Tag Archives: customer service

Top Tips for a Successful Start-up

business startup tipsOver the years I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs who started with a great concept and high energy yet failed to launch a successful business.

I’ve also seen people who only had modest ideas and yet went on to establish large profitable companies.

 

 

These are my conclusions and top tips for a successful start-up: 

1.  Know your market. Many of the entrepreneurs that failed had dashed headlong into launching their business without having done the spadework of testing the market’s acceptance of their idea.

The ones that succeeded had worked out a practical marketing plan, knowing how they were going sell the product or service to an identified group of customers.

I’ve written on this before, see Marketing Planning and Marketing Ideas

2. Start with a co-founder or partner. Almost all the successful businesses had a partner.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and even Richard Branson had co-founders. It takes some of the burden from you, inspires action and gives another person to bounce ideas off. See Should You Have a Business Partner?

But do make sure you put the business partnership in writing .

3. Start lean. In the early days those that were most successful focused their funds only on the areas that would make a difference.

No big cars or designer offices. The founders worked for minimum wages, ploughing all the money back into the business.

4. Measure and keep track of how you are doing. Knowing your costs vs sales and the timing of funds in and out is a necessity. Some that failed were profitable companies but sank because they underestimated the importance of their cash flow.

It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, use online accounting software like QuickBooks which is ideal for the small business. Because it’s online you are not trapped in the office to use it, vital when it’s you doing many of the jobs in the business and dashing around.

Nobly have a good reference for what to look for and have rated the best accounting software that you may want explore.

5. Use customer feedback. You won’t get everything right first time. Those that reacted quickly to customer feedback made the biggest strides. Also, in engaging with your customers you build loyalty and repeat sales.

In fact customer service is a great differentiator for you. Many that failed were somewhat arrogant in their customer dealings. Have a look at rather an old article now, but still relevant Provide a Better Service Than Your Competitors .

Yes growing a business is hard work, but also fun. With a little bit of foresight and doing the right things the business will blossom and provide you with enjoyment (and reward) for many years to come.

 

5 ways to be a success this year

5 actions for business success1. Work on your brand and image.

Success breeds success and perception is reality. The reason these truisms exist is that they are, well…. true.

What do people think when you communicate with them? Do they want to be a part (either as a customer or an Investor) of your successful and dynamic business? Perhaps you’re not quite there yet, but do all you can to give that image to people.

Branding is often just thought of as logos and letter-heads, a catchy tag-line and corporate colours. It’s easy to get bogged down in working on these and miss a couple quicker paybacks of having your own company email address (it’s not professional for a business to be using gmail/Hotmail) and a simple but high quality business card (the cheap ones are not worth having).

Most businesses now have a website, they’re inexpensive to produce and can instantly be a way of conveying your brand and image, so think about having one well designed. A local web designer can do a far better job than the free sites that come with purchasing a domain name.

For established companies, rethink how you are perceived. Ask customers and importantly potential customers what they think of when your name is mentioned. What do they like, what would they change? Get a pair of fresh eyes to look at you.

2. Give better customer service than your competitors.

Customer Service is now being seen as the number one differentiator in this era of everyone having very competitive pricing.

Good customer service needs to be built into the image of your company; it is a positive brand characteristic and will pay back with repeat business and recommendations.

It also needs to be built into the fabric of your business, from the attitude of yourself and your staff, to the systems that you put in place to support it.

Think of how John Lewis continues to do well, while others fail. Amazon has a great customer service for an on-line company. They’ve made good service a part of who they are.

3. Get help from your peers.

There are people who have already overcome the same problems you have, or may have contacts that you need, or insights into what works and what doesn’t. They can brainstorm ideas and help with strategies.

Where do you find them and isn’t it worrying to give potential competitors information on your business?

This is where you have to choose the make-up of your group wisely; there will be entrepreneurs and businesses that are not competitors but have the same issues as yourself. You can also sign an agreement where you keep each other’s information confidential.

As to where; Mastermind groups (look it up on Google), Network events, local Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Federation, and even banks run such activities for clients. There are also commercially run groups, often catering for executive level participants which provide well organised meetings and coaching, although they do tend to charge quite high membership fees. You could also set up your own group. If you do so, lay out some agreed upon rules.

4. 90% of success is turning up.

