Category — customer service
Brands like a few other things occupy a lot of my mind-space more so since I got more interested in marketing, social media and start-ups. How brands are built and how in most cases even otherwise(including financially) successful businesses fail to build any brand.The bigger the brand a start-up has, the better it gets for getting more business, better employees, better partners/tie-ups so on and so forth. Clearly creating a brand is a wonderful thing for a start-up, which brings us to the fundamental question.
Why a few start-ups are able to create brands and most others fail/take considerably long?
I’ve been in the startup zone i.e working on, for and around startups for more than 5 years now (Haven’t made my millions yet *sob* *sob*) and have closely seen dozens of start-ups coming and going down. In my opinion here are the few things that work for startups that are able to build brands out of themselves(not in any order)
- Nature of business
- Personality of co-founders
- Customer Service
- Social Media
Surprisingly I am unable to think of more things that determine whether a startup creates a brand for itself or not. Let’s take these one by one
- Nature of business: To drill down further what matters here is
A. Size of the market: The bigger your potential customer segment, the bigger possibility their is to create a brand. A video sharing platform like Youtube/Vimeo will be a bit easier to build brands on that a document sharing platform like Scribd/Slideshare. Almost everyone I interact with (even the field boys) know of Youtube and except for a few who run startups themselves, no one knows of Slidshare or Scribd.
B. B2B vs B2C/C2C: Though it can also come under the Point 1 (Market Size) but I feel this should be listed separately. B2C and C2c startups doing a decent job are more likely to be talked about than B2B startups doing about fine. A startup that sells insurance policies or gift items to corporates is less likely to be talked about as much as a startup that sells insurance and gift items directly to end users. Reason is obvious, the number of transactions, number of people touched, the viral aspect, the ease of referral and sale is higher in B2C or C2c.C. Nature of the product: Let’s say some products are more sexier than others. For ex: people would love to talk/share about buying a tablet/mobile more than buying a soap/washing powder or mosquito repellent. So if your start-up retails electronic items and people have a good experience with you, they’ll talk about it more than if your start-up sells detergents or sanitary napkins with an equally good experience. Also, because one might value or buy some products more (often) than others. People might buy more books/clothes than furniture in a given period. Thus more chances to talk about them.
D. In built virality: Some startups have virality in their core. For example some social media sites like Facebook,twitter or even messengers like gtalk/bbm will make more sense once you have your offline network there. Thus, by default you are more likely to invite your friends over to them than let’s say do an app that takes care of your daily expenses or helps you record voice notes.
E. Customer Experience:
God is in the detail
While it might come naturally to a few, most people won’t get it. A substantial component of creating brands lies in the attention to detail. The words on the new user registration email, the design of visiting card(mint picked Dialabook.in’s visiting card for a story), name of the company, the usability of your website/app, how well the search works, which products are promoted, intuitiveness in using the product (thanks to great design).
EVERYTHING MATTERS and THEY ALL ADD UP
- Positioning:“What your startup does and how is it different from others?”. The easier it is for people to figure that out, the better it is for them. What your startup does should be quite apparent.If you can’t explain what you do to your grandmom/parents, you *might* have a problem. How you are different from others off course is a criterion for an established industry. For example when the first few e-commerce websites were launched, differentiation was out of question but after a first few years your start up would be put to the differentiation test. “How is this different/better?”.Someone once told me(and I concur) “we do X better” mostly doesn’t cut it*You might have trouble explaining about your cloud based business or how your start-up is creating a genome database but that’s ok. In most cases it should not be that difficult to explain
- Personality of Founder/Co-Founders: Startups, their cultures and brands are a reflection of their founder/co-founders. Therefore whether a startup will be able to create a brand or not for itself is a function of the founders personalities. Just like someone who is more gregarious or glib talker will connect/network with more people than a loner their start-up will also be defined/limited by their own personal nature. Initially since it’s the founders reach that defines who all know about a startup, if a founder’s own network is small, very few people will know about it. Not only this, all of the following about founders have huge impact
A. How active they are on Social Media
B. How good can they express their product/service/ideas
C. How good can they present in an event
D. How good can they gel with new people (even if purely for the purpose of promoting their product)
