It’s Never Too Early for Customer Service
Setting the Stage
The startup environment is one in which feathers are flying and those involved are in perpetual motion (both mentally and physically). Often, in the course of developing products and/or services, chasing down funding and looking for those מערכת שירות לקוחות first precious customers, the concept of a customer service organization falls way behind the back burner. And, while staffing this function and fully equipping it with all of the bells and whistles that are available to customer service organizations may not be the best move in these early stages, it is never too early to build the foundation for this vital function.
There are few, if any, entrepreneurs who would actively and knowingly reject the concept of customer service. Of course, everyone knows how important the customer is – right? Well, yes and no. While the idea of providing good customer service seems like an obvious one at any stage of a company’s life, the actual delivery of great service takes much more than just a passing thought or general presumption. In fact, the earliest seeds that need to be planted in any new organization are those representing “top of mind” placement given to customer service at every step in the growing process of that enterprise. This is absolutely not limited to those with the term “customer service” in their job title.
As previously stated, it is not necessarily the case that there will be anyone with a “customer service” title or primary functional responsibility in the early days of the company. It is, therefore, all the more important that those who are there at the beginning and who are, literally, setting the stage for the success (or not) of that new organization integrate the process of delivering superior customer service into everything that they do. So, without people explicitly tasked with the customer service function and in taking it beyond the concept stage, how is this done?
Systems and processes (never mind documentation) are not always a primary focal point for those attempting to achieve the above referenced “tasks” (i.e., product/service development, funding, early customer acquisition, etc.). However, more often than not, the need for these systems and processes rises to the surface relatively early in the building of a company. This may be the result of requirements placed on the organization by their current and/or future investors. That is a good thing. It would be an even better thing if the same level of attention paid to establishing systems and process for functions such as accounting, engineering development, sales and manufacturing was equally applied to the customer service function (marketing is often also an afterthought in this category – that’s a topic for another time).
Optimizing the Organization
Interestingly, one (certainly, I) could argue that customer service is the one organization in most companies that touches and interfaces with each of the others. Therefore, it might even make sense to get that one started first. This is true based on the fact that, by definition of the function (again, in most companies), Customer Service is the only place (and time) where/when someone inside the company is actively engaged with the customer while that customer is in the process of using the company’s product and/or service. This is one of the best (if not the best) opportunities to optimize everything else the company does (from accounting to engineering to sales and marketing).
For example, let’s assume that alpha Customer A calls in to report a bug on the newly released product they’ve just received from Company X. Beyond the basics of providing a prompt, professional and knowledgeable response to Customer A, Company X can (and should) benefit from that interaction in several other ways. Of course, the details of the bug being reported need to be clearly, completely and accurately communicated to engineering. Depending on the nature of the issue (often there is a very gray area between a bug and an RFE – request for enhancement), this information should also be shared with marketing. If that same customer is operating under a service contract, has outstanding (unpaid) invoices and/or has any other financially oriented “association” with Company X (i.e., a “pay for bug” reporting agreement), the accounting/finance function in the company may need to be notified as well. If the bug/issue being reported has to do with how it was shipped and/or received (especially, if it requires an RMA – return materials authorization), the manufacturing/shipping organization needs to get into the loop. Last, but never least, is the opportunity for sales to create and maintain an ongoing bond with their customer. In the case of a bug report, the salesperson responsible for that customer may want to place a follow-up call to assure that the customer was satisfied with the response to their call. Additionally, and (once again) depending on the nature of the issue, the salesperson may even be presented with an opportunity to “up-sell” another product and/or service to that customer.