Do it. Yes stop prevaricating and do it. Dreaming of starting a business? Thinking that you should look at your costs? Wondering if you should do more PR or marketing? Just do it.

“I have never met the person who went out to do what they really dreamed of, and then regretted it, regardless of whether they later succeeded or failed.
“But I have met many people in later life who wished they had taken more risks to follow their dreams” – Simon Woodruffe (Yo! Sushi)

General George S. Patton: “a good plan violently executed now will be better than a perfect plan next week.”

5. Employ the best people that you can find.

This has constantly been the most given advice when successful entrepreneurs have been asked about lessons learnt.

Now if you are the sole owner of a young business, struggling to cope and having to do everything yourself, you may think that any warm body would be a plus.

However, even then it’s worth getting the best that you can afford at the time, which means investing some time in your choice.

“When picking your team, work with people you like, and give them massive respect.” – Simon Woodruffe. But I would be careful taking on friends, they may not be the best choice for skills and what will happen if goes wrong.

There are of course many more things that you can do to make this the year when your business takes off, but it’s better to focus on a few actions and make them happen, than a lot of possibilities that never get done.

 

Use technology in your business or fail

technology in businessIn a previous work life, I used to give presentations on technology and as a way of lightening the tone of what could be a heavy session, I showed a cartoon. The caption read “In a moment of inspiration Dave the repairman connected the air-conditioner to the Internet”.

Now, what’s funny about that you may ask? These days everything from fridges to toasters (yes you can buy one) get the Internet treatment.

Well, at that time the only device connected to the Internet was a computer and then not every computer. The workhorse of computing was called a mini-computer and it looked exactly like an air conditioning unit. Connecting it to the Internet would be impossible; we used to laugh at the absurdity of the cartoon.

How times have changed. I’m older now and the latest trends in technology don’t automatically include me. I have to consciously make myself aware of what is happening and how that impacts what can be produced as a product, offered as a service, or affect the way a business operates.

Unless designing an iPhone app, or working on a new type of web site, many entrepreneurs that I talk to have not included technology in their plans for the business.

That would be a mistake, because undoubtedly your competitors will have built-in the latest technology and it may be the edge that differentiates your business from the others.

5 ways technology can give you an advantage:

  1. Build it into your sales plan. Either by selling on your own web site (eCommerce), or using Amazon or Ebay  who will help you set up a shop within their sites.
  2. Have a plan of using technology to help your marketing and PR. This is increasingly important. You can advertise using Google Ads, place “how to do” videos on YouTube and use social media web sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in.
  3. Buy a web domain name that describes your activity. It depends on your type of business but whilst “Johnston International” sounds good you’ll only be found on search engines if someone types that name, however have a web site called “handbags.com” or “cookbooks.co.uk” and you’ll be found more often.
  4. Once you have your own domain name use it to have your own email address. There is nothing less professional than using hotmail or gmail as your email address for a business, it screams small-time amateur.
  5. Automate your business processes as much as possible, all the way down the supply chain, from how you order goods or services yourself, to despatch of goods and customer service. Use modern accountancy packages. Communicate with your customers by email, again automated where practical. This is an area that will save you money, speed processes up and free your time.

Don’t use excuses such as I’m too old for all this, I’m more of a people person, I don’t understand and in any case I’m too busy. Your competitors will be eating your lunch.

 

 

Get more customers – provide a better service than your competitors

customer serviceAfter writing the title of this piece I thought what more can I say? That’s it isn’t it? Provide a better service than your competitors and you will win business.

But maybe it’s worth thinking about this a bit deeper. No one actually sets out to deliberately provide a bad service and does it really matter that much?

Increasingly the difference between me choosing one supplier or another is their service. In today’s marketplace most prices are competitive. I can also easily compare prices on-line and I’m getting pretty good at negotiating discounts as well.

But you have to live with the product you buy a long time and if it’s a service you are buying, such as a telephone line, broadband ISP, or consultancy; the ease and quality of service can make your life pleasurable or absolute hell.

Two companies I enjoy dealing with are Amazon and John Lewis. I’ve never had any trouble returning goods with these companies and they have speedy delivery, so I continue to go back to them – even if sometimes their price is higher.

On the other hand who hasn’t been kept waiting ages on a telephone line while trying to get technical support from your Internet Service Provider?

Or had to deal with a call centre where you get passed from one automated menu to another, before talking to someone who clearly didn’t want to be there talking to you.

