By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker
Good customer service creates repeat customers and long-standing orders, which can get you started as an entrepreneur and sustain you in otherwise hard times. It’s what generates word-of-mouth, the best kind of advertising.
Bad customer service drives people to social media to complain, and it can ruin you in a heartbeat. In other words, your business can live or die depending upon the quality of your customer service.
Too many entrepreneurs try to interact with customers at arm’s length. This is a mistake. You need to know your customers, their needs, their pain, and their expectations. Whether you’re starting a B2B or B2C business, you need to go out, meet with customers, get their reactions, ask them questions, and listen to their answers. You don’t need expensive prototypes or professional focus groups or surveys. You need to focus on the customer’s perspective. You can do that in three steps.
- Prepare yourself to learn by listening.
What do I mean by that? Don’t listen with a pre-conceived notion of the outcome. Don’t start formulating comments while the other person is talking. Clear your mind and focus on everything your customer is saying. Take notes. Ask questions that will help you gain clarity. Let your prospective customer know you heard them.
Customers will tell you what they like and dislike about your product or service. You’ll discover if you need to return to the drawing board. When you listen and confirm what you hear, you are letting the customer know that you are thinking of their needs first. This process of listening, confirming, and then adjusting affirms your accountability to the customer, which inspires commitment from both sides.
Treat your early customers as trusted advisors, and they will help you build your business. My early customers didn’t only purchase services, they also provided critical advice on new service lines as we grew our business.
- Let all customers know that you value their thoughts. Best of all, actually value their thoughts.
As Knowledge@Wharton writes in The Feedback Loop: More Data Doesn’t Always Mean Better Customer Service, many of the very devices we’ve put in place to grab more data are causing the quality of customer service relationships to decline. This amounts to really good resolution as the quality curve descends, rather than guidance to how to bring quality up. Surveys collect millions of data points to be manipulated into mesmerizing charts and graphs, but by the time decision makers see the report, the feedback is so far from the customer that the true meaning of “feedback” has been squandered in translation.
This quarter’s edition of the American Customer Satisfaction Index from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business showed us that Time Warner and Comcast are the two “Most Hated Companies in America,” as Wired.com’s headline informs. The report explicitly points a finger at “declining customer service” as part of what put these two companies at the bottom of the barrel. It appears they have not improved greatly from when Laurence Kotlikoff wrote Comcast: Customer Service or Consumer Fraud? late last year. The outrage he describes came from feeling he was not heard or cared about. That’s a fast way to your customer’s black books. In the case of Comcast, which is a monopoly in many areas, most consumers have no choice, but if you’re a startup, they probably have a lot, and a negative customer service experience will send them jetting off to a competitor.
- Treat your customers as your top priority.
Without them, you have no company. With them on your side, you have allies. It’s a mistake to think of their feedback as an informational tool that can facilitate success – their positive experience is the sign of your success.
Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.
Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.