Building a startup often feels like waging a war on multiple fronts. One week, you’re working on securing funding, while the next, you’re developing new features for your product. Meanwhile, you also need to find a replacement for your key engineer who decided to walk out this morning, and your accountant keeps reminding you to file your tax return – today! Hectic schedules like these leave company founders with very little time for things other than those on the to-do (now!) list. In these circumstances, it’s understandable that dedicating time and resources to providing exceptional customer service can easily fall by the wayside.
Unanswered emails and phone calls, products or services that don’t live up to customer expectations, and inadequate customer service staff will inevitably lead to companies losing customers to their competitors. And in the US, for instance, unhappy customers will tell an average of 15 people about a bad product or service. Did you know that negative reviews can kill a startup before it has a chance to achieve its true potential? It’s therefore critical to train your staff on how to adequately respond to your customers’ concerns. And in an era where 81 per cent of consumers demand improved response time, the single best way for a startup to succeed is to provide exactly what its clients want quick and creative solutions to their problems.
How to impress your customers
An open-minded, caring attitude towards client inquiries is the cornerstone of great customer service. The key trick here is to use customer feedback to fine-tune your product or service and solve the underlying cause of the problems they face. Obviously, that requires your company to be easily reachable by phone, email, or live chat. And to save time, consider introducing chatbots that can answer up to 80 per cent of routine customer inquiries. The cost of deploying such a system ranges from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the chatbot and whether you build your own or use an existing service provider. But this investment could reduce customer service costs by up to 30 per cent, and more importantly, chatbots work 24/7 and answer questions in real time, so no customer query will ever go unanswered. However, customers will still need to be able to connect with human staff members as well, in the event more complex issues need to be resolved. Maintaining a blog and an exhaustive FAQ section is therefore important, too.
Adii Pienaar, the founder of the e-commerce software firm Conversio, shares a few unusual tricks that help him impress customers. For example, he argues that founders shouldn’t shy away from signing their email with ‘Founder’ when reaching out to customers. People will appreciate the fact that a busy founder took time to personally solve their problems. And when your customer service inbox is full, a great way to instantly wow your customers is by responding to the last received message first, says Pienaar, rather than working your way through your inbox by first attending to the oldest message – which would make everybody have to wait even longer. Another way to make a good impression is to find ways to go beyond the call of duty and really impress – instead of merely reply to – customers, whether it’s with a thank-you note, a discount voucher, or a special offer. Remember: happy customers are more willing to write positive reviews and make your company look good.
Clear signs your customer service isn’t cutting it
As important as it is to know how to impress customers, it’s equally important to recognise when your customer service isn’t quite cutting it. Do you find your staff arguing with customers over the phone or online? That could be due to a lack of training or skills. Their efficiency could also be hampered by micro-management and the inability to make any decisions without the back-and-forth with superiors. Also keep in mind that if you don’t occasionally take a step back to analyse how your customer service department functions, you might overlook problems and consider their work to be better than it really is.
How great companies take care of their clients
Finding ways to impress customers is only limited by the ingenuity of your customer service staff and your managers. Take the employees of the video hosting platform Wistia, for example, who create “how-to videos to walk customers through the technical aspect of the products, as well as personalized thank-you videos that showcase other product features that might be useful for customers”.
Another example is the American online retailer of prescription glasses, Warby Parker. This company goes to great lengths to help people find the right product. It offers a quiz to guide their customers in finding the right glasses and delivers up to five pairs to try on at home for free. Once you decide on your favourite pair, you pay for it, and the other glasses can be sent back. The company also urges customers to share “selfies on Instagram using the hashtag #WarbyParkerHomeTryOn to get opinions (and, of course, to spread the word with friends)”.
And customer service reps at the web application firm Basecamp spend two hours every day analysing the work of their department and improving existing processes by reviewing customer feedback and identifying patterns. This helps the company to develop a more efficient work system, ensuring both the customers and employees are equally satisfied.
Loyal customers are a sign of a successful business
Each of these companies has realised that their survival depends on whether customers will recommend them or take their money elsewhere. Unhappy clients complaining about their concerns to others (online) can potentially damage the reputation of your company for many years to come. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to deliver fast and creative solutions to the problems your clients face, to realise and rectify your mistakes (even publicly, if necessary), and to strive to improve your customer service in every way possible. Remember, in a market that’s increasingly saturated and competitive, loyal customers are your most valuable asset.