Mistakes happen, but good customer service is one way to set a business apart. Owners need to build and maintain a stellar perception of their companies so that conversation about it is always positive. This is especially important for startup companies, which are more likely to experience stiff competition from entrenched organizations already in the marketplace.
A savvy owner of a startup business will do research to make sure there is a market for any product before launching it; what customers want from it; and how to price it. Similarly, industry customer-service practices should be researched to determine the extent or types of support typically provided, whether it’s in the form of after-hours help or replacing a component. Considering customer service during product development will ensure the extra cost of providing it won’t take the company down. It may also illuminate new markets that aren’t being served.
Knowing how the competition handles blunders is critical; some of this may appear on a competitor’s website or elsewhere on the Internet. Blogs, for instance, can provide a good source of information about customer service — both good and bad — and www.trendpedia.com can sometimes help narrow a search to specific problems, industries or companies. Online reviews of various products and businesses abound, and customers are an excellent source of information on what they want, need and expect. Simply Googling the competition is an easy way to start.
A focus group set in a controlled environment where group members are encouraged to openly voice opinions will provide even more information about customers’ expectations. Focus groups held at various stages of product development can determine if customers prefer a product that includes limited repairs on high-quality materials or planned replacement of cheaper goods.
Customers’ expectations of product delivery are often overlooked by startups during the planning process. A survey of typical delivery methods compared to preferences voiced by customers will determine the level of assembly that should be provided.
Most customers are realistic when problems crop up and appreciate a staff that goes out of its way to correct mistakes immediately. This shows the customer that the business is committed to getting it right.
And an unhappy customer made happy by problem resolution can be a loyal business advocate and a good reference, whether by word of mouth or more formally. Good customer service will resonate within and outside any industry.
For more information about researching the marketplace, attend a CCET (Center for Entrepreneurial Training) workshop or visit the Technology Ventures Corporation website at www.techventures.org.
Authorized adaptation from an article in the August/September 2008 issue of Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization
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