Robert Keay advises start-ups on how to ensure that delivering exceptional customer service is at the core of their business from day one.
Customer care can be make-or-break for most start-ups, particularly those in the goods and services sectors.
Far too often start-ups believe the customer experience is something confined to the big boys and something the small guy can pay attention to much later when a certain level of success has been achieved.
The reality is that customer care must underline your business plan from day one if companies are determined to succeed in what is now becoming the experience economy.
According to Wikipedia, the term “The Experience Economy” was first described in a Harvard Business School Press article published in 1998 by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. The co-authors argued that businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product — the “experience”.
I would argue that defining the customer experience is actually more important for a start-up. It cannot be overstated. How you deal with your first customers will determine, in large part, whether you’re on the road to success or failure.
Get the customer experience right, and you’ll win loyal customers who return again and again. Conversely, get it wrong and dissatisfied customers will complain about your business to others – and the negativity will spread via online and social media at an almost bewildering pace.
The consequence is your reputation sinking as quickly as the Titanic and, vitally, before your business has even had the chance to set sail.
Drafting the customer experience journey may sound daunting to start-ups but take heart – there is help around.
There are a number of online and mobile solutions which can be bought - in part or whole - and managed by others or self-managed. This will make the whole process easy and highly cost-effective and should deliver considerable returns in repeat business, competitor knowledge and the ability to adjust marketing strategies as quickly as consumer whims change.
Start-ups however, like everyone else, have to understand that delivering excellence in customer service isn’t just down to the people on the front line. It involves everyone from CEO to HR, from finance teams to the sales reps on the shop floor.
Everyone is involved and everyone has to be committed. When you employ people, choose only those who will be as passionate about the customer experience as you are! Make sure your customer experience commitment is based on the simple philosophy – treat the customer as you would like to be treated.
You will also need to have processes in place to ensure the customer experience is at the core of your business.
Here are a few tips on some particular systems you should implement as soon as today:
• Be efficient online
Ensure your website deals with popular queries and make sure it details the contacts of the person who can help if there is a problem. This will often allow a customer to resolve a query themselves.
• Use trusted suppliers
Be conscious of the fact that a problem with a supplier will have a knock-on effect on your business and reputation in the eyes of the customer who doesn’t really care that the problem may have been out of your hands – as far as the customer is concerned it’s your problem.
When choosing suppliers prioritise quality and reliability over price – it will pay off in the long run. Your reputation is everything.
• Tell it like it is
Never over-promise your offering and do not make claims you can’t deliver. Focus on what you can uniquely offer – a personal touch, for instance.”
• Make sure production runs smoothly
Identify any hold-ups and address them immediately.
• Anticipate returns
Put a returns procedure in place and make sure it is easy to understand and activate.
• Respond quickly
Limit damage by implementing immediate responses to dismayed customers - ideally within 24 hours.
Always listen to what customers want and tailor the product and service accordingly.
• Invest in technology and training
Technology will be needed to leverage today’s omni-channel marketing requirements and it can help you better understand your customer.
You should ensure that your staff is trained to the hilt in your products, services, procedures and company positioning. Front line staff will be the first impression many customers get of your company. If they get it wrong, you lose business.
• Be observant
Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing and continually innovate to stay ahead of the game.
Map out the customer experience journey and you’ll reach your success destination. The benefits are multi-faceted but all boil down to increasing the value of your business.
An organisation that is obsessively customer-focused from top to bottom has higher rates of employee engagement and retention. These businesses spend more time innovating and delivering because they receive fewer complaints and can direct their energies into the positive.
They create brand differentiators – people come to associate them with excellence of product and service. They develop customer loyalty and retain clients who are prepared to pay more for their goods and services because they like what they get and how they’re treated.
These customers also drive down sales costs because they refer the organisations to others and, as a result, the value of these brands just keep on rising.
Ultimately, begin as you mean to go on and you will earn your place in the new experience economy.
About the author:
Robert Keay is the founder and co-owner of Ethos Integrated Solutions, a Dubai-based provider in delivering excellence in customer service solutions across the Middle East for more than a decade.
Keay is also the co-founder and chairman of The International Customer Service Institute, headquartered in London, and the co-author of The International Standard for Service Excellence, the world’s first customer service standard, which has been accredited by the British Standards Institution (BSI).