Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

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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Hiring the Right Individual

“As far as customers are concerned you are the company. This is not a burden, but the core of your job. You hold in your hands the power to keep customers coming back – perhaps even to make or break the company.” Anonymous

My extensive interaction with the telcos’ customer service department brought to the fore, the job vs responsibility concept which I have talked about briefly in previous posts. The concept is simple . When you are in hiring or partnering, you should look for individuals who are problem solvers and have it in them to go further than just completing the task at hand in a hierarchial manner. Those who willingly take the initiative to do more than is asked of them for the organization.

Customer service revolves around making all the touch points within your organization as simple, reliable and efficient as possible. Most of the time these touch points will result in a direct connection between customers and the employees of the organization. This is a critical connection, one upon which your business relies on heavily. It is therefore essential, when hiring individuals for this function, that you place relevant emphasis on the personality and temperament of these individuals. Bypassing this process because it has a high upfront cost and no apparent tangible return on investment is shortsighted. In the case of this particular telco, it has over 20m subscribers and a massive network of contact centers. At this point, to re-structure their hiring policies and procedures will be prohibitively costly. This is why a culture for superior customer service must be put in place from the start.

In essence if you are looking to develop world class customer service capabilities, you should hire individuals who:

1. Know the difference between a Job vs Responsibility.

2. Are truly passionate about helping others and problem solving .

3. Believe in the service/product that your organization provides.

These qualities may appear to be simple, yet many companies do not even factor them into the hiring process. Hiring the right kind of people for the job will give your organization the competitive advantage to help the customer choose you!

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5 Steps to Hiring Better

“Hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard.” Jack Welch

Hiring great people is very difficult, however we have to make sure that we do all that is possible to make the process as streamlined and efficient as possible. Once you achieve that, it will be much simpler for you to identify the good from the bad and more importantly the good from the great. Outlined below is a framework to help you get started:

1. Company Frameworks: Before setting out to hire someone to be part of the team you need to analyze the current environment of your organization. How is your workplace structured? Next identify the personality traits of the people who succeed at your organization? Lastly map out how this new resource is going to be integrated into the current environment. To learn more on how to setup a framework please click here.

2. Job Descriptions: Using a framework we need to put down a structured format about the position, responsibilities, experience and educational background. Job descriptions are very important to make clear to the candidate what is expected of them. It also helps the company to put in place certain benchmarks to measure performance in the future. To learn more on writing a job description please click here.

3. Sourcing for talent: Once a job description is created we need to source for candidates who fit the role. Depending on the budget allocated to this, there are a variety of options available. What is important is to select the options intelligently to target the kind of talent you are looking for. If you are looking for highly specialized skill sets, public job boards may not be the most effective method as compared to say head hunting or industry related networking sessions. To learn more about some of the sources available please click here.

4. Interviews and Psychometrics: In my opinion use structured interviews whenever possible. Compared to traditional interviews they provide the interviewer a host of advantages from keeping control of the dialogue to providing an objective measure to benchmark every candidate against. If you can use psychometrics to evaluate personality types, you will get a better understanding of the candidates work place preferences. To learn more please click here.

5. Final Selection: Before you make a selection make sure you run some reference checks on the candidate you are about to hire. This provides additional insight into the candidate and may even be the deciding factor when the decision between two candidates is very close. To learn more about the steps for the final selection please click here.

This is a basic framework which should provide your organization with a more structured approach when wanting to recruit. Over time the framework will get refined to incorporate steps and stages which you consider may be necessary in the selection of talent in your organization. What is important is that you put a process into place for recruitment as it is the most critical factor in any organization. Who you hire in your firm is a clear reflection of the type of organization you are wanting to build. Make sure you send a signal which communicates those objectives.

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Final Selection

“You’re only as good as the people you hire.” Ray Kroc

After setting up a framework and job description, conducting structured interviews and tests you arrive at a pool of short listed candidates . Before making any final decisions, there is just one last step which is almost always overlooked and that is, Reference Checking. This is a critical step which must be followed up on to get a better understanding of the candidate. In an ideal situation I usually request for references from superiors, colleagues and subordinates if any. This helps assess whether the deductions from the recruitment process are correct and gives deeper insights about the candidate. 

Once you have successfully carried out the reference checks you now have all the data required to make an informed decision. If you are recruiting someone who is going to be working with the rest of the team it is a good idea to have the candidate meet the team. Make everyone in the core team a part of the recruitment process and get their opinions about the decision to be made. In the past I have come across teams which ran into trouble when an autonomous decision was reached for hiring without a collective accord .

When the team reaches a collective decision about the candidate they want to hire, you need to get the paper work in place and make an offer to the candidate. Another round of negotiations usually ensues on the terms and conditions of the contract and I recommend getting help from a lawyer when you are drafting this agreement for the first time.

After the negotiations are complete and you have signed a contract, it is time to celebrate. Not only have you hired your first employee you have successfully created a process which will help streamline your hiring in the future into a more effective and efficient process.

 

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Interviews and Psychometrics

“”I had a job interview at an insurance company once and the lady said “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and I said “Celebrating the fifth year anniversary of you asking me this question”” Mitch Hedberg

After the sourcing exercise is complete, you have to select a list of candidates having the correct skill sets and background to succeed at your organization, based on their resume. Resumes should be used as a reference point to form your own image of the candidate. In my opinion, interviews which have a structured format give the employer an upper hand to navigate the conversation. This is in comparison to unstructured interviews where the candidates navigate interviews based on topics they are more comfortable with.