E. How well can they leverage their existing connections or previous job(s) and friend of friends
- Customer Service
DO WHAT YOU DO SO WELL THAT THEY WILL WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN AND BRING THEIR FRIENDS. – Walt DisneyThough this is the most obvious point, I’ll reiterate. How you treat your customers will have a huge impact on your brand. Not only great customer service ensures that your customers stick with you for long, it also ensures that they talk about you to their friends and if you are good they’ll sell you to their friends for FREE. All of the following add up in your customer service ratings
A. Response/Turn around time of customer service calls/emails. The tone and content of your communication
B. Community: Having a community of users/consumers that get a kick out of using/dealing with you is extremely important. You’ll get a sense of this in initial months. Once you have this going, you need to make them your brand ambassadors by giving them more reasons or incentives to talk about you to their friends. I remember how when we were building kwippy.com we had a dozen odd super passionate users from across the Globe. Once we realized that we started involving them in our decisions about the product. Put them in an email list, gave them access to features in beta . We also sent an avid user in the US a hat which he could wear for a conference he was to attend
C. Picking up and the phone and trying to resolve critical issues instead of going back and forth on emails
E. Surprising them: Every once in a while, you should surprise your customers in whatever capacity you can think of and afford. People LOVE surprises and Love talking about them to others
- Social Media:Independently they might not mean much but together Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Blog, Flickr, Youtube, Quora, Foursquare, pinterest and Soundcloud can do interesting things to your startup’s brand. I vividly remember how we got our first big story on Mint thanks to twitter. You must remember that this is where people of today’s day and age spend their time. The distribution and usage patterns might change but people would still be spending their time here. Startups who are able to create brands, get this bit right.
- Passion:At core of every brand is Passion. Passion stems from believing in what you are doing and how useful/relevant it would be someone. I could have included this point in the founder’s part but wanted to give it it’s dues. If the founders are super passionate about their business and somehow get their team to feel the same way it starts showing up in totally unexpected ways. Everything from how your team thinks of customers, how they build processes, how much hours they spend trying to make customers lives better, how they innovate and more comes from the magic pill called Passion. Most successful startups with brands have a bunch of passionate people showing up everyday for years with same energy and this is what translates into brands
December 27, 2012 2 Comments
I am a sucker for remarkable, awe-inspiring, mind-boggling customer experience and can’t think enough about it. The more negative experiences I have as an end user (with consumer goods companies, mobile operators, eating joints etc) the more determined I am to offer the best possible customer service for my business. Obsessing about customer service has had its share of good and bad realizations and continue to help me in connecting the dots. It was in one of these moments that it occurred to me that ‘Empathy‘ or the lack of it could be an indicator for good/bad customer service.
Sometimes while taking care of Dial-a-Book operations I find myself in a situation where I have to deliver an order (because of urgency of the situation and unavailability of other designated resources). Last such case happened 4-5 days back when a student ordered a book in afternoon on a condition that it should be delivered the same day as he had an exam next day afternoon, Fair enough. There was however a little problem in this, we didn’t have the concerned book in stock and it had to be procured locally. After a few hours and towards the end of our office hours when we managed to procure the book, we had no one left in the office to deliver it. Now came the last resort, for me to deliver them personally, when I told this at home that I’ll be at home late as I had to deliver a book, pat came a reply, “You can get it delivered tomorrow by your delivery team”. While in normal course of action that’d have been except in this case it was urgent as the customer had an exam due next day and thus wanted the book the same day.
The reason why I shared the above mentioned case was because I felt I could take care of this case because I could relate to the customer and their problem ( a student needing a book desperately for an exam scheduled next day) . Empathy with the customer had the power to drive me to go out of the way and make sure that the book is delivered the same day.
Isn’t this how this generally works?
If everybody from product designers to the customer service executives could empathize with their customers they would be in a position to offer much better solutions to their problems. On the contrary if the person in question can’t feel the pain of the customer they might not be able to offer exemplary customer experience.
What do you think?
