry. We also need to communicate our agenda to the customers. This helps create transparency and removes suspicion from the customer’s mind.

3. Actions: We have to lead with examples and empower our workforce to go beyond the call of duty to help a customer. Ritz Carlton gives employees a discretionary budget in case of an emergency or incident with a customer. At my local Starbucks, the servers know me by name as well as my daily order. When a customer receives such service they are bound to let everyone know, and this will not only help create goodwill but also secure a loyal customer base. 

Financial goals are important metrics for any business. However, I believe that businesses should have metrics for the softer side of the business as well. How many satisfied customers did we serve this year as compared to last year? How many customer complaints were received this year as compared to last year? Benchmarks must be created for quality of service too. Genuine concern for your customers is positively correlated to better quality of service, this results in more customers and higher levels of trust.

Filed under: Advice, Customer Service, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consistent Communication

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins

We have all come across businesses where senior management says one thing, middle management says another and the customer service representative says something completely different. Another example, marketing slogans promote 24/7 customer support yet, there is no one to answer the phones at 3 am in the morning. When there is inconsistency in communication, building trust will be an arduous task. As younger startup companies, we have to instill the importance of consistent communication, from the beginning of our operations. Such a culture will act as a catalyst in the development of trust and creating a level of loyalty to your product/service. Failure to do so will have a detrimental impact on your business as a whole, and it will be very difficult to retain and nurture existing customers. 

Several key areas where consistency of communication is of utmost importance are:

1. Senior Management: This group of individuals is responsible for the creation of a culture where candor is promoted through the ranks. They need to lead by example by keeping their word, and being upfront and honest with all employees, vendors and customers. This is manifested in the little things, how many times have you told your secretary or colleague to make up an excuse when you don’t want to speak to someone on the phone? If one promotes honesty and consistency in the organization such actions clearly conflict with the message that you are sending to your employees and colleagues. Inconsistency of communication is usually the result of a breakdown from senior management. This group needs to be extremely vigilant of their actions and words. 

2. Customer Service: How many times have you called a support department and felt like slamming the phone down because of the level of service you received? I know I have wanted to do so many times. This is the result of the gap in communication between middle and senior management. When this level is not clear about the level of communication the organization stands for, what their role is, or why it is important that they act and behave in accordance with the principles of the organization, they will not be able to communicate this messages to the end customer. I understand that in todays world, doing this while outsourcing these activities to third party vendors is going to be a difficult task. However, it is of vital importance that creative solutions to this problem be developed to facilitate the trust building process.

3. Marketing: Seth Godin wrote an interesting book called “All Marketers are Liars”. It uses various examples to drive home the point that the most successful corporations are the ones who have consistent and honest marketing. Today, we are bombarded by millions of advertisements, many of them use deceptive tactics to stir curiosity. I am sure many people click the pop up banner which says you have won a million dollars. Often a company will promise features and capabilities which they may not possess. Most of these companies will never be able to develop any trust with their target customers. As a startup, use marketing as a tool to tell a compelling story, which is rooted in honesty. 

Consistency of communication must be developed through the entire business. When mistakes are made do not attempt to cover them up and embellish the truth. It only takes a single act of inconsistency in your message to destroy any trust which may have been developed between your partners, vendors or customers. 

Filed under: Advice, Communication, Customer Service, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

PayPal Account Hacked

“Are you kidding me!” Usman Sheikh

This is going to sound ironic…this week’s series was to be about trust and its importance in life and in the world of business. Trust is hard to gain, by the same token it is extremely easy to lose. After today’s incident, PayPal has lost all credibility and trust with me it may have gained over the last couple of years that I have been using their service. This afternoon my mailbox was suddenly flooded with authorizations for payments from multiple individuals whom I had never heard of. My first reaction was that it was one of those fraudulent emails which wants to swipe your information etc. However, once I checked the sender and saw it was PayPal themselves, my heart jumped a couple of beats. There were multiple payments in excess of a couple of thousand dollars.

I first placed a block on all transactions with my bank account and PayPal. Next I tried to figure out the maze of forms which need to be filled, to alert them of unauthorized transactions. Finally, I got a rep on the phone. The first one I spoke to was helpful and managed to calm me down substantially. We got a lot of the paperwork out of the way and she was quick to assure me that they would do all that was possible to get the money back. Midway, the call dropped, I got reconnected to another person at the call center. This was awful, she must have had a bad day or something, and instead of calming me down, was totally inconsiderate and wanted to put down the phone as soon as possible. This is not an attitude a distraught customer wants to be facing. Anyhow, finally got everything submitted and now it is “under review”.

I will keep everyone updated about the progress and have posted this to alert all PayPal users who read this blog to go and check their accounts, and request for the Verisign security key to safeguard your account from similar activity. This is not an isolated case, I found this article which goes to show that there is obviously a significant loop hole somewhere in the system, and it is being exploited. Please be very careful, and if you are not using your PayPal, unlink it from your financial sources. In the end, it is incidences such as these, which totally decimate any shred of trust and credibility with a service provider.  Negative feedback tends to spread a lot faster, and it could result in a mass exodus of customers, if such service providers do not take appropriate measures and actions to stop and help customers when such incidents occur.

