Customer (Service) First

For anyone who works in a mid- to large-sized business, you’ve likely heard this new, great and wonderful idea of putting the customer first. It’s great in theory. It really is. But, how many companies actually do this, and those that do, how many actually do it right? The answer is an astonishing (albeit not surprising) very few.

Putting the customer first means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To most, it means that your business is doing everything it can to ensure that your customers keep paying you money. This could be done through policy and procedure change, product changes and innovation, or even the introduction of new and meaningful marketing collateral that tells the world how awesome your organization is because you’re customer-centric. That’s all well and good, and yes, it gets people and their money in the door – but here’s the question that almost every business asks, but rarely wants to hear the real answer to:

How do I keep them once they’re here?

Chances are that at some point in your life you’ve been faced with that very same question only to realize that its your sales team that’s responsible for keeping customers happy after the sale. Now, before we continue, lets define a sales team. These aren’t the people that are (usually) the first impression of your organization. They aren’t just the ones that make occasional calls to the customer to make sure they are getting the most out of the product or service, to ensure retention. More often than not, its a combination of the two – the later being called “Customer Success” these days (because why not – it sounds much better than Customer Retention).

Most organizations – and there are some very notable exceptions to this – don’t realize that having a tried and true customer service organization from the very beginning is often the key to being successful long term. In fact, most organizations don’t even really put customer service to the front of their minds until there’s a problem, where customer service is usually the answer. This is so horribly wrong that it makes me sick to my stomach to think about.

But why is customer service so important from the get-go? It’s important because it’s the relationship maker. The customer service folks are the ones highly responsible for the post-sale/post-contract experience that your customer has. They are usually the ones that your customer will talk to most frequently during their time as a customer. It’s true in almost every aspect of life, sans basic utility services. The bigger question when you realize all of that, is why is customer service looked at as a cost center, and one of the first places to cut costs when the business demands it? It’s because you’re doing it wrong.

If you truly know how to implement a world-class customer service organization, then it can quickly become a profit center. Profits by way of retaining customers through exceptional interactions. Empowering your customer service group to be a customer champion, instead of the firewall between the rest of your business and your customers will only make your organization stronger. Empowering your customer service professionals to own their interactions, to be a part of the solution, and to drive customer feedback into the business with visible results makes them shareholders in your organization. How many people hold share in a business and don’t want to see it succeed?

In the past 12-18 months, I’ve talked with a few folks opening their business, or launching their next “great app.” Every conversation at some point has turned to “I’m not sure what to do if someone needs help.” Maybe you should have thought about that before. In fact, you should have thought about that before. Customer service isn’t easy – especially if you’re doing it right. There is a lot of work that goes into it, and a lot of trial and error in order to make it work really really well.

To be really good at customer service, you need to be really good at iteration, really good at focus, and willing to not jump in the deep end without ever having walked down the steps of the shallow end first. Find someone who knows how to do these things really well. It may be someone that you least expect.

Recently, I launched a business that focuses on helping small businesses succeed by employing enterprise-grade customer service techniques in their organization. We’d love to be a part of that conversation with you too, if you’d like. Just drop us a line. And, for those of you who want to take a go at it on your own, take a look at this book – The Customer Support Handbook: How to Create the Ultimate Customer Experience for Your Brand. It’s a great read, and also a great “gift” to the executive(s) in your life that just “don’t get” customer service.

Be well.