Customer care is a 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, it has to be built into the business plan from Day One, that’s if you’re determined to succeed in what is now becoming the Experience Economy.
I would argue that defining the customer experience is actually more important for a start-up. Really 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 it now spreads online and via social media at an almost bewildering pace meaning your reputation could sink as quickly as the Titanic and before you’ve really had the chance to set sail.
Drafting the customer experience journey may sound daunting to start-ups, but take heart – there’s a lot of help around. At Ethos, for instance, we’re working on online and mobile solutions which can be bought, in part, or whole and managed by us 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 the CEO, to HR, from finance to the sales guy on the shop floor. Everyone is involved – everyone has to be committed so when you employee people, only choose 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 need to have processes in place to ensure the customer experience is at the core of your business. Some particular systems you could put in place include:
- 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. You reputation is everything.
- Tell it like it is – don’t over promise in your offering. Don’t make claims you can’t deliver on but focus on what you can uniquely offer – a personal touch, for instance.
- Make sure production runs smoothly. Identify any hold-ups and address them.
- Put a returns procedure in place and make sure it’s easy to understand and activate.
- Respond quickly, ideally within 24 hours.
- 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 are 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.
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. It spends more time innovating and delivering because it receives fewer complaints and can direct its energies into the positive. It creates a brand differentiator – people come to associate it with excellence of product and service. It develops customer loyalty and retains clients who are often 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 organisation to others and, the value of its brand just keeps on rising.
Begin as you mean to go on and you’ll earn your place in the new experience economy.