Creating a structured interview requires creating a set of questions to be asked of each candidate. This allows you to document information in an objective manner as well as make comparisions between candidates easier . They key quality to be looking out for is passion, willingness to learn and honesty during the interview process. Use the questionnaire to devise questions to test for these. 

We have recently introduced psychometrics into our hiring process. Psychometrics is a tool used to evaluate a candidates cognitive abilities and personality traits. It provides an in-depth evaluation of the candidate and allows us to determine if he/she will fit into our workplace environment. Used together with structured interviews it provides an infinitely more comprehensive overview of the candidate and makes hiring more objective and transparent.

Interviewing candidates becomes a whole lot easier, the more you do it. In the beginning, especially if you are hiring for the first time it can be a little intimidating. By using a structured methodology and tools such as psychometrics you can drastically cut down the learning curve until you develop the ability to read people more accurately.

A tip I was given by one of my mentors when I was setting off to hire for the first time was: “Always trust your gut, if it doesn’t feel right don’t hire him/her.”  The one time I did not follow this advice, got me into a lot of trouble, so just go with your own instincts and you will do just fine.

 

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Sourcing for talent

“Time spent on hiring is time well spent.” Robert Half

Sourcing for quality talent at a startup is not an easy task. The obvious reason is that we have to convince candidates about the future prospect of our organization and how they are going to benefit by being part of the process. These candidates usually have other offers through the corporate world and are, in my experience usually tempted to stick with the tried and tested path. However being an entrepreneur you need to be out there convincing just about everyone about the growth and prospect of your organization. It could be to a potential customer, a potential employee, your core team and friends and family. You have to have your selling mode always on to create a buzz about what you are doing.

Since we have a prepared job description, we now need to spread the message. There are many options available to you depending on your budget.

1. Advertising in Schools: If you are still based in university advertise your openings on the university job posting boards, if they have any. Attend as many entrepreneurial networking mixers and ask for the opportunity to pitch your company and openings to the audience. In my first couple of ventures on campus I found these to be effective mediums to get the word out.

2. Social Networks: We have recently started using Linkedin and facebook to scout for potential talent in the core teams network. We have had more success using facebook by advertising positions on dedicated company pages. These networks are powerful mediums to get your message across to your second and third degree networks which are difficult to reach otherwise.

3. Corporate site & Blogs: You should do your best to allow your website to post job openings and accept structured resumes to help you continue to grow your resume bank. This will help you to minimize the time it takes to fill positions in the future. If you or your company have a regularly updated blog I would definitely use that medium to attract talent as well.

4. Referrals: This is how we carry out most of our hiring. When we have the job description ready I send it out to friends in the industry to get it to individuals who they feel may fit the role we are looking for. My friends realize how we work and are able to scout intelligently for talent.

5. Job Boards: Whether you use paid ones or free ones, in my experience, the selection process takes a lot longer using this medium. Firstly there is much sorting to be carried out, the quality of candidates is not the best and without any references it is more of a risk. However if the options mentioned above are not available to you this medium has the capability of getting your message out to a large number of individuals.

6. Head Hunters & Executive Search: This is an expensive option which becomes necessary sometimes if you are looking to fill a key role in your team. This is used as a last resort and only for very critical job roles. Selecting the right recruiter is a subject which I will write about in the coming weeks.

This is a preliminary list of tactics that you can implement to start your talent search. Avoid making rushed decisions and do your best to find talent through referrals and references whenever possible.

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Job Descriptions

“It is all one to me if a man comes from Sing Sing Prison or Harvard. We hire a man, not his history.” Malcom S Forbes

Once you have developed a framework for your organization, you are now equipped with the knowledge needed to develop a simple job description to help attract the talent that you need in a more focused manner. Job descriptions are often overlooked or not given enough attention at younger organizations. Since growth is organic and structure is often not in place  this is often disregarded. Say you are looking for an associate web developer to help support your core team of developers with some flash developmental work. In your mind you are perfectly clear about the sort of resource you require. However, later on if you tell the individual to help you out in your php developmental cycles and other administrative functions there may be unpleasantness. 

First we need to map out the main areas of a standard job description. 

Position: The title of the opening at your organization. Keep the title simple and avoid fancy titles which only cause confusion about what the role actually entails.

Responsibilities: This is where you outline in detail all the tasks which the resource will be responsible for. At startups, this should include a broad spectrum if your team is small because we all have to wear multiple hats at the beginning. If you are already at an established stage and are taking on a specialist then you make sure you have covered all the areas of responsibilities. 

Division: You will need to outline which department the resource will be under and the departments main role and functionalities. This will help put the responsibilities into context and bring clarity to the actual job requirement. You can also include details covering who the person will be reporting to and working with.

Education and Experience: Depending on the level of candidate you are looking for, you can fill this category likewise. Any relevant industry experience that may be required should be highlighted here.

Workplace environment: You can refer to the framework list to gather details to fill in this section about the working environment of your organization.

Personal Attributes: If you require any particular attributes which you think will be critical to succeeding at the job then this is the section where they should be highlighted.

These points will help you create a short job description which will help convey your message effectively to potential candidates. It will also help you benchmark performance against responsibilities assigned for the future , making it a critical document in your hiring and talent management process.

Related Posts:

Hiring Revolution: Job Descriptions

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