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    4 Ways Customer Service can Make or Break Your Startup

    By John Williams | Yahoo Small Business

    In today’s high-tech climate of e-commerce startups, customer service can sound downright Old School. After all, pleasing customers isn’t something you can fully automate, which means it isn’t scalable. What’s more, don’t customers prefer cutting-edge product features and user interfaces? Shouldn’t a startup focus on those things first? Yes – and no.

    Ask most successful entrepreneurs about customer service, and they’ll tell you satisfying early-stage customers was perhaps the single most important aspect of growing their brand. Customer service may not be flashy, and it’s certainly not easy. But it is crucial for success early on. Here’s why it should be a top priority for every business, but especially for startups.

    Revising your business plan, messaging and product

    At its heart, customer service may be about pleasing people, but for new brands it’s about so much more. It’s a valuable pipeline to feedback on your early-stage product and service. By creating an atmosphere of open dialogue, you’ll learn what customers really think about your brand, how they’re using your products in real-life scenarios, and what they see as your competitive advantages. Is your price point realistic? Is your messaging on-target? Are your brand values resonating? Document what you’re hearing, identify patterns in requests and modify your business plan accordingly. Understanding what you’re doing right and what needs to change is absolutely crucial coming out of the gate, when you have the most flexibility to get things right and very little time to get them wrong.

    Product development

    As you better come to understand real-life customer needs and uses, you can best identify what new product features will be most helpful to them. Cash-strapped new businesses must ensure that any money spent on product development pays dividends right away. There’s no time for mistakes. That’s why use-case knowledge is pivotal as you prioritize features in product development. What exactly do your customers want to accomplish, and why?

    Inexpensive promotion

    With advent of social media, it’s more important than ever before that your early-stage customers have a positive experience with your brand. Research indicates that someone with a positive experience with a company’s customer service will frequently tell at least 2 other people about their experience. Therefore, quality service can be a vital source of free promotion for cash-strapped startups.

    Conversely, bad customer experiences at the outset can cripple a brand. If you don’t get your customer service down in the early stages of your business, and customers go online to express their dissatisfaction, your brand may never recover. Bad news has never travelled faster!

    Retaining customers

    New businesses cannot afford to overlook the fact that it costs exponentially more to acquire new customers than retain current customers. Obviously, companies with outstanding customer service are more likely to get repeat business, while companies with poor customer service usually lose customers. When you add up all the money saved in advertising, promotion and damage control by satisfying early-stage customers, you’ll quickly see that quality customer service during the start-up phase really pays off in the long run.

    Redefining customer service

    Many new businesses look at customer service simply as problem-solving. This narrow definition creates an arms-length relationship with a tiny percentage of customers. As a result, information crucial to brand development is lost. Instead, consider customer service as your connection to and ongoing conversation with your brand’s most important asset –customers. It begins the minute a prospect lands on your website, walks in your store or calls your phone number. From the second it starts, be attentive to prospects and customers to the point that they feel delighted that they chose your brand.

    LogoGarden.com Founder and President John Williams(LinkedIn) is a leading logo design expert who literally wrote the book on brand standards for companies like Hewlett-Packard and Mitsubishi. An entrepreneur and former owner of award-winning studio Logic Design, John served as Entrepreneur.com's branding columnist for over 5 years.

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