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Entrepreneurs Need to "Walk the Talk" When It Comes to Customer Service!

Most entrepreneurs talk a great game regarding customer service.  Few put that talk into practice. Virtually every small company owner speaks of how customer-centric they are.  Yet, many of these same companies create products without ever once getting customer input or feedback.  Others talk about how responsive they are to customer needs and how much their customers love them.  And few of these, if any, ever ask their customers how they truly feel.

But what is customer service, really?  The Wikipedia entry defines it as "a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction - that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation." And it's more than a good voice answering the phone. It's more than a couple accolades from some satisfied customers. It has to be part of the culture of the company. But for many entrepreneurs, beyond the "party line," it's barely given lip service, let alone being a vital part of how the company does business.

For a small company to truly succeed, it needs to make the customer and customer service the centerpiece of how it does business. Here's how to "walk the talk":

Make it easy and inviting to do business with you.
Too many companies make it hard to do business with them.  From websites that are either uninviting to ones that just dare a prospective customer to learn what the company does and how it might benefit that customer. Think of your website as your virtual storefront.  Make customers want to come in and browse around.  Make it easy to learn about your company; learn about products and even easier to order them or, at least, provide an easy way to get more information about them. Can customers request a quote and get a response back in their current lifetime? Do you have a complex 75 page price book that would scare off even the most seasoned purchasing agent? And how easy is it to just place an order?  If it's this hard to get you to take their money, how much harder, they might ask, will it be to get you to support them when they have a question or a problem?

Deal with the relationship not the situation.
From the first interaction, get as much information about the prospective customer as possible and track every single interaction thereafter. Have a way to build a customer profile and track all of those interactions, whether it be through some simple Excel spreadsheet or Access data base, or a full-blown CRM.  And a note on a CRM.  Too often a CRM becomes a sales prospecting tool as opposed to a way of dealing with the whole customer relationship. Whatever you use, find a way to track and measure every single touch point with a customer throughout their history with the company, whether a big sales situation, an inquiry about getting a demo of a new product or a complex support question.

Keep your finger on the customer pulse.
Do you know the best way to find out how customers really feel about your company and its products and services?  Ask!  Too few companies do it way too infrequently.  It should be an ongoing function to find out, in the words of one of my favorite people of all time, the late Ed Koch, former NY mayor, whose favorite question was "how'm I doing?"  Ongoing surveys of your customers and prospects (what, you're not allowed to learn the perceptions non-customers have of you in the marketplace?) are critical to keeping your finger on the pulse of your customer base and market.  And, please, no softball questions to make you feel good.  You want the truth (whether you can handle it or not, is again, another thing).

Forget customer satisfaction; get employee satisfaction.
You want your customers to be more satisfied?  Make you employees more satisfied.  They will treat customers the way they are treated, as I have noted in a previous blog post.  This is where customer service and satisfaction as part of the corporate culture begins.  And it should begin at the beginning.  Just because you're a young company with one or two employees, does not mean this doesn't apply to you.  In fact, it applies even more so.  In the early days, when resources are scarce, is when you "set the bar," for how you treat employees, and, in turn, how you want customers treated.  And those two have to be in absolute lock step because they feed each other!

Forget customer satisfaction II; get customer loyalty.
Finally, to me, customer satisfaction is like "meeting requirements." You  don't want customers satisfied.  You want them elated.  You don't want to measure their happiness level by the (low) number of complaints, but by their loyalty. And that is an attitude that is built on the premise of:it's not how many customers you sign up, but how many you keep, for how long. And loyalty is not built on "Kumbaya hand-holding with the customer around the campfire," but on absolute honesty and openness. There will always be problems.  But you build customer loyalty, not just by exceeding expectations with outstanding products/services, but by responding to a problem, quickly, directly and honestly, explaining why it exists, what you're doing to fix it and what steps you've taken to ensure that it doesn't happen again. An honest and open customer relationship is the foundation of customer loyalty.

Customer service is a cornerstone of entrepreneurial success and it requires more than "talking a good game."  It requires a culture built on dedication to it.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!

Have you built your company's culture around customer service? Please share your thoughts in your comments.  It can help another entrepreneur.

If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.

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