Updates:

– September 17th: Was on the phone with around 3 customer service representatives and have lodged an unauthorized transaction report.

– September 19th: Paypal sends a survey requesting information regarding their phone support service. At-least they are showing initiative to making their customer service better, which by the way needs a lot of work.

– September 22nd: Received partial refunds for some of the unauthorized transactions. However my account has been locked and I am told by their customer support that my money is going to be withheld for 180 days! I understand Paypals point of view to control the level of risk, but I don’t think this should be a rule applied across the board and should be handled on a case by case basis.

– September 24th: One of the fraud claims has been refunded to my account. 4 more to go.

– September 29th: The remaining four claims have been refunded. I have to say that I am impressed how fast Paypal managed to resolve these claims. I may return to using their services sooner than expected.

Filed under: Customer Service, Trust, , , , , , , , , , ,

Are customers testing your patience?

“You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” Steve Jobs

Prospects and customers have an uncanny ability of getting under your skin, often driving you close to the verge of insanity. It all begins when you begin to identify potential prospects for your target segment. Those first couple of cold calls, emails and introductions set the wheels of the sales cycle into motion. Then it begins, the non responses, the transferring of your calls all over the company, being on hold for ages and even some rude responses. At this level you need to be somewhat thick skinned, you should then not have a problem getting through this stage with a list of higher probability prospects. It is during the next couple of stages when you have initial meetings, send proposals and quotations that your patience really begins to get tested. This stage differentiates the sales people who succeed, and those who just get by.

Over the last couple of years some tips that helped me during this period are:

1. Prospect Selection: In today’s market place, no one really cares for the generalist anymore. It is slowly becoming a market where niche specialists have a marked competitive advantage. I would therefore suggest you tailor your sales strategy to focus on a particular market segment and cover it extensively. If your prospect list selection covers any and everybody the number of mild leads will drive you insane. Be selective and choose your segment wisely. Next build a prospect list specific to that segment and start to make inroads.

2. CRM Software: If you are not using one for your sales development and pipeline monitoring, I would strongly suggest you look into one for your organization. If you haven’t used CRM software before, start by using simple systems such as the ones available at 37signals.com. These help tremendously in making correspondence with prospects structured, efficient and professional. It also allows you to get a dashboard view of what is moving in your pipeline and what is not.

3. Disqualification: Customers who are not interested or ready for your product/service at the present moment should be disqualified from your list. These are clients who gather information from you, and then become dormant. I suggest you develop certain time quotas, after which, if the prospect does not respond they should be disqualified from your qualification process. If this step is not done it will drain a lot of your time without necessary results. 

4. Contracts: Once you have signed up a customer for your product/service, make sure you sign comprehensive contracts with them, these must cover exactly what you will be delivering to them. Failure to do this will result in some customers asking for more than promised and you will find yourself in a difficult position. There are few things more irritating than a customer who continues to ask for changes, reviews and modifications during the delivery process. 

I don’t completely agree with the statement that “the customer is always right”. There are some situations when you will have to draw the line. Difficult customers end up costing the organization a great deal. They increase the level of frustration within the team and decrease morale. Constantly review your prospect and customer list, I use a rating system in some of the companies I work with. This lets the entire team know which customers get priority over others. Focus your energy on those leads and customers where you have the greatest ability to cross sell and develop deep relationships with.

Filed under: Advice, Customer Service, Sales, Strategy, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Steps to Better Customer Service

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Sam Walton

In a world, where the dichotomy of being increasingly connected and at the same time equally disconnected from reality exists, customer service provides a critical touch point to maintain balance. Unfortunately, the emphasis on customer service begins at a much later stage in an organizational growth cycle, since it is not seen as a tangible profit point. However, this function does drive all other functions in an organization and developing a world class customer service center should be pivotal to startup strategy. Listed below are five steps that can help inculcate the correct culture and attitude towards this function.

1. Creating a culture: To create awareness and a dedicated focus on building a world class customer service function, senior management needs to champion such initiatives. They need to provide direction and set metrics, to ensure that a high degree of importance is given to it. Rewards and recognition should be given to team members who display high levels of competence in this function. To read more about how you can go about creating a correct culture please click here.

2. Hiring the right individuals: At your startup or organization, you need to have the right people in the right places. That is easier said than done. However, what you can do to eventually reach that goal, is to establish criteria and metrics to benchmark individuals by respective functions. Customer service is a department that requires a special type of person to head and organize it. The person needs to have specialised qualities which include knowing the difference between a job and a responsibility. To read more about the types of qualities required please click here.

3. Integrate technology: With an increased focus on increasing bottom line numbers, we need to utilize technology where ever possible to automate certain processes. In the customer service function there have been many developments which include, Interactive Voice Response systems and Customer Relationship Management software, to name a few. Your organization needs to find a correct balance to ensure that you provide the highest level of customer support, at the same time maintain a personal touch. To read more about how you can integrate technology with customer service functions please click here.

