Focusing on customer acquisition as a startup makes sense; without new customers, there's no way to grow. But even as you buckle down to win over prospects, make sure you're not forgetting to help out your existing customers. They're the best source of new business and feedback, especially in the early stages.
A panel of startup founders from YEC offer their take on the most common customer-service faux pas they've seen, and how fellow founders can improve.
1. You're not responding in a timely manner.
I know it's difficult to respond to every single email, but even the simplest reply goes a long way. You want people to know they're being heard and that their messages aren't being lost in the abyss. Most of all, you want them to know that there's a human on the other side willing to help them. Sometimes an automated email just won't do--make sure you have a manager dealing with this.--Rob Fulton, Exponential Black
2. You're committing to projects outside of your core competency.
We all want overdeliver for our clients, but extending a hand into an unfamiliar area could be a big mistake. If you don't plan on generating more of that same type of business, it may be better off referred elsewhere or left alone. Proper support can become a huge hurdle, and receiving negative reviews or complaints will hurt future business as well as distract you from what you should be focusing on.--Russell Kommer, eSoftware Associates Inc
3. You don't have a customer service infrastructure.
Many startups don't have the resources or haven't taken the time to establish a system for customer service. No specific employees are assigned to it, there's no rhyme or reason to responses, etc. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. If you appear disorganized and flaky, the very customers who have the potential to build your business will head in the other direction.--Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work
4. You're limiting direct client connection.
Many startups want to make sure their internal people stay focused, whether or not they're a product- or service-related organization, at the onset. But this is the time when extra effort is required to build a strong name for yourself in the marketplace. Attempting to automate with email-only support or complicated phone message trees is a big no-no. Let the client come right to you. -Michael Spinosa, Unleashed Technologies
5. You're not making customer service everyone's job.
As a startup with limited cash and time, you need to win over every customer. The biggest customer service mistake I see is a CEO and their team delegating customer care. When everyone talks to customers, your entire team will see the warts in your product and you'll understand what customers really want. Honest feedback will drive you to build a better company.--Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches
6. You're not checking-in with customers.
In a service- or project-based business, it is very common for startups to just go heads down and focus on getting the work done. However, a huge part of being in a business like that is making sure the client knows what is going on. Checking in with even just brief status updates on a regular basis makes them feel more engaged and like part of the process. You never want to be working behind a closed door.--Anthony Scherba, Yeti
7. You're defensive about criticism.
Too many businesses become defensive when an upset client writes a bad review. They adopt an accusatory tone and engage in unnecessary and time-consuming conflict. This turns away potential customers.--Alfredo Atanacio, Uassist.ME
8. You're being too formal.
As consumers, we are used to service from big companies that is mostly formal and standardized. As a startup building its own customer service standard, you do not need to use these big company examples for your model. Instead, you can and should give more individualized service and personal attention to your early users. Go above and beyond to get to know your customers and serve them.--Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.
9. You're too eager to change.
With so much pressure to put out a product as soon as possible, some startups are too eager to change their vision of their product whenever a customer complains. Startup owners need to listen to customers of course, but should also try to complete their product design how they truly envisioned it.--Kumar Arora, Aroridex, Ltd.
10. You're too accommodating.
A lot of startups fall into the trap of being too accommodating to their clients. All of this work happens quite often with very little outcome. Instead, think of your startup as being more mature than it really is so that you don't burn efforts trying to please everyone.--Ivan Matkovic, Spendgo
11. You're focusing on sales over customer retention.
Lots of startups are thinking growth at the expense of customer retention. In a naive way, it's easy to be focused on "growth" in terms of getting more customers. As a small company, the signature of success is more customers. However, the signature of a successful long-term business is customer retention. Focus on that early. It's not just the sales you can gain, but that you can keep.--Andy Karuza, SpotSurvey