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8 Keys to Award-Winning Startup Customer Service

These eight initiatives should be required reading for every entrepreneur.

Martin Zwilling

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Most leaders agree that poor customer service is a business killer today, in terms of lost customers, reduced profits and low morale. Yet the average perception of customer experience continues to decline. Young entrepreneurs and start-ups, in particular, often remain naively unfocused – despite their passion – of what it takes to provide the high-quality service expected.

It’s a tough job, and inexperienced entrepreneurs just don’t know where to start, and how to do it.

Chip Bell and Ron Zemke, who are experts in this area, provide some of the best specific insights I’ve seen, in their book “Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service.” Their eight initiatives should be required reading for every entrepreneur:

1. Find and retain quality people

You have to start with hiring only people who are willing and able to make serious customer service happen.

Make sure you know and communicate well exactly what you mean by high-quality service. Train them fully, give them authority, make them accountable and tie their pay to customer satisfaction.

2. Know your customers intimately

This means personally listening, understanding and responding to your customers’ evolving needs and shifting expectations. Then make sure that everyone on the team does the same, and are motivated to improve the match with your start-up. Seek out complaining and lost customers for the most important input.

3. Build a service vision that everyone sees as clearly as you

This means articulating and living the customer service mindset for the team, in front of customers and in the board room. It must be understandable, written down and verifiable. It should also have regular measurements and metrics to make it real, and it should be bench marked against the competition.

4. Make your service delivery process “happy”

A well-designed service delivery process will make you easy to do business with. The process must be employee friendly, as well as customer friendly and have feedback mechanisms to correct poor results. If service employees are not happy, the process isn’t working yet.

5. Train and coach continuously

Companies with great service routinely spend 3% to 5% of salaries training team members – experienced as well as new. Leaders have found that keeping everyone on top of changes in technology, competition and customer demands is critical to success. Service people need this as required team support.

6. Involve, empower and inspire

Involve team members in the fix to customer problems, as well as fixing the faulty process causing the problems. Empower them to look beyond simple rules for solutions, not out of habit, routine or fear.

Inspiration is the process of creating excitement, enthusiasm and commitment, by your passion and actions.

7. Recognise, reward, incentivise and celebrate

By human nature, people that work for and with you want to do a good job. The best incentive is to give them something good in return. This should start with constructive feedback on how well they are doing, and what they can do to improve. Don’t forget recognition for accomplishment and efforts.

8. Set the tone and lead the way

Like it or not, you are the personal role model for all the people in your start-up. How they see you deal with and talk about peers, partners, team members and customers tells them what the real rules of conduct are for customer service. You can’t con or manipulate people into doing quality work.

Customer service is not just handling exceptions, something that you can think about later, once the business is up and running. It’s a core process that must be up and effective when you deliver your first product or service.

 

Martin Zwilling is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. Contact him at at marty@startupprofessionals.com

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Techniques

Want To Become A Supplier To A Big Company? Consider This First

A giant customer can be highly profitable or cost you your business. Have you considered all the angles?

Ed Hatton

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“How do I get into the big corporates or Government?” Business owners visualise huge sales and profits by becoming a supplier to a giant, and that is often the case. For a big organisation with billions to spend, a trivial expenditure to them may be a large fortune to you. Do not let the number of zeros dazzle you, riches are not guaranteed; many entrepreneurs have suffered losses or businesses collapse from such dealings.

You must understand the motivations of managers of large organisations, and the risks they face. They are KPI-driven and risk serious damage to their careers if something goes badly wrong. Compared to these issues, your profitability, work hours and ego are minor considerations. You may believe that you only have to perform in terms of your agreement, but in reality, you need to make your contacts look good. Aim for a zero fail rate; deliveries that are late, faulty or incorrect may cause a disproportionate explosion because that means your contact has let someone down. If you are smart, you can help your contacts get a reputation for superior internal service.

Related: How To Stay One Step Ahead In The Knowledge Era

Understand the risks that big customers pose to your business

There are risks in any unequal buyer/seller relationship. The biggest risk is if the giant stops buying. Large customers can be extremely demanding; they see you as an extension of their business and can be intolerant of your need to service other customers. Many small suppliers will be familiar with a peremptory summons to an immediate meeting and occasional rudeness. A supply contract inevitably favours the big guy, and this means pricing and other terms of trade are vital. You must protect your ability to make a reasonable margin even if circumstances like inflation, exchange rates or sector wage agreements change.  

Large organisations care about meeting their budgets, not about your profitability, and many suppliers have failed because they were bound to supply goods at an unsustainable price. Managers move around, and if your champion is promoted, the replacement manager may prefer their favourite suppliers, so out you go. Broaden your range of contacts in the organisation to avoid this risk.  Large organisations are huge bureaucracies; decisions may take time and payments may be delayed, especially if your paperwork is not perfect.

There are opportunities — but evaluate them carefully

The major opportunity is significant growth. They will buy if you supply a product or service that suits their needs and budget at service levels that make the managers look good. It is entirely possible to make your company almost indispensable by solving problems and offering them innovative new ways of exceeding their KPIs at reduced cost. There are opportunities to supply other parts of the giant, as well as their supply chains. Be careful with growth. Your primary contact will be used to your full attention and if he or she senses that this is no longer happening because you have grown, they can seek alternative suppliers. Never let growth reduce your customer service level.

