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?

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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?

 

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

Creating a Culture

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree

Building an organization where you want exemplary customer service requires senior management to build a culture from the top down. If you are a new startup this should be an area which needs to be emphasized right from the beginning to help you create a culture which will permeate throughout the organization when you scale. So how do you go about creating a culture for customer service?

1. Make customer service as objective and tangible as possible. Place benchmarks on just about everything which relates to the customer from the time it takes for you to reply to an email, send out a quotation to delivering the product. Customer satisfaction surveys should be in place to help you assess how satisfied the customer was with the product/service, how you are doing with trouble shooting over the phone and email and what needs to be done to increase the customer’s level of satisfaction.

2. Once certain procedures and benchmarks are in place, training to optimize the level of customer service must be provided on these processes. This will equip your employees to better understand, perform and serve customers. It also reflects how serious the organization is about this function. A lot of great companies such as Disney, Starbucks and Commerce Bank are prime examples of how intense training from the time you are hired has created a world class customer service culture.

3. Showcase and reward staff who display outstanding customer service. Employee recognition sends a message through the organization and creates personal benchmarks for everyone to achieve. It motivates them to perform at their highest level and this sets a much higher standard in the organization.

4. If you do hire an employee who ends up not sharing the same core values relating to customer service, as senior management, you should let those employees go as soon as possible. This shows how important senior management takes this function and their level of dedication to delivering the highest levels of service.

During the 30 hour period while I was disconnected I probably spoke to approximately 20 representatives at the organization. I went to their office, talked with them on the phone and exchanged emails. All three contact points gave me a completely different experience. I came across different types of individuals some who took their jobs seriously and others who simply couldn’t care less.

Being entrepreneurs and individuals responsible for the direction our companies take we need to establish a culture for superior customer service from the start. This will ensure that when we eventually scale, these values will be deeply embedded and scaled likewise as well.

Filed under: Communication, Culture, Customer Service, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Please hold your call is important to us

“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 

Those are 8 words I really do not  enjoy hearing from a machine, especially when I am not having the best of days. In this day and age when customer service is a deciding factor in whether a company is successful or not I am continually surprised by the lack of importance given to this function. This blog series was inspired by a nightmarish episode of customer support at one of the largest telco’s in the country. It took them approximately 30 hours to reconnect me with the world.

During this 30 hour period I went through a gamut of emotions ranging from diabolical anger, confusion, disappointment, curiosity, denial to euphoric happiness. I learnt about the intricacies of mammoth call centers, the lack of sufficient support systems, just how insignificant one complaint can be when you process thousands of such queries every hour and how destructive one such incident can be to a company’s reputation. (Lost Laptop = $54m , Bloggers reaction) The internet has transformed the voice of the customer and corporations must definitely factor this into their customer service strategy.

Over the course of this week I will be talking about how to put customer service into your startup strategy from the word go and other topics related to improving and focusing on the customer service department. We have to carefully balance technology with human element to ensure that customer issues are resolved promptly and efficiently. However contrary to common belief, that the customer is always right, this author & blogger has generated a lot of buzz promoting the fact that the customer is ‘not’ always right. What do you think?

What was the worst customer service experience you have been through? How do you think the company could have reacted differently to address your complaints? I look forward to hearing from all of you.

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

Common Value Systems

 

Common Value Systems

Value systems are a key metric which should be carefully evaluated when selecting a strategic partner. These systems are not always clearly displayed or disclosed by either party. When talking about the core value systems of a company I do not mean the superficial coating. They are those values which are key drivers involved in decision making, product development, quality and customer service.

When evaluating a potential partner you first have to assess whether or not they have a win-win attitude. This is a critical requirement, without it the partnership is destined to be short lived or will not reach its potential. In my experience this is a mindset which is not present in a lot of organizations. They still use the traditional methodology of thinking which is to maximize their gain in any potential deal. The next time you are evaluating a potential strategic partner think win-win and see how a mutually beneficial solution can be found.

Secondly a partners view of product quality and cost is an important aspect to take into account. If you are a high quality producer and you are thinking about partnering with a low cost distributor who has national presence you will probably not be able to provide a win-win situation to your distributor, as the price of your products will be too high. The reverse scenario is where a high cost distributor will not want to distribute low cost products. Other key aspects such as aesthetics, customer service and human capital development should be some of the other indicators to be looked into before making a decision.

Common value systems are integral in creating long term partnerships. They provide a common thread which both sides can relate to and work towards. Finding out about a partners value system requires you to research diligently and needs you to dedicate time and resources towards it , however the effort is worth every cent.

 

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