I’m introducing a new feature of my blog called “Dear VCDave.” I advise many entrepreneurs and each week I receive a number of practical, real-world questions. These are day to day operating issues, from “The investors are replacing me as CEO, what’s your advice?” to “My co-founder is moving to another city to be with his fiancee, what’s the best way to handle?”
While I’ve traditionally shared the answers to these questions with those asking them directly in emails and phone calls, a number of entrepreneurs have asked that I share these questions and answers in a format others can learn from — here they are.
DEAR VCDAVE: My investors are replacing me as CEO. What’s your input on that?
– Ousted CEO
Congratulations! Consider it a rite of passage. If it makes you feel better, many great entrepreneurs have been ousted as CEO–Steve Jobs, for one. Getting fired sucks. It’s even more painful when it’s your baby, a company you created from nothing.
It’s natural to question yourself and wonder what the investors thought was missing, regardless of what they say. Maybe they thought you couldn’t raise money. Or that you weren’t scaling with the company’s growth. Perhaps they want to bring in someone of their own. Or they just have bad judgment.
You could, of course, fight your investors on the decision (see: Yahoo). You might win, but you’d better have some other investors lined up. More likely, you and they will destroy the company and they’ll end up keeping what’s left.
You’ll have time for soul-searching later. It’s probably a mix of many factors, some having to do with you, some having to do with the investors, others having to do with the situation. Don’t let it get to you. Stay focused. Focus on keeping the business running. Sort out your equity and near-term compensation. Figure out your go-forward relationship with the company. Be helpful with the new CEO on-boarding process.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been on a customer service tear lately. That’s because we’ve been scaling up customers at Speechpad at a record rate and interacting with a lot of them in the process. I’d read Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, but our recent growth rate has given me a new found appreciation — and involvement in — delivering great customer service.
This weekend I did the unthinkable and dunked my iPhone in water. Not a few drops of water but a full on bath. In other words, I needed a new phone. My first stop was verizonwireless.com. I know — what was I thinking? I reached a customer service rep on the web site who duly had me log into the web site to figure out that my next upgrade date was January of 2013. I inquired about other options and the rep suggested I buy one of their cheapest feature phones. A no-go.
I had heard and read good things about Apple store service so I headed over to the downtown San Francisco store to see what they could do. From the greeting at the door, to the service check-in, to my new phone, my total in-store time was under 40 minutes.
Most memorable for me was the Genius Bar. What a great concept – turning the idea of service into a bar with stools, a long counter, and service techs taking the place of bartenders. But first I was walked up the stairs to an Apple rep who checked me in for an appointment that would take place 10 minutes later. There’s something awesome about finding out you have to make an appointment and then having that appointment be 10 minutes later.
I browsed the web and time flew by — about 15 minutes later a tech arrived to take a look at my phone. He returned a few minutes later and told me the replacement cost: $149. I was overjoyed. No shipping, no return process, no paperwork, just a few checkboxes and a signature on an iPad and voila: a new iPhone.
The toughest part was getting it registered on the Verizon network. Even the Apple Genius couldn’t get that part to work until he consulted with someone else who showed a way to work around the Verizon registration system! Go figure.
And of course there was the wireless credit card swipe that let me pay right at the Genius table.
Some key takeaways:
- Personalized service, using my name
- A great environment that turned something usually dreaded (customer service) on its ear by converting it into a luxury experience — going to a bar
- Immediate exchange
- Low friction – no paperwork (just some electronic forms)
- An apology that things were “taking so long” (e.g. a whopping five minutes) when dealing with the Verizon registration issue
All in all, an insanely great customer service experience.
When it comes to customer service, there’s nothing quite like delivering an immediate response.
Google optimizes the delivery of search results down to the last millisecond. That’s because fast web sites delight people. They like it when web pages appear quickly, when sites are snappy and responsive. People love it when they order something on Amazon and they get the package on-time, as promised, two days later. The same holds true for customer service in every business.
When it comes to Speechpad, nothing makes me happier than a happy customer. Companies spend a lot of time putting CRM systems in place and hiring and training customer support people. Yet there remains nothing quite so magical as getting back to a customer immediately.
Not the next day; not in a few hours; right away. Granted, we can’t always respond to customers immediately, but we try to get back to them immediately as often as possible. At Speechpad, customers have questions about uploading very large files, about pricing, about 24 hour turnaround. We try to address many of these questions through our web site and our FAQ.
Yet there’s nothing customers like quite so much as knowing there’s someone on the other end of their email or phone call who cares about getting their transcription done on time. As self-serve as our web site is, customers like to know, especially when they first start working with us, that we’re dedicated to delivering great transcriptions.
And nothing makes me happier when it comes to customer service than responding to their inquiries immediately. There is something magical about immediate customer service. That means when an inquiry comes in, we respond right away.
Even in a hyper-connected world where dozens of new tweets appear every minute, getting back to people right away–truly right away–remains magical. There’s simply no substitute for that level of immediacy and responsiveness, whether it’s during the business day or on a night or weekend.
Highly responsive customer service not only shows you’re responsive, it gives customers a positive feeling about your company. It differentiates you from the competition.
So when it comes to customer service, think about response times. Don’t let emails sit in the queue until you have the perfect answer. Don’t send an automated message. Send a personal reply and do it right away. Immediacy matters.
I was speaking with a Speechpad customer yesterday–let’s call him John–who said, “I was just so happy to get a response. Some of the companies I contact I don’t even hear back from.” This customer does two to three weekly webcasts. He wanted to get them transcribed so they would be searchable and indexable in Google.
John told me that he’s tried a number of different transcription services. Sometimes he’ll submit a transcription and never hear back! Imagine it–a customer ready and willing to buy, a customer with a budget who never gets a response.
Our goal is to respond to customers within minutes after they contact us. Sometimes it takes us a few hours. But we make it a goal to respond very quickly. Responsiveness differentiates Speechpad from other companies in the industry.
In contrast, this morning I was on the phone with Garmin customer service. A few weeks ago my Garmin 500 bike GPS stopped working. I called Garmin and they set me up for a replacement. The Garmin rep on the phone told me that they would ship out a new unit to me right after they received the one I was sending in.
Sometimes customer service people just want to give you good news since they know you’re having a bad experience. Any good news. The problem with this approach is that it sets a high expectation. And in this case, Garmin failed to deliver on that expectation. I had to call today because I still hadn’t received the replacement unit even though Garmin received my GPS on April 23 — over two and a half weeks ago.
When it comes to customer service, the best approach is to tell people the truth. Can’t give them a discount? Tell them that. Don’t come up with excuses, just tell them the truth. Don’t set expectations you can’t deliver on–set expectations you can beat.
Bad customer service can kill an otherwise great product. Great customer service is part of the Whole Product Experience: everything that encompasses your product, from the product itself, to how that product is marketed and sold, and the service that goes with it.
Delivering great customer service increases customer loyalty, which in turn generates new business through referrals as those happy customers tell their friends and colleagues what a great experience they had with your company.
Great customer service can also help overcome early issues with a product. If a file upload fails or a web site doesn’t work with a particular browser version, customer service can go a long way toward addressing those issues. And customers love getting fast replies. It shows that you’re on it, you’re with it, and that your company takes their business seriously. Plus, they’re used to getting such slow replies from other companies that fast responses really wow them.
Customer service impacts how people perceive your product and company, and ultimately has a huge impact on whether they recommend your company to other people. Don’t just think about the product — think about how you’ll deliver it as part of the Whole Product Experience.
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