This article is part of DBA, a series on Mashable about running a business that features insights from leaders in entrepreneurship, venture capital and management.
When Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, joined the online shoe and clothing retailer, he wasn’t even into shoes. He was, however, passionate about customer service, and he believed in wowing customers.
Hsieh brought new meaning to customer support and demonstrated that successful companies bake customer satisfaction into the company culture. He’s instilled in his employees that customer support is more than just responding to customer problems or answering the phone at a call center. “We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company,” Hsieh said.
Zappos influenced Code42’s approach because we believe the shoe company is realizing the belief that customer support is a cornerstone of success. It’s just as important (and possibly more important) than engineering, sales and marketing
At our company, for example, a new employee spends a week with the customer support team, shadowing our Customer Champions and understanding how integral customer satisfaction is to Code42’s success. While it may be tempting to focus primarily on product and marketing, adopting a customer-first mindset early is a strategic advantage for your business. Here are five tips on how to put the customer first.
1. Create an in-house customer support team
Many companies outsource customer service overseas to save money. But outsourcing to a third-party team means you lose ownership of the valuable information that the customer is calling or emailing about. With a local support team, your company maintains greater visibility into the customer experience and you can use that insight to influence the product roadmap. By outsourcing, you may be missing out on valuable information and opportunities to build relationships.
2. Bake customer support into every job description
Solving customer problems isn’t isolated to the support team. Often times, issues have to be addressed by the sales, product or engineering teams directly, which means your entire company Real-time collaboration among disparate teams is key to solving customer problems. For instance, if you can’t quickly fix a problem with a software patch, then teams can communicate and agree whether or not to add it to the product roadmap as something to fix in the next version. Consider support early in product roadmap planning. Focusing on elements like quality assurance and great documentation during the development cycle can also reduce your support costs. While simply building great products doesn’t replace customer support, it cuts down on back-end issues by investing in a quality product.
3. Turn customers who love your company into advocatesYou know your company has high customer satisfaction when customers are advocating on your behalf. Many companies measure their customer success based on Net Promoter Score, but try looking at more qualitative measurements, as well. Customer advocacy — when customers speak about the value of the product, attend user conferences and volunteer for case studies — demonstrates just how happy your customers are. Additionally, there’s a growing number of customer advocacy tools — we use TechValidate and Influitive — that help you engage your customer and harness and amplify their passion for your company and its products.
4. Don’t try to build your own customer support tools
Early on, you might be developing a tool for everything from inventory management to human resources, but don’t try creating your own customer support software. Trust me, I speak from experience.
We learned the hard way about “core versus chore.” If it’s not one of your core capabilities, it’s a chore for you to try to build out on your own. Investing in the right software will reap immeasurable rewards in the end, and it’ll save you a lot of time and money in the process.
5. Do the right thing
For consumer-facing companies, it’s often an emotionally charged moment when customers contact support with a problem. We had a customer whose entire semester of college work was wiped from her computer. When her mother called our customer support line on her behalf, we helped her recover the lost documents remotely. Ultimately, it was critically important that the customer support rep approached the process with empathy for the frustration she was experiencing at the time.
For enterprise companies, customers want to talk to someone who knows their account inside and out — what it’s like to work there, what the technology landscape looks like, etc. The customer support representative should feel like he or she is a member of the customer’s team, so if a challenge arises, the customer trusts the support team to handle the situation.
Creating a strong customer support team and centering company culture on customer satisfaction does more than lead to high customer retention and renewal rates. In fact, it could lead to your next round of funding — it did for us. A sincere dedication to putting the customer first isn’t always easy, but it does go a long way.