Have you ever heard the expression, if you’re going to make an omelette you’ve got to break some eggs?
It’s a true expression but it’s also accurate for life in a growing startup. When you grow, you’re going to not just break eggs, you’re going to drop a dozen or so on the floor, maybe smear a few on the ceiling.
Growth for a young company can be hard. Most don’t raise millions of dollars in VC (my next article will talk about why that’s dumb), so they keep their over smaller and substitute their existing labor for their lack of dinero.
Learning from those mistakes and not repeating them is what this post is about.
Here’s a list of the 7 critical ones to avoid along with specific examples:
- Not answering the phone.
My phone has been “blowing-up” the last two weeks. Sometimes I won’t pick up. This is because if I’m on the phone that means I’m not doing something else that might be a more productive priority.
The current flaw in our business model is that it’s designed with me as a key point for information flow to pass through.I’ll revisit this with an overarching solution at the end of this list since it relate to the other key points below.
- Not listening to customer complaints.A client called me last week to complain about the initial mockup we had shown him for his website redesign. I almost made the mistake of saying something like, “Listen, I think you’ve got it all wrong about this and that you misunderstand, here’s how it really is…”I’m glad I didn’t. He was quite angry, so I asked questions and listened until the end of the conversation. At that point I told him it was my fault, I hadn’t given the designer enough direction with regard to his website design. I ended it by apologizing and saying we would do better (which we are).This seemed to put him at ease. I think that’s what he wanted to hear.
- Not doing something when you say you’re going to do it (or when the customer expects it).This drives me nuts with other businesses. For instance, we recently went through the not-so-fun process of changing over to a new credit card processor.The previous one (iPayments Inc.) was HORRIBLE. Their customer service was combative and robotic to the point of being absurd. When ever I had the expectation that they would do something (e.g. send me an email to let me know if we were approved to process at a higher volume), the response was “no, we don’t do that, you’ll have to call back to confirm.” Wow. Don’t be like that.An exceptional example of great customer service came from Mike Puluso of the The Bart Group. Mike was positive, honest, and followed through on everything he said as he walked me through the process of switching.
- Being slow to answer emails.
If your business is growing and you’re not attentive to your inbox, messages are likely to pile up quickly. If I looked at my inbox right now I’m sure I’d find at least 5 “urgent” to-do emails.Potential clients want a fast response. New projects or business opportunities will be lost if too much time passes.
- Reading Twitter or Hacker News instead of fixing product bugs.
This one is funny but true. Make sure you and everyone else on your team has their priorities right. Wasting time online can be fun and a nice break from work, but if product or project updates need to “get shipped”, get that done first. Otherwise you’ll have more complaints, emails, and phone calls. And that’s no fun to deal with.
- Always giving the customer what they want (even if you know it’s wrong).
I gave this one client a few months ago a good deal on a website because I wanted to help him get his business off the ground.
The team and I put together a decent looking website for him. However the process became “painful” because the design changes he was requesting ruined the site from an aesthetic and functional standpoint.
He threatened to sue us at one point. I was baffled and disappointed. We made the requested changes.
So when he came back to me and asked why someone said his site looked ugly, I simply told him “these are the changes you asked us to make.”
The customer is always right, even though sometimes their not. Keep that in mind.
- A focus on getting money, rather than giving value.
There’s a big difference between getting money and earning money.If you have a “get-money” attitude, your business is the type that makes the sales and then runs off into the sunset, case-closed, instead of sticking around to and providing solid support or gathering feedback for how to make the customer experience continuously better. The latter represents an earn-money attitude.
Have an earn-money attitude when it comes to customer service.
Ok, great, so now what?
It’s not enough to be aware these mistakes. Rather you have to know what you should do to be successful in providing customer service while you grow.
Let’s use PetoVera as a quick case study and visualize our current web design service model. The % indicates approximately how much each step depends on me right now.
Wow, look at all that red!
Luckily, the most time consuming part (e.g. “Stuff Gets Done” = programming and web design) doesn’t depend on me for the most part. PetoVera has team members who specialize in that.
So in this example, in order to improve the system for the future I have to make sure that project quotes, closing sales, and managing projects depend on me as little as possible since I am only one person and my time is finite.
But it’s more complicated than that. I know this because I’ve failed in the past (largely it’s been my fault since I did not qualify each new team member enough before hiring them nor did I provide solid training).
In order to provide better customer service I need to (1) acknowledge the fact that the limits of my time hurt the overall business system (pictured above) and our ability to provide great customer service, but also (2) develop a new system for qualifying, training, and plugging in new talent to effectively replace myself in the customer service department. Make sense?
Here’s a visual example below:
I will implement and let you know how it goes…
What are some other big customer service mistakes that start-ups make?
Have you implemented any similar systems-based solutions?