I started all my businesses after discovering real problems and finding a way to solve them. But just solving problems is often not enough anymore. You need to delight your customers and you need to do it continuously.
Make customers love you and treat them like gold. They are gold. If your business starts to grow, don’t ever neglect them. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen many entrepreneurs forget or neglect the customers who made them successful once the company starts to grow. The outcomes in those situations can be disastrous. It takes years to build a business and customer loyalty, but, in a connected world, it can all be destroyed in moments if you do not keep your customers happy.
The old adage used to be, “a happy customer tells two people; an unhappy customer tells ten people.” Online, that becomes exponential.
No matter how big a company becomes, I implore every entrepreneur to adopt a “Customer Happiness Policy” early on. Make sure your customers are always happy and that real problems are always resolved with urgency. Sure, this is sometimes difficult to scale (which, paradoxically, makes more customers unhappy in the early growth stages), but never, ever, let customers think you don’t care about them. You should shock your customers with how much you care.
There is little worse for a customer to hear than, “I’ll need to speak to my manager about that and get back to you” or for them to send an email to a company and not hear back days.
There’s nothing more gratifying than converting an unhappy customer into a happy one. Many entrepreneurs get upset when a customer is angry and rightfully so. But, if a customer is angry, it’s usually because they actually care about your product. Customer apathy is way worse than customer anger.
Entrepreneurs should use these events as opportunities to learn the cause of the problem and fix it. It’s often the best opportunity you’ll have as an entrepreneur to address problems and show how much your company cares about its customers. Every company has problems. The best way to set yourself apart is to love your customers. Think about Virgin and American Express, two standout companies who relentlessly dedicate themselves to customer service in spite of their massive size.
Every business I’ve started began with no customers. Our first customer becomes the king of our world. But, as my companies began to grow, some customers inevitably got upset as we hit speed bumps during our growth, product development and operational trajectory. Whether the cause is a product bug or perhaps a rogue sales rep, there are few things I find more gratifying then turning an irate customer into a lifelong customer and fan of the company.
My companies live by the rule of always making sure the customer never walks away unhappy. I’ve even taken this to the extreme on more than one occasion. At one company I started, we were up to about 1000 customers when I received a phone call from a customer who was upset because our product was not delivered on time. He was yelling at me, cursing, not giving me a chance to speak. I listened attentively. Yelling at someone is cathartic for the yeller. In business, I never take it personally.
When he was done yelling, I explained that we had already fixed the problem he had. I did everything I could on the phone to appease him, including offering free lifetime service. He didn’t care nor did he accept it. We let him down once so his perception was that we didn’t care and “free” was not what he was looking for. He was seemingly unappeasable — I knew that the only reason he was upset was because he placed so much value on our product and it was not there for him when he needed it.
So what did I do? I shocked him by showing him how much I cared about him as a customer. How? I offered to travel to him and take him for dinner even though he lived several hours way. He was blown away. No company had ever done anything like this for him, but in that one instant, he realized how much we as a company cared about him.
In an instant, he totally turned from an angry customer into a lifelong customer and one of the best testimonials we ever had. He insisted on continuing to use the service — and paying for it. He also referred dozens of other paying customers to us. At the end of our call, I found out that he was the ambassador from another country. We’ve since become lifelong friends.
Extreme? Maybe. Scalable? Depends on a lot of factors. While it’s impossible to support non-paying customers like this, there are a lot of things you can do. And early on in a company’s life, there is no difference between a paying customer and non-paying customer as far as support is concerned. While the level of support you can afford or handle may change, the goal of constantly delighting customers never should.
Sure, there are some people who take advantage of companies, especially when they have generous return policies. But people, on the whole, are good and, if you shock them with kindness, good things can happen.