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    Practical advice on customer experience for start-ups


    Oyefeso Oluwafemi

    In the course of the week, I was having a discussion with a friend who works for an alternative energy start-up, deploying solar panels and systems to the homes of retail customers with a payment model based on monthly subscriptions. The organisation was torn between growing rapidly by outsourcing its installations to third-party engineers and growing slowly by taking the time and effort to train and set up an internal team that will be trained on what the customer needs and maintain a non-negotiable framework for service delivery. The team will be in charge of installations and relate with customers.

    Outsourcing the installations will allow the organisation to cover more ground with third-party agents who already have the technical skills to deploy at a quicker pace. However, taking the time to assemble and equip the internal team will require more funds and time.

    It all depends on what the organisation wants to achieve. Is the organisation in it for the long haul? Or does it just want to make a quick buck and suffer reputational risk with customers? However, a better option will be to take the time to get it right and use an internal team first to get it right and scale up from there.

    I also shared with him some other nuggets.

    It doesn’t start with training

    While assembling the team or even outsourcing to a third party agent, it is tempting to insist on people that have great technical skills at the expense of a great attitude. Though knowing the job is very good, however, it has to be balanced with the right attitude.

    The former should not be sacrificed for the latter. Hire for attitude and train for skill. Anyone can learn and gain expertise on the job. This is especially important when the technician has to have a direct interface with the customer. How do you train or inculcate into a grown adult of working age the right attitude? Training may help but it is not the silver bullet.  Getting the right fit starts with recruiting; it depends on who is selected and how the selection process is done.

    The 4 Seasons hotel goes through a minimum of four interviews during its recruitment exercise to actually understand the person, the values, motivation, regardless of the position on offer, from the cleaners to the doormen to the concierge, to ensure there is a proper fit and compatibility with its core values. They believe other skills can be learned, which is why the level of service is excellent. How do they separate wheat from the chaff? There are no textbook questions and no definitions. They ask people to tell stories and ask open-ended questions, which help in revealing the true person and deciphering the truth.

    Word of mouth is king

    Most organisations have to rely on their ecosystems to deliver service to the customers. Challenge is that the third party providers do not share the same values, hence they most times drop the ball. For third party installations, there has to be reliance on third party vendors who are spread all around the country and have an already existing framework. However, there will have to be a compromise on the quality of the experience.

    For an organisation to deliver a superior experience to its customers, it has to look through the customers’ eyes to see how it is to be served, as most customers feel the organisation designs its processes such that it favours the organisation more and makes it difficult to serve the customer.

    Customers refer their family and friends to the organisation based on their previous experience, as most prospective customers will first ask people around them before buying a service due to doubts about promises made in adverts. This is why it is very dangerous for organisations to do a shoddy job thinking it is trying to cut costs. It simply means that it has short-circuited itself and lost potential customers within their sphere of influence.

    It is expensive not to get it right the first time

    It costs more for a business not to get it right the first time. For instance, if at the point a customer purchases a product or service and the customer is not properly boarded; trips back to the point of purchase are inevitable, expending time, energy and money. A business or service with a subscription model cannot even afford not to get it right the first time. If the customer is not a patient one he or she may just stop subscribing, hence the organisation does not enjoy the full lifetime value of the customer.

    The customer journey

    Finally, the organisation needs to look at the total customer journey and not just the point of buying the product. The journey map might start from researching about the product or stumbling on the product through the website, asking for friends’ opinion about the product, to buying the product, the on-site survey, installation, subscription and maintenance. The journey cuts across the website, technical team, payment providers and technical team. Though not all may be in the total control of the organisation, a smart organisation will critically look at this journey and see how it can be made as seamless as possible, instead of just focusing on one touch point. Opportunities for innovation abound when the customer journey is carefully looked at and mapped out.

    The above advice is crucial for all organisations, regardless of their size, as long as they want to differentiate themselves from the pack.

    Please follow me on twitter:@oluwafemioyefes

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