November 13, 2011 2 Comments
Almost every business irrespective of the stage it is in finds itself in a situation where the customer demands/expectations in terms of service,urgency or flexibility are way beyond what you offer. Young businesses find it particularly tough to cope up with customers like these who demand the best of everything and in many cases least willing to pay anything(extra) for these services. Because of the inherent lack of resources(in a young business especially the self-funded/bootstrapped ones) and other reasons the question that occurs is of which customers or their demands to relent to and which ones to let go. All this is despite the fact that nobody wants to lose a customer or an even an order from them.
When such decisive moments occur regularly the business has two(obvious) choices
- Drawing a fine line of what can and what cannot be done(A policy)
- Stretching themselves to accommodate the extra needs/demands of the customers (A policy of not having a policy)
I have an intuition(and some experience too) that most businesses though try for option 2 but settle for option 1 sooner than later. Pragmatically speaking it makes perfect business sense but I feel for some businesses it makes sense to bend a little more and choose option 2. The option to accommodate all the whims and fancies of a customer to the extent of them being unreasonable. Yes, in short “let your customers be unreasonable”. While this might sound unreasonable itself I feel its worth giving a try. The rationale(A bit optimistic and Utopian) behind the same being
- If you offer the kind of services which are really tough to deliver, your value in eyes of the customer is quite likely to get a raise. Do this again and they will set you up a notch up than others in your market and will most likely return to you again and again.
- By wowing the customer you stand great chances of them spreading the word about you. This works particularly well since no competitor of yours would have offered that service to them and you did.
- You test your limits and that of your system
- By accommodating all sorts of customer needs regularly you get some unexpected insights on how to do certain things or how to do them better or even better that of a new/better business Idea.
What do you think?
PS: I was inspired to write this post after our team at Dial-a-Book completed a book delivery around 9:45 PM to a place quite far from our office and home. The customer wanted the book after 9 PM in the night or before 6:30 AM in the morning and we were happy to push our limits
December 16, 2010 2 Comments
I’ve been a regular follower of Seth Godin’s blog and like almost all his posts. However there are some posts of Seth that I like way more than others. A couple posts that really caught my attention a few weeks back were on choosing the customer and training your customers respectively.
Posted at an interval of two days these two blog posts taken together offer a nice(different?) perspective of looking at things when it comes to Customer Development. Against the common notion that you should try to attract all kinds of customers Seth suggests that you choose your customers. Yes, you choose your customers for your business by your brand value proposition, pricing, customer experience and other things. All aspects of the way you run your business attracts or repels certain kinds of customers. You might wonder, why is it important to choose your customers?
It is especially important to choose your customers if you have a perspective/vision and you want things to happen according to that and not according to the terms defined by the market. For example sake, consider two product companies, one of which is very choosy when it comes to picking their customers and would rather prefer a smaller set of customers of the kind that they’d like while the other company is not really that choosy and is open to catering to all sorts of customers, the more the merrier. Assuming they both start from the same point, it won’t be difficult to imagine how differently would shape up after an year into the business. Company A which focuses of select customers will emerge out to be almost on the lines of the founder(s)’s vision while Company B which wants to get as much customers as it wants will have significant difficulty living up to the varied expectations and might just give in to the (un)reasonable demands of the majority.
Not only this, Seth suggests that businesses should also train their customers. Yes, training the customers by encouraging certain type of behaviour by rewards etc and discouraging certain type of behaviour. For ex: If you’ve priced your product slightly above the market standard then there’ll be lots of customers complaining about your price and trying to negotiate their way down(in terms of prices). Now there are two ways to go about it, one that you let customers negotiate and other is to don’t bother. Over a period of time if you follow the don’t bother policy you’ll observe how some price sensitive customers will move out and the remaining customers will get used to the higher than market price and stop complaining (This assumes that their is something that the business offers to offset the high price).
Another interesting effect that this has is that it helps in building a culture among your customers that’s decided to a large extent by your terms and not the markets.
October 5, 2010 No Comments
Customer Service would easily be one of the most oft used(and abused) words in Business. For some people, customer service means giving their customers the kind of experience they would like to get (as a customer) but for others(majority?) it’s a mere formality, a lip service that you have to offer just for the sake of it.
While customer service in itself is a big subject comprising numerous things including principles, processes and much more, there’s a particular thing that I feel is amiss especially when it comes to online businesses, i.e. Personal Touch.
