Jordy Leiser is co-founder and CEO of StellaService, a company that independently monitors and rates the customer service performance of online retailers.
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The entrepreneurial community is littered with boastful stories of the lengths that people will go to in order to be successful and the sacrifices they’ve made to get there. Legendary all nighters, making that first deal work by the skin of your teeth — all part of the romanticized side of starting your own business.
In reality, entrepreneurs have a ton of stuff on their minds and are likely running on little sleep, a boatload of caffeine, and the overall pressures of running a business.
While difficult decisions are to be made on a daily basis, there’s one major theme that every entrepreneur should keep in mind no matter what the industry: investing in your customer service efforts.
It’s easy to fall back on old notions of customer service as a necessary evil that should be executed with as little overhead and only when necessary, especially for young companies just starting out. There are a thousand other things you could be focusing on and it’s tempting to cut customer service from your essential to-do list.
Still – I’m here to tell you that putting the effort into customer service is one of the things that will give you real advantage over other companies in the space that may beat you in experience.
Here are four ways entrepreneurs can build customer service into the bedrock of your new company.
1. A commitment to service starts at the top
Leaders in the space like Zappos and Apple know that world-class customer service requires significant commitment. The best entrepreneurs know how to be efficient while never letting up on delighting the customer. They know that you simply can’t afford to skimp on customer service efforts.
But before you even begin to think about how to get your employees on-board in delighting your customers, you need to put in the effort yourself. Lead by example and demonstrate exactly how your customers should be treated.
For example, J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler has been known to call customers in response to emailed queries about a product. In one instance, within 24 hours he personally emailed a response to a question, left a voicemail, and then took the call when the customer called back.
Apple’s Steve Jobs took to personally answering some emails and spend time in the service trenches.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, potentially receives thousands of emails per day since making his email address public, forwarding questions to relevant employees and sparking a flurry of internal activity.
The CEO of Karmaloop goes one step further and even gives out his cell phone number in addition to his email, allowing himself to be personally accountable to anyone visiting Karmaloop’s website.
These leaders all know that this direct access to an executive is an invaluable asset to delivering a world-class customer experience.
2. Use technology to drive efficiencies
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not as easy as it sounds to make sure that your systems are running smoothly. Make the investment. There’s nothing that frustrates customers more than a failed attempt to even get to a customer service help portal/channel. When you make sure that this side of your business is taken care of, you’ll build a returning customer base who can depend on it.
Don’t forget to take advantage of innovations in technical assistance. Yes, everyone now has a Facebook page and a company Twitter handle, but are you thinking outside the box to determine what more you could be doing and how you can consolidate your efforts?
More and more companies are taking advantage of using video to answer consumers’ concerns. Warby Parker has used this technique to cover a series of customer questions on YouTube and provide recommendations on which frames may be best fit for particular shoppers. In the process, they are cutting down on costs by offering proactive advice and addressing several customers at once.
You can save precious time and money by looking for similar ways to be more efficient in your service operations.
3. Leverage the community
Successful businesses engage their power users and loyal customers to help inform others about the details of a product or service. Don’t be afraid to experiment with community platforms to get conversation flowing about a new product or service, and you may be able to build a community of users that can answer customer inquiries on your behalf. GetSatisfaction is one company offering a platform that can drive these conversations.
It’s important to make sure that you have someone on your team play a part in these forums. The format can help you cut costs as you ramp up your full customer service team, but make sure that you’re on call to verify consumers are receiving the correct information and you are maintaining promised quality standards.
Often, these types of conversations help consumers understand the personality of a company and appreciate the reps behind your customer service strategy. This type of great service is essential to building a loyal customer base that will come back for more.
4. Location, location, location
Don’t be afraid to use location to your advantage. Moving to a big city center isn’t always the right choice for a growing company, and you may be able to keep your operational costs down by establishing roots outside your closest metro area and playing up your regional ties.
Take advantage of local talent and avoid the large turnover rates and high competition for new hires that is often endemic in larger metro areas. You can also look for ways to play up regional passions that can help drive your company culture and build your local fan base.
Jackthreads, a men’s fashion retailer based in Columbus, OH pulls most of its customer service agents from among Ohio State University students, to great success. The company is filled with like-minded individuals who help to set the bar for company culture. Their passion for the community (and their alma mater) spills over into daily operations and helps to keep the company in check.
A focus on customers is essential to growing your business
By aligning your story and brand with service, you’re future-proofing your business. Your product may evolve over time as consumer preferences and trends change, but if you stay consistent in your service efforts, customers will reward you with their loyalty.