Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

What do you do when you fall?

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred (Batman Begins)

I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about the economic climate and the alarming rate of business closures in multiple sectors. We were sharing personal stories about how we had dealt with difficult times in our respective businesses and what things kept us plugging away even when it seemed to be the end of the road. I am sure you understand that problems are part and parcel of starting a new business or being part of a new venture. Some problems will be larger than others but you never really quite run out of them. When you solve a specific challenge in a particular segment of your business it does sometimes manifest itself in another aspect of it.

For example, suppose your business is struggling with sales generation. After brainstorming and overcoming that problem, the next challenge is often managing the inflow of new orders which the business may not be equipped to do. This forms a cycle where it is possible to continue moving forward and facing new challenges as they appear. However, it is not usually as simple as that. There are three potential stages we can go through when facing a challenge.

1. Ignore it: How many times have we been faced with a problem either of a personal nature or in a professional aspect of our life and chosen to ignore it. There have been many times that I can personally recall where we knew something was wrong with the way our business was doing a certain process yet we never changed it. Wanting a different reaction from the same action is unfortunately something that many of us find ourselves doing when we do not want to move out of our comfort zones. We pretend that our problems do not exist or are not affecting us and hope for a miraculous change. Unfortunately that usually never comes and most of the time we just end up amplifying the problems.

2. Blame somebody: This is probably the most used excuse whenever we are faced with a problem. The economy is bad, my partner cheated me, we lost our star sales person, we do not have the funds or I am not skilled enough. This is another easy way to deal with problems. We shift the blame to anyone we can, including ourselves sometimes in the face of problems we cannot pass on. This creates a detrimental and negative cycle that ends up sapping all motivation and drive we may have left in ourselves and we let our environment condition us in whatever way it deems fit. This is giving up  control in our lives by burying our head in the sand.

3, Solution: The most productive thing we can do for ourselves whenever we face a problem is to correctly identify it, document where it is stemming from, brainstorm with individuals who will be able to pinpoint pain areas and develop a set of options that can help us deal with them. As start ups, we go through some tough challenges such as getting your first big reference customer, securing funding or convincing a star player to join your team. We have to look at each of these problems with an open mind and no matter how many times we fall down, we must learn the lesson inherent in the fall, then learn to pick ourselves up again.

Most of the things discussed in this post may appear extremely obvious. I mean who wants to admit that they are actually not dealing effectively with a problem that they may have in their life. I recommend getting a piece of paper and writing down all the major problems that you may be facing in life right now whether of a personal or business nature. Next, identify how you are dealing with these problems. We are often surprised to discover that we focus so much on the fact that we have these problems, that we forget to think of  necessary solutions. In order to move forward we need to understand that problems are a natural part of life, the quality of our lives however depends primarily on how we deal with them.

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Filed under: Communication, Customer Service, Technology, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

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