Customer Service in the Early Days of a Start-up

This post by Kathy Claytor originally appeared on Handshake 2.0.

When it comes to customer service and satisfaction in a start-up there is only one question customers need to be asked:  "Would you recommend this product to a trusted family member or friend?”  

Drive toward "Yes."

Customer service and customer satisfaction in the early days of a start-up can get overlooked as the business focuses on raising capital, generating revenue, creating product, and producing sales.  In bringing up several start-ups, I learned to make time to listen to my customers. 

Delivering great and consistent customer service extends worldwide and it is hard work. Stay tuned in to what your customers are saying.  Missteps and unmet customer expectations happen.  Even established businesses make them when it comes to customers.  I learned to respond with speed, honesty and creativity.  Your customers will remember you.  A friend and founder of a start-up discovered she had dropped the ball with one of her key revenue-producing customers and that impacted their cash flow.  She made this customer a no-interest loan for ninety days.  Highly risky?  Yes.  Did it pay off?  Yes.

Measure customer satisfaction as soon as you can.   Instead of taking silence as a sign of a happy customer, I learned to regularly ask our customers how we were doing.  Once a year, I asked them more formally.  Their answers became key metrics in the team incentive plan.

Select customer service folks wisely.  Start-ups have a few employees and all must multi-task.  I learned which staff members were best at dealing with my customers.  I looked for listening skills, speed and honesty, and passion for the product and business.   The job market is full of those who have customer service experience.  I found that partnering with a staffing agency can help identify great customer service resources.  Staffing agencies have the skill to help properly vet talent.  They also are familiar with compliance requirements. I learned never to short cut this vetting process in hopes of quickly filling a seat.

Family and friends are trusted sources of help for a start-up.  But I learned that I must be able to deal with family and friends the same way I would another employee.  If they are not suited for customer contact – re-purpose or remove them.

The small business owner in India shown in the accompanying image has many of the same customer service and satisfaction challenges as a start-up does in the United States. Delivering great and consistent customer service extends worldwide and it is hard work. A foundation of excellent customer service and satisfaction can help sustain revenue through the start-up phase.

Kathy Claytor is a global human capital professional.  She was featured in the cover story on customer service in the April 2011 issue of Valley Business FRONT

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