Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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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.

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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

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5 Components to build Trust

“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This series started with a post regarding how the trust I had in PayPal was shaken when my account got compromised. In life, our trust in people and businesses will often be tested. That is life, and we have to accept it. The fact of the matter is, without trust, we would not get far in life. The trust building process comprises of several components. Each of them plays a vital role in the process, and provides us with  benchmarks to help achieve the level of trust required. 

1. Integrity: Integrity is based purely on the actions and decisions we make in life. They reflect who we are and what we stand for. Three measures to use to benchmark our own level of integrity are ; firstly, are we congruent in our thoughts, words and actions? The second one is, do we honor our promises and commitments to ourselves and others? The last one, do we possess the courage to stand up for our values and beliefs in the face of resistance? These questions can serve as a guide to learn more about personal and business integrity levels. To read more about trust and integrity please click here.

2. Competence: Competence is a pre-requisite for the process of trust building. An individual or business is deemed competent in a particular skill set when they have proved themselves adequately. However, for a new startup, without a track record, this is a challenging task. Competence needs to be communicated through actions in a younger team. Using academic credentials, talents and skill sets or references can be used to help prove a younger team’s ability and capability. To read more about trust and competence please click here.

3. Consistent Communication: 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. 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. This includes the alignment of senior management’s agenda, marketing strategies as well as how customer service representatives are supposed to interact with clients. To read more about the importance of consistent communication and trust please click here.

4. Genuine Concern: 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. It is important that we get a deep understanding of our clients needs and wants and craft our strategies around them. It is only when we are able to communicate the importance of this component to the rest of the team in the form of actions will we actually notice results. To read more about trust and genuine concern please click here.

5. Results: Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. Therefore, as young entrepreneurs, we must pay a great deal of attention to proving ourselves and showing tangible results. These can be in the form of academic achievements, extra curricular achievements or projects where we have documented results. It is important to become result and action oriented. When an individual has a reputation of getting the job done well, the ability to gain the trust and confidence of peers, investors and customers is enhanced. To read more about trust and results please click here.

Building and maintaining trust is a challenging task. It requires constant attention, and the slightest of slips in our behavior has severe negative impact on the level of trust. As we all know, once a vase is broken it can be put back together, but it will never be the same. The components talked about in this post are foundational elements in the trust building process. When we have the trust of a customer or friend it dramatically changes the dynamics of the relationship, to one where a lot more can be achieved. As entrepreneurs, we must strive to develop a reputation of one who can be trusted. This will have a phenomenal positive impact on the level of business as well as your life. 

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Results

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Henry Ford

As a young entrepreneur, some questions you hear repeatedly from prospective customers are, “Who is currently using your product/service?” or “How many users do you currently have on your system?”  These questions are asked with the aim to establish whether the prospect can trust your business to deliver what you are pitching, and whether the team has the appropriate capabilities and skill sets. Not many individuals want to be the first customer to test a brand new product/service, it is hence up to the entrepreneur to convince the customer why they should use their product/service. The question that arises is “How does an entrepreneur convince a customer to trust him to deliver on his word?”. I believe the fastest way to do this, is to reference past performance and results, and use them as benchmarks to make a convincing argument. 

Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. For example, take an individual with high levels of integrity, extremely competent, communicates consistently and has a genuine concern for what he/she is doing. However, if this individual does not have a track record of delivering when given a task, chances are that they are not going to be given a chance to step up to the plate. Therefore, as entrepreneurs, we have to constantly look for ways to prove to customers, stakeholders, investors, employees and the media that we have what it takes to succeed. We cannot wait around for things to happen or wait for the ‘right’ opportunity. Action needs to be taken, and positive results need to follow. Will we always get the results we want? Unfortunately not. However, if we persevere and pursue what we want to achieve relentlessly results will follow.

Some areas where younger entrepreneurs can display results they have achieved are:

1. Academics: This works well when you are raising early stage angel or venture funding. If one has achieved success in the form of honor rolls, awards or other recognition for academic pursuits, they should be included in some way in your pitch. From a customer’s point of view, having someone with deep theoretical knowledge about your product/service adds great value.

2. Extra Curricular: Including any information about areas such as sports, debate societies, student unions or charitable efforts one has been part of, also adds value.  A personal example is,  when I co-founded an entrepreneurship society at university, which has since grown from 10 members in Singapore, to over 2500 spread across all of Asia today. It was through this platform that I gained a valuable network, and built trust with many of my mentors today. Other examples could be contributions to charitable organizations and events, and funds you may have raised for them.

3. Projects & Initiatives: Results can only be achieved when you take initiatives and actions. Highlight areas where you took an initiative, such as, starting a blog, a website, a store on ebay, freelance projects or any other example where you have documented results. Such projects go to show that you are willing to go the extra mile to reach you goals. 

Once the business has established customers, continue to track results through all business processes. Take responsibility for all the results you get, be they positive or negative. I have found that the learning process is specially instructive when we do not get the results we want. I have repeated this many a time, there is no failure, only feedback. Once you have established a solid track record, and have been identified as a result oriented team member, the level of trust your peers will have in you, will sky rocket. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

 

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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?

 

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Integrate Technology

“The purpose of a business is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between itself and those that it serves. When it does that well, it will be around tomorrow to do it some more.” John Woods

With escalating costs and the need to constantly maintain bottom line numbers, many companies are switching over to handling customer support services via technology platforms. Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Self Service Kiosks and online knowledge banks have greatly reduced costs for organizations, but, has an over reliance on these technologies resulted in a decrease in overall customer satisfaction?

Like most things in life, balance needs to be kept, so it is with integration of technology into your customer service function. The telco I was dealing with has an IVR service which you need to dial out from your mobile, since my phone was not able to make any outgoing calls the system directed me to another number which did not work either. At this point, I switched to the next logical source for information which was the website. The website did not have any knowledge banks relating to the issue at hand and did not even list the call center number I could call from a land line. In this day and age of web technologies this was disturbing. I ended up having to google several keywords to finally find the number.

The lesson to be learnt is, that focusing all your energy on just one touch point, such as a contact center is not the best of strategies, specially when deploying other web based and self service options are not as expensive. It is true that return on investment is marginal for these strategies, however, they lay the foundation for a much more holistic and comprehensive customer service solution for the future. Leveraging on tools for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) such as Salesforce, ZohoCRM, HighriseHQ can also be effective ways to keep track and even develop metrics around your customer service function.

Either way, as a startup organization you need to develop strategic roadmaps to help you handle customer service requests as you begin to scale. These will involve a number of technology solutions, what needs to be remembered when integrating is:

1. Keep a balance between technology and the human element.

2. Leverage on your website to provide detailed knowledge banks on prior complaints & questions.

3. Develop strategies to store and easily refer to archived customer interactions and data.

4. The ability to escalate complaints which have a higher level of priority.

5. Doing all of this while keeping it simple for the customer.

 

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