Thoughts on entrepreneurship, startups, and tech.


Is Your Customer Support A Cost Or Part Of Your Brand?

We’ve heard it all too often, “You are the most important person in our company and we will always do our utmost best to satisfy you…”. Not necessarily this exact sentence, just the promise. It’s become like what was implied in Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, something we are no longer sensitive to and even more, that we no longer believe in. Some go as far as to proclaim that “caring” has become something of the past, that today’s generation & economy even ignores. Whatever your viewpoint is, customer support has been supplanted by price, trend and status in today’s hyper-consumption lifestyle. But things are about to change as these ephemeral conditions reach their apexes.

Customer Support is the only facette of a company that actually interacts with it’s clients / users when they need help or things go wrong. No other person in a company can influence the brand impression of a customer as does someone from support. And no one else is able to come within a kilometre of understanding what design or functional elements can answer people’s needs as do support agents. So why do these seemingly strategic resources in company fall under debilitatingly strict costing analysis and budget constraints? Because managers and founders simply “cost” their support instead of integrating into their brand.

What this indicates is that not only one of the key differentiators has been removed from their brand promise but they continue to suppress any emanation by putting pressure on the means instead of the objective. Some go as far as using freelance or consultants to try and remedy their “leak” and even outsourcing the complete function. Of course, some customers stay on because the product is conveniently priced or is momentarily useful / beneficial but these too disappear overnight when confronted with savvy competition. Those that stay because of trend or status are not true customers anyway, they’ll leave instantly as soon as any other product comes into the limelight. Management have a tendency to remain impervious to the whole spectacle. They spend their time away from customers (think “afraid”), holed up in never-ending meetings and study increasingly complex, yet seductive, charts & data spewed from bottomless big-data reservoirs in the cloud. When things continue to go the wrong way (down), pressure evolves contrarily (up) fed by skewed calculations. The only people that know are the one’s never asked.

And then there’s those that do it the right way, from the very start. A few that come to mind are unequal in size and history but all managed to weave service & support into the very essence of their brands. Cushion (a tiny startup) does an unbelievably good job of making you feel like you’re the only customer in the company and that your opinion and ideas actually (true) shape the evolution of their product. What’s also outstanding is the way such a small company handles questions and communication: there’s no email or ticketing software! You just click the little tab on your screen and instantly chat with one of the founders — wondrous! Basecamp the notorious project management company who’s DNA is composed of “more customer than code”, is a larger and more complex operation but manages to surprise me each time I connect with them; the speed and efficiency are unparalleled but the unique comes from their employees very personal approach and uncommon candidness — equally astounding! Inevitably when you think about customer service Zappos comes to mind. There has been so much written about their approach that there’s no point adding anything except that this company was built from the ground up around one particular theme, to “wow” customers and even with the growth of large-scale internet retailers, Zappos continues to progress because of their relentless attention to caring. Finally, one cannot omit to mention Apple; the only company that makes the tedious and nerve-wracking task of taking your product back to their stores (because something broke or you don’t understand how it works) actually…, enjoyable. Four companies, each a different size, age and with different products or services but all distinctly at the top of their respective industries because of their relentless attention to customer support and their brand’s continue to cast shadows on all their followers.

One of my favorite writers and source of inspiration Hugh MacLeod puts it perfectly; “There are just too many “me-too” products and services out there. So unless you’re offering something either completely unique and or world class, you life is going to be a lot harder”. Building a brand around unforgettable customer support is hard work, but no one has ever switched products because they’ve been treated to well.