Large businesses can fall into this trap, because someone has done an efficiency study and calculated that the odd drop-out of customer is compensated by the lower cost of delivering service. Many large faceless organisations, such as Utility companies, and big corporations, just see such service as normal. The stock answer is “there are always complaining customers, but when you think that we deal with millions of people a year the number of complaints are very small”. Does that reassure you?

Smaller businesses may just have lost sight of the importance of service. Running around fire-fighting issues, having to do everything yourself, it can be hard to provide the level of service that you would like to. Whist understandable, it’s a road to disaster. Reputation is hard won and easily lost.

So what should you do?

  • Build ease of doing business, friendliness and going beyond the call of duty into your sales strategy and branding.
  • Design your systems for ease of customer interaction; IT systems, telephone handling, paperwork, bills, quotes – anything the customer has to deal with.
  • Own the problem. If a customer contacts someone at your company with an issue, that person should own the problem – even if the customer has rung the wrong department.
  • Make speedy delivery, speedy response, speedy interaction with your company an important factor in how your company operates. Customers are all busy people, the issue that they contacted you about is important to them and so they are impressed when you reply to an email or query within an hour, but not after days of waiting.
  • Forget the clichés “the customer is king”, “the customer is always right”, these are meaningless and are a fob to the whole concept, your staff will not respond to such trite. Instead make sure that your staff knows that how the customer perceives you is key to their success and the company’s business.
  • Get an attitude in place that one of the things which your company and the staff are proud of is the way they are viewed by customers, suppliers and others as being friendly and efficient.
  • Give staff the respect and trust to make judgement calls on what is needed to “do the right thing” for the customer, rather than “more than my jobs worth” to do anything out of the ordinary.
  • Once you have the right procedures in place and have built excellence of service into the core of the business, capitalise on it by using good testimonials in your literature and web site.

One of the reasons I like using Amazon is that apart from their service, I can read reviews of products and companies before buying. Checking reviews on-line is now an important shopping behaviour, so encourage your customers to leave good reviews anywhere they can. There are many opportunities to do so on-line, look for these and build your reputation.

I’ve worked in many corporations that have put measurements in place for customer satisfaction and even made that as part of the pay mechanism, but such measurements can always be massaged. None have worked as well as in companies where the ethos and self-image is all about quality.

Start with your own and your staffs perception of your brand as being one of excellence, ensure the systems allow you to deliver that quality and then customers will go out of their way to choose you rather than your competitors.

Customer service – who needs it?

Importance of customer serviceBritain used to be, shall we say, not great at customer service. But then everyone started to catch on that keeping a customer was less expensive (5 – 7 times) than finding a new customer. Good service also of course benefits reputation and public image.

So why would any company build into its systems anti-customer procedures? Or arrange for any customer contact to be one that turns the customer against the company?

Yet that’s what happened twice to me recently when contacting organisations. Admittedly the first one is a well known example of how to get it wrong, but even then the way in which their procedures and systems promoted a poor customer experience amazed me.

Who was it? BT I’m afraid and before you cry out “well what did you expect”, let me say that I have mostly enjoyed being a BT customer, but maybe that’s because I had little reason to contact them before.

Without boring you with details, it took numerous frustrating calls and 5 weeks to simply have our 2nd line moved to a new house. The issue was that BT’s systems didn’t allow the department that I had to contact, to pick up a phone and talk to the people that had to book and carry out the work. All they could do was send an email. No one knew if the email was read or being actioned. There’s also no way to give feedback, so they will never know how to improve their systems.

In the other case, I contacted Which? to change my address, however after going through several layers of automated call handling and being kept waiting 10 minutes on the one selected, with no end in sight, I decided I didn’t actually need their magazine that much and instead just cancelled the subscription.

Interestingly, the people I talked to in BT and Which? were polite and tried to be helpful, but their systems let them down.

It’s also strange that one can struggle to get through to a customer service department, to be thwarted in every way and yet you can get quickly through to the sales department.

As though existing customers are less important than potential new ones. Have we forgotten already the relative costs of acquisition versus retaining?

Generally in the UK we have now gotten pretty good at training staff to give the right service messages, but systems are often put in by people who are measured on cost savings rather than customer satisfaction.

If you are in the position of running a business never underestimate the importance of keeping customers happy, even after they have bought your products or service.