Don’t Settle For Just Customer Service: Make Them Happy
My name is Matt Behnke, a successful entrepreneur and founder of Orthotic Shop, an online footwear retailer. Most startups focus on creating a competitive edge with their intellectual property. In eCommerce, this typically means building better code. This approach is wrong. I should know: I built my own site, and the platform it runs on and it still wasn’t enough.
Building A Business Is About More Than Code
I got my first taste of programming when in grade school, watching my older brother teach himself how to code on our family PC. Soon, I got tired of just watching him and decided to learn about it myself, and I built and maintained a Bulletin Board System (BBS). I managed this until I went to Kettering in 1994 where I took my first formal computer science class.
From there, I spent a decade working as a Government Civilian Engineer with the Army at their TACOM station, getting two master’s degrees and a lot of “real world” experience working on the Future Combat Systems. Then, I built Orthotic Shop and to this day, I still manage the day-to-day patches and updates for my site, including building a custom mobile friendly design.
I live and breathe the code on my site, letting me pivot to Google’s “best practices” faster than my competitors. However, a lesson I learned early when building Orthotic Shop was that the best website doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a customer experience that makes people want to buy from you.
I Learned I Could Not Manage Customer Service Alone
When I launched my company in 2006, my wife and I did everything in our spare time. I dealt with programming and customer service, while my wife helped process sales and returns. When our daughter, Samantha, was born, I took over the shipping duties as well, asking family members to pitch in. My running joke at the time was that I had my dogs manage all customer complaints, but there were days where I wished I wasn’t joking.
As the business grew, I outsourced the sale and return shipments to a third party warehouse. This let me focus on the code of the website, but I found that dealing with customer questions, concerns, and complaints still took up a lot of my day.
Briefly, I experimented with having the fulfillment warehouse manage customer service as well before realizing that outsourcing my customer service, even to a company that specialized in this, didn’t make sense for the business I wanted to build. I knew that happy customers were my best asset and that their perception of my brand came largely from how we dealt with their questions, concerns, and feedback.
By this time, Orthotic Shop was my full time job, and I knew the best way to grow the site was to focus on what I knew best, the code.
In 2012, I made my smartest decision ever as an entrepreneur and had my cousin open up what we called the “Customer Happiness Center.”
Customer Service Is Always Your Competitive Edge
I opened the center in Michigan, not far from the fulfillment warehouse. In it, my Cousin Kayley manages of team who handle all customer service issues, including social channels, allowing me to focus on updating the website, from building out a mobile-friendly design to my new project: a custom recommendation engine.
By keeping the service in-house, I know that my customers get the best support possible, which is why my website continues growing despite major retailers like Amazon and Zappos featuring an Orthotic Shoe line up to rival my own.
To excel at delighting your users, just follow these three main steps:
- Always Exceed Expectations: Richard Branson said how important it was to set realistic expectations, but seek to exceed them. You don’t have to promise the moon, but always provide more than you promise. Customer’s like to feel that your customer service team went beyond what they had to, so let them.
- Treat Your Customer Happiness As Part Of Your Brand: Prioritize keeping your customers, particularly returning customers, happy. Great prices, products, and design will only get you so far if their experience falters the second they try to ask a question. A negative experience can color all future purchases, so don’t sacrifice your brand to try to grow some other area.
- Embrace Social Media: Thanks to the popularity of Facebook, most companies have a profile page but they make the mistake of treating it like a free billboard to post ads. Customers expect to ask questions and raise concerns on your Facebook page, to use it to vent any frustrations they have. Treat your social profiles like an extension of your customer support and make sure you have someone monitoring them.
As a new business, it’s tempting to either try handling all customer service yourself, or outsource it to a call center.
Online, your customer experience is your brand. Don’t trust it to anyone else.
Matt Behnke is the owner and founder of Orthotic Shop. He currently lives with his wife and two children in his home state of Michigan where he still manages the day-to-day coding for his website. You can find him updating the code at Orthotic Shop, or on Twitter @comfortshoes.