5 Steps for building a customer focused business

A chalk drawing on a blackboard with the word customers depicted inside a magnifying glass.

Most customers don’t care about your competition. Even in a competitive market. Even if there are legacy incumbents looming on the horizon. You found your customers or they found you, probably thanks to a lot of what Paul Graham (founder of Y Combinator) calls ‘pull’ marketing work. Now you have to delight them.

Related: Choosing the right route to market

Eventually, your customers will start recommending you to others. Growth will take place organically, over time. But not in the early days, which means every customer is effectively making an investment in your startup. They are giving you trust, money and a brand name / potential case study – all of which makes it a little easier to win the next customer and the one after that.

1. Create a culture of ownership

In larger organisations, there are customer service teams, technical staff, managers, sales superstars and all number of hierarchies with distinct and easily defined job roles. In early stage startups, there are usually less than ten people. Customer service is something which can easily fall through the cracks.

A Founder-CEO might want to treat every customer to a personal response. That’s fine if they have the time. If not then there should be a structured, accountable process for fielding customer contacts. One person should be responsible. It should be their primary function. They should have clear and open accountability with every case so that the whole team can learn from wins and failures when it comes to service delivery, since how you do with one will impact how you handle one thousand customers.

2. Fast responses for the win!

Have a back-end service in place, like Groove, which sends automated updates to both staff and customers when contact has been made. Make sure inbound social contacts are assigned automatically too since no one wants to have a Tweet – which is public – go unanswered. Buffer uses SparkCentral for these queries.

Customers need to know: a.) they’ve been heard; b.) a timescale for a resolution; c.) who’s responsible; d.) updates if there are any unexpected delays.

The same principles which apply in call centres should apply in startups. Aim for a fast resolution (under 24 hours). Don’t keep the customer waiting so long they feel the need to email, Tweet or call again. If there is no resolution, then it should go up to a more senior member of staff.

3. Always aim to exceed expectations

Giving a customer false hope is the same as ignoring an email or hanging up during a phone call. All they want is the truth. It will set your customer service free.

Aim to give them as realistic a timescale as possible. So if you solve a problem sooner, then they’ll be even happier with the result. This means the person responsible has to know they can resolve the issue within the allotted time. If this doesn’t look likely, then let the customer know in advance, rather than on or just before they were expecting an answer.

The one advantage of being in a startup team compared to a call centre agent is your customers probably don’t have very high – or low – expectations. As a new company there’s little precedent; except for the fact that customer service is a universal experience, so get it wrong and a customer won’t hang around for long.

4. The customer isn’t always right

Work in a shop, restaurant, call centre or any customer facing role long enough, and you’ll meet Mr. Belligerently Obnoxiously Right, even though they couldn’t be more wrong. He’s the customer, so he’s right, obviously.

Every startup will eventually encounter Mr. B. O. as well. Do your best. Always do your best to resolve every problem and answer every question. But when the facts are against a customer, and you’ve done all you can then sometimes you have to let go and walk away. After that, the best solution is either to do your best to repair the relationship or move on.

5. Go above and beyond

Every customer contact is a chance for you to show them why they made the right choice when they bought your service. Every contact is an added value extension of that service. A chance to keep building the relationship.

That’s why you should never miss the chance to exceed expectations. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture either. A personal, handwritten note can go a long way in a digital age. Send a box of tissues and flu tablets if you know a customer has a cold but is still in the office. With red cup season at Starbucks just around the corner why not send an e-gift card? The little things are what counts in our personal relationships, so as a startup employ that mindset when it comes to customers.

As you grow your customer base, keep finding ways to delight them. The happier your customers, the more secure your revenue, the more inbound leads you will start receiving. Growth will get incrementally easier with a strong customer-centric approach.

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