Personal Touch in customer service for online businesses is according to me a great value add given the fact that unlike offline businesses the customers are not talking to a company rep face to face or they can’t talk at length(or decide to wait in the company’s office) till their issue gets resolved. In fact Customer Service, especially over email, which is the most prominent way of offering Customer Service/Support is by design(asynchronous) a customer-unfriendly method. Given the fact that instead of talking to someone in person or over phone you are literally talking to a computer and unless the guys at other end make some real effort to add some personal elements things are bound to not be smooth.Adding Personal Touch to any non-verbal communication not only helps build credibility/trust but also ensures smooth resolution of any issues that a customer might have.
Over the last few months I’ve run into(online) customer service reps of various services including E-commerce and Mobile operators and almost NONE of them have what one can say Personal Touch in their customer service. As expected, almost all of them just work on a few standard templates which their customer service reps copy and paste. What further intrigues me is the fact that contrary to being Personal some of these online businesses try to be the opposite i.e. being as impersonal as they can be.
is still acceptable, these ones
are completely unacceptable.
I completely fail to understand what is the ingenious thought behind hiding the identity of the person who is responding to these emails. Could it be the CEO/CTO/CFO himself?
Not only is the case of missing identity a big barrier in building any sort of rapport with the business it also complicates things as the customer never gets to know who was the person whom they last spoke to(over mail), who are they talking to now and how much do they already know about their issue.
It’s not Rocket Science that small things like how your customer service team addresses their customers (Dear Customer Vs Dear Mr Dhingra), the tone/format in which they talk or type emails(Pre-decided formats or customized replies), how they sign off their emails(Customer Service, XYZ.com or Shantanu, Post Sales Support, XYZ.com, Email:-, Ph:-) matter a lot. They especially matter a lot when you are an online business and even more so when you are just starting up. BTW Dell India is an exception in this regard(at least)
Isn’t it great to actually see the “Full Name”(unlike just the first name) of the person who just mailed you back?
Isn’t it re-assuring to know that you also have their professional email id, telephone number and even extension in their email signature?
Besides other things, businesses should realize that by adding “Personal Touch” in their customer service, not only can they solve customer vows more quickly and efficiently, they can expect to get more/repeat business from them.
So having said all that, does your Customer Service have enough Personal Touch?
March 31, 2010 No Comments
This is a classic dilemma that many entrepreneurs(especially the offline one’s) are likely to run into. Customers as we all know come in all shapes and sizes(and mindsets). While there will be some customers who will talk nicely to you and your employees, pay their bills on time and offer you a piece of advice or feedback whenever needed, there’s also a bunch of customers that’ll act as if they are doing you a big favor by using your product or services, they’ll negotiate endlessly on the price and keep getting into endless debates about the most minute(and irrelevant) issues possible.
As an entrepreneur and consultant both I too have run into the thought of segmenting customers into good,bad and ugly but I am not completely convinced if that’s such a good idea. I mean on one hand there’s a thought of optimizing the whole thing for a better ROI on other hand there’s this idealistic thought that customers/clients should be treated fairly and equally irrespective of their spending powers and other behaviors. I for sure would like to get a fair/equal treatment in all the products and services that I use irrespective of the segment I belong to.
If you are committed to offering a delightful customer service the non-segmentation of your customers is highly likely to come in your way. As pointed by Seth Godin here
If you’re going to be obsessed with delighting customers, it’s a lot more efficient to focus on customers that are able to be delighted.
A case in point being if a particular bunch of customers is impossible or way too difficult to delight/please why waste your resources on them when you could focus ‘em on some other set of customers that are more likely to be delighted by what you are offering?
A few things I could think of that one needs to keep in mind if such a situation arises are
- Is the customer bad or your offering?
A situation like this can also be a opportunity to give your offering another in-depth look. Maybe the customer is right and there’s indeed a scope for offering a better solution at the same or reduced price or maybe the customer service offered isn’t up to the mark. So before branding a customer as a bad apple, give a second thought to their feedback and see if there’s a genuine problem there.
- How would it affect the Word of Mouth?
