Building a business takes time and commitment. It also takes doing the things that other people think they don’t have to. After all, in pretty much any industry you could possibly think of, you need to beat out the competition in addition to actually selling whatever it is that you happen to be offering for sale to your customers.
In other words, you need to make your business stand out from the pack and there are a number of ways to ensure that you will indeed stand out from the pack. Here’s what you need to know:
I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Simply offering real customer service is one way in which your business can stand out. This is especially true if you work in a business where most of your competitors limit their customer service to e-mail or even worse online self help forums.
For example, did you know that Twitter does not publish a phone number for their business regardless of how desperately you search for it? Ditto for Facebook. In fact, many Internet companies publish no phone number whatsoever. Thus, if you run an Internet company, simply publishing a phone number could very well mean that you would stand out from the pack and be the guy people look to for their needs.
Of course customer service means much more than just publishing a phone number. It means taking care of whatever the problem is and ensuring that the customer has a pleasant experience when they contact you. The only thing worse than not providing a phone number for customers who prefer to talk to a human being is providing a phone number which has an endless loop of automated responses.
Now I know what you’re saying – customer service phone numbers cost money and so we need automation. Mind you, I don’t say you need to be the rare company which answers the phone right away when people call. It’s enough to have a method for eventually reaching someone who can help to resolve the customer’s problems.
You should also ensure that when people reach your customer service department, they actually get the help that they need. After all, the customer service representative who is extremely polite but who simply frustrates people is not the person who is going to endear your customers to your company.
You need to ensure that they are committed to helping customers and that if they cannot help your customer with whatever problem they happen to be having that they can explain clearly why it’s beyond their purview or offer a refund if the problem is with your product.
And no, there is no need to offer a refund because your customer was doing something stupid (i.e. I remember back in the old days of computers that a customer claimed their cup holder had broken. It turned out that they thought the CD tray was a cup holder). However, if the customer has a legitimate concern