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Startup Journal: Handling Customer Service

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Handling customer service appropriately is important for any business.

Duh.

99 times out of 100, people care about how they're treated, and that plays directly into the success of your business. Accordingly, everyone deserves the velvet rope experience. Customers are your VIPs!

In larger, more established companies, you typically see a top-down approach to customer service. The top decides what's cost efficient, and then tells those beneath them how to act.

In these situations, you see a lot of maintaining equilibrium. No one wants an upset customer, but no one's really going above and beyond to make customers happy.

The goal, it seems, it to keep customers content. Not excited or enthused, but just satisfied enough not to say anything negative. In a bootstrapped startup, this approach is suicide.

Handling Customer Service as a Startup

A top-down approach to customer service doesn't really work when you don't have a top or a down. You're a startup. All you have is a tightly knit group of people trying to accomplish a shared goal.

Through this, customer service becomes something similar to parenthood. Every customer and every potential customer is your child.

You protect them, and look out for them. You try your everything to help them grow, and make sacrifices for their success. This goes for everyone on your team!

Related: Startup Journal: Why Is Tim Gunn Relevant to Your Business?

One of Richard Branson's most polarized philosophies, which I believe he learned from Southwest Airline's Herb Kelleher, was that if you take care of your employees, they'll take care of your customers.

This philosophy brings love and empathy to the buzz of employee advocacy (creating employees who want to actively speak well of your company). For corporate management, it's beautiful!

Richard Branson Customer Expectations Quote

In practice it's even better, because it actually works. It goes something like this.

Creating Advocacy

The company provides great benefits, reasonable time off, and a flexible environment where employees are treated like royalty for being the foundation and face of the company.

This promotes a charitable culture, and strengthens advocacy for the company, which causes individual employees to want to see the company prosper.

In turn, employees treat customers according to that conviction - very well. Employees are able to take pride in what they're doing and who they're doing it for!

I'm a big fan of this. Create a culture where employees are excited to go work every morning, and your customers will take note. What's more, your customers will love you for it! But this still doesn't work well for a startup.

How does it look in practice?

When you're building a startup, you don't really have employees to treat well, nor the means to do so. You might have a few hires, but you're all effectively on an even playing field.

In a startup, everyone is responsible for handling customer service. And how you treat the small number of customers you're able to get dictates how many more you can get.

Referrals, reviews, and recommendations are massively important for startups! You won't do well in getting new customers unless your current ones can talk honestly about how great you've been to them (and how much your product has helped).

Getting referrals through great customer experience

PC: Neil Patel

We try to do a lot for our customers, but my favorite one is our unlimited customer service. So many brands charge for support, but we just want people to succeed!

Related: Startup Journal: How Should You Spend Your Time?

That's how all customers should be treated, with as much time and attention as they need to do well, and then some. They deserve that velvet rope, VIP experience. Conceptually, it really is very similar to parenting.

One day we'll get to a point where instead of everyone in our small group working with customers, we'll choose The Virgin Way of putting our employees first. We'll let them take great care of our customers.

But that's not what's best for us at the moment. Nor is that what's best for any startup fighting out of the gate!

Bringing It All Together

Handling customer service appropriately is important for every company. No one wants to deal with Comcast-like, terrible customer service experiences.

This is even more important for startups! Where every member of the team is intimately connected to the company and to the customers. It's important to take a parenting approach, to guide customers along with their best interests at heart.

Your customers' growth will become your growth. Their opinions will shape the opinions of all their friends and of all your targets. If you're not handling customer service well, you won't have much of a company to handle at all!

Related: Startup Journal: Is Explosive Growth Really the Goal?