While not giving the same time, attention etc to a not so good customer might be a good utilization for your resources it might have a spill over effect. In cases like these it is also pragmatic to ensure that your segmented behaviour will not spiral into a bad WOM loop. To avoid that ensure that this bunch/segment are not influencers/thought leaders or highly connected individuals from your target segment. For ex: If you are targeting a product or service aimed at doctors and for some reason you decide to segment them, try to ensure that your segmentation policy will not spill over to other doctors and doctors as a community tend to be highly connected to each other
- Customer Segmentation != Spending power segmentation
While you’ll find plenty of real life instances in which retailers/suppliers and many more tend to treat customers with high spending powers differently, it’s not the most wise thing to do. When I started this discussion though I included “paying bills on time” and negotiation I never mentioned spending power as the deciding factor. I strongly feel segmenting your customers based on just their spending power isn’t such a good idea
- Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you
One should always keep “The Golden Rule” in mind before taking any call on customer segmentation. This will most certainly save you from some bad decisions
What do you think about treating different customers differently?
March 20, 2010 2 Comments
Amongst all this hype of Twitter and how tons of companies use it for customer service etc it never really occured to me that how Twitter isn’t doing anything noteworthy to interact with its customers and offer them support/help.
Though there is an account http://twitter.com/twitter, people using it never talk to Twitter users.
January 24, 2010 4 Comments
Call it generalization but I’ve always felt that Customer Service is just lip service for most small and big companies in India. The bigger they(companies) get the ridiculous their customer service becomes. Talking about customer service or its non-existence brings me to Aircel.
Aircel is a joint venture between Maxis Communications (Malaysia) and Apollo Hospital Enterprise Ltd (India) and has more than 18 million subscribers(source: wikipedia). Those in India would remember Aircel from its awkward tune and TV ads starring Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni which were aired endlessly for months. Aircel apparently has a 200cr media budget and it shows by their massive ad spend both offline and online. Aircel is a typical case of The TV-Industrial Complex which goes like
Buy TV Ads –> Get More Distribution –> Sell More Products –> Make a profit –> Buy TV Ads
While they maybe doing a a good job at buying more ads and getting more subscribers I seriously doubt if they are doing any good beyond it. In case you are wondering why do I think so, here’s the thing.
Last Friday(25th sep) I happened to buy an Aircel connection on a whim. Actually I was out to buy a vodafone prepaid connection for my brother but due to its unavailability we thought of giving Aircel a try and given the plans I was told it definitely looked like a wise decision. The new connection was activated in minutes and I was a happy man but that happiness wasn’t for long. When I reached home (about 5 minutes drive from the Aircel showroom/office) I was surprised to find that phone had no network coverage and putting the new sim in three different cell phones didn’t help a bit.
Freaked that I was I tried getting in touch with their customer service but despite hearing ‘we are keen to talk to you’ messages I couldn’t get through the customer care executives in 4 different(2 by my brother) calls that I made which lasts 2-3 minutes each. While cursing Aircel I thought of checking out their site for a possible solution and got to this page
(Aircel doesn’t think it’s useful to give phone numbers of its various offices/showrooms)
and immediately sent them an email
As you can see I wasn’t really hoping anyone at Aircel would read that email, let alone act upon it and Aircel lived up to its expectations. However that wasn’t it, I went to their store the next morning (10:30 AM) and got the executive there to register my complaint and on being asked how much time will it take to get it resolved and should I really expect any solution for my problem(I really don’t expect them to put a tower near my locality just because I complained) I was told complaints are addressed in 24 hours and they(Aircel) are installing 10 new sites a month based on customer feedback (like I will buy that).
That was Saturday morning and I waited in vain till evening to get a call on the alternate number I had given (Email reply is obviously out of question). I asked a local shop keeper about Aircel network and he too agreed that their network coverage is quite bad. Without wasting any time I bought a new Airtel connection(which is doing pretty good). Curious to see what others think of Aircel I did a search on Twitter
and a quick search on Google revealed
Now that we’ve seen how bad things are with Aircel one can only wish if Aircel was listening and spending money on building better network/services instead of spending millions on roping in celebrities for lame TV ads.
How has been your experience with Aircel?
PS: Had it not been for a long weekend and some optimism on my side in hoping for a reply, I would have written this post on Saturday itself
September 29, 2009 16 Comments