4. Learning from experience: In the process of setting up a company and managing customers, there will be times when delivery will slip and you will encounter customers who have not been well satisfied. It is essential that during these times a process is in place to document the complaints that are received to make sure that the reason for the problem is understood and factors put in place to avoid repeating them. Not learning from mistakes causes repetition  which will in turn prevent  you from moving forward. To learn more about the system please click here.

5. Exceeding expectations: Building complex products around patents will surely generate a substantial competitive advantage for your company. However, if you don’t have such a product and you consistently exceed your customers expectations you will be able to create a competitive edge which will be as substantial if not greater. The process of under-promising and over delivering has been a key to success for many organizations. It is the little things which count, before, during or after a sale. To learn some ways how you can start exceeding customer expectations please click here.

In the end it all boils down to whether the customer was satisfied with the product/service which was sold to them. If they were, then each one of them will become ambassadors for your organization, hence helping to generate greater sales and better bottom line results. Do not wait until you are a massive organization to start thinking about how to better customer service. Start now, whether you have one customer or none, it will pay dividends down the road.

Filed under: Customer Service, Make it Work

Exceeding Expectations

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” Roger Staubach

My first company had the tag line “Exceeding your every expectation”. It was printed on everyone of our name cards and it pushed us to go the extra mile many a time. It is only after some years that I have realized, it does not take much to exceed customer expectation. They do not need elaborate gestures to make them feel special, all they need is to be treated honestly and fairly, to be provided with significant value for their purchase and to have all this done in a convenient and efficient manner.

From personal experience I know that there are many service providers I go to even though they may not be the cheapest, biggest or more convenient in the market. For example, all my computer needs and requirements are dealt with at a small shop I have been visiting for years. You may well ask why anyone would do this, in this day and  age of online ordering and convenience ? It comes down to the relationship I have with the owners of the store. It is good to walk into a store where everyone knows you by name and where you know you will always get that extra attention and exemplary customer service, whenever you walk in and need it.

As part of a startup , you need to identify areas where you can add greater value to your clients. You need to show them that you care about their success as much as they do. These are some of the ways I have used to go that extra mile :

1. Remember your customer’s birthdays and make sure you send out either an ecard or an actual card to show that they matter to your business.

2. Gather as much personal data regarding the customer as possible, such as hobbies, interests, family and  other information that may help you with future conversations as well as personalizing services.

3. Remember to thank the customer at the point of purchase and to follow it up with a note via email or mail, thanking them for their business.

4. Leave extra room for you to exceed their expectations. If you promised 5 days delivery time and deliver in three days, that goes a long way. Remember to leave yourself some wiggle room.

5. Put yourself in the customers shoes and ask yourself what you can do, to make the entire process more personable and enjoyable? Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated.

Going the extra mile is a defining and differentiating factor between good and great companies. Building such a culture from the start will provide you with clear competitive advantages. 

Do you have a special story of how you were wowed by a particular vendor?

Related Posts:

Sales and Relationships

 

Filed under: Communication, Customer Service, Sales, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learning from Experience

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

We have all been exposed to bad customer experiences. For those of us in the business or corporate world, we have also been on the receiving end when things didn’t work out as expected. That is part of life. Trying to please every customer to their complete satisfaction is a gargantuan and uphill task. However, it is essential to learn deeply from every complaint and put into place systems, which will take care of such incidents in the future. Listed below are a few pointers which should help expedite the learning process:

1. Refrain from pushing the blame onto external circumstances. Sometimes your supply chain gets delayed, it could be a mix up which your delivery system made or bad weather which resulted in your receiving a mouthful from your client. Accept the blame rather than pushing it onto someone else in the organization because that is the last thing an angry customer wants to hear. Once you have accepted the mistake you can go about resolving the issue in a more efficient and effective manner.

2. Extensively document the mistake. This will force you to think and put into a process the actual course of events and why they occurred. I have found the discovery process extremely interesting because you are forced to map out where the entire process started, who was responsible for what, at which stage and most importantly where we need to focus to ensure that the problem doesn’t happen again. It creates ownership in a business and a team constantly striving to deliver their best.

3. Finding the most efficient and effective solution. Once the mistake has been clearly identified the team should reach a collective decision regarding how to avoid a similar issue in the future. Control measures must be put into place and ensuring responsibility for its proper execution is essential. This is a critical step which should be documented and circulated to all team members to show that a decision has been taken.

Such experiences provide a great learning opportunity for the entire team. Once a mistake has been committed there is nothing we can to do to undo it, however , we can set into motion a series of actions which will alter the way we respond to them in the future. With a fanatical focus on ensuring that you cater to your customers every need and make the experience of doing business with you as seamless and comfortable as possible, will garner massive long term benefits.

What was your last customer experience horror story and did your organization do anything about it?

 

Filed under: Communication, Customer Service, Strategy, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,