A very large and prestigious customer gives your company credibility, allows you to attract the brightest staff, makes selling to other giants easier and gives you funds to develop new markets and new products.

Related: Are You Forgetting To Think About Your Business Strategy?

Is it worth it?

Is it worth the big money? Yes, if you can manage the risks, chief of which is becoming too dependent on one customer. However, dealing with the big gorillas is not the same as having a more balanced supplier/buyer relationship. It works if you use your ability to be nimble and flexible to solve their problems. It helps if you are innovative and can use your creativity to respond rapidly in ways that big corporations cannot. It works if you can give very personal service, even if that means you, the owner, are the primary interface. By doing these things you can become an indispensable cog in a huge machine.


REMEMBER THIS

You need a champion in your client’s organisation, but ensure you have other contacts too. What happens if they leave or are promoted? Is your contract safe?

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Techniques

Accurately Predict Future Sales With These Two Things

Being able to predict your sales for next month and those to come, is a result of a combination of two things.

Andrew Aitken

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As someone responsible for sales in a growing business, you would love to be able to predict your sales accurately, month after month – but this can be a difficult process. Fortunately, it’s not impossible. With some initial effort and careful monitoring, you can predict whether the team will have positive sales results in the future, and where you can see trouble looming, you can take advance action to avoid problems.

Being able to predict your sales for next month and those to come, is a result of a combination of two things:

1. Developing a sales process

As ‘boring” as it might sound for many entrepreneurs, it is extremely useful to understand the benefits of working to a process in business. This applies to any part of the business, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, is very applicable to sales.

Related: How To Find The Right Salespeople: And Attract Them To Your Business

Think about it this way:

  • If you do the same task a different way every time, you can expect a different outcome every time. It becomes difficult to predict whether the outcome will be good or bad.
  • But if you do the same task the same way every time, the outcome becomes very predictable, and you’ve laid a platform for systematic improvement. By making one small tweak to how you do the task, you can see if you get a better, or a worse, outcome. You can then keep all the tweaks that improve your outcome and drop the tweaks that make it worse.

2. Developing sales systems

A superior quality sales management capability necessitates that you have a Sales System on a best of breed technology platform, to help manage the sales function in the business.

A good sales system helps you capture your sales process. Good sales management practices drive home the discipline needed to implement the sales process, and in turn, predict sales results.

Take the first step in your journey towards accurately predicting sales by developing a sound sales process.

Next in this series: HOW TO DEVELOP A SALES PROCESS THAT WORKS LIKE A CHARM

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Company Posts

Why Customers Don’t Respond To Disruption

You’ve got chatbots running your customer service, interactive screens across your stores and you’ve just appointed a chief digital officer. Why aren’t you seeing sales going through the roof?

PwC

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PwC partner Quinton Pienaar says there could be many reasons for this. But the short answer is probably that in your understandable rush to stay relevant and keep up with the latest technology trends and developments, you lost sight of your number one priority. You’re just not that into your customers – and they know it.

It’s fairly easy to get dazzled by the array of technologies out there. But the trap that you’ve got to guard against is that you start seeing the world through a technology lens, rather than a customer one. Remember, technology is a tool, not an outcome. It’s the means to the end, not the end itself.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be transforming your business digitally. You absolutely should. But there’s a big difference between investing in technology to keep up with the Joneses, and investing in technology that’s going to drive specific business outcomes and improve the customer experience.

Related: Reimagine The Use Of Technology

In fact, it would be downright dangerous to ignore the game-changing benefits that the current wave of emerging technologies brings to the table. To understand what they can do for your business, you have to know what they are. We at PwC talk about the ‘essential eight’:

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the building blocks for the next generation of digital work.
  • Robotics, drones, and 3-D printing are all about machines that extend the reach of computing power into the material world.
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) merge the physical and digital realms, and offer incredible advances in customer experience.
  • Blockchain rethinks our approach to commercial transactions by allowing participants to exchange value, and verify ownership of something, without a third party.

Some of these technologies are verging on science fiction. So how do we use them in a way that supports customer obsession? The starting point of any successful customer transformation is a customer-focused design that brings together three essential elements – business strategy, customer experience and technology – into a coherent, fully-fledged digital strategy.

In other words, today’s most successful companies have a strategy that is focused around a simple and regularly-updated list of priorities. They incorporate the new generation of technologies like IoT, blockchain and AI. But they keep their people, and their customers at the core of their business by designing strategies that directly address customers’ underlying needs and desired outcomes.

Related: Why Your Latest Tech Investment Might Not Be Wowing Your Customers

This sounds dead obvious. But what we find is that many companies we talk to are focused on growing their revenues, or making improvements to their products and services, rather than creating better customer experiences. Or they have the strategy, but are battling to execute it effectively.

Of course, to underpin this customer transformation journey, you’re going to need some data and the foundational technologies on which today’s innovations depend – data mining and analytics, mobile, and cloud. You may also need to rethink your processes to manage, enrich and maintain data, and operationalise it throughout your business.

So you have all of that in place? Good. Now stop. Breathe. Ask yourself whether your technology and data are truly supporting an unwavering focus on the customer. Because if you take one message from this article, let it be this: in today’s marketplace, putting your customer at the centre of your business is imperative to driving growth and profitability, winning market share and unlocking the value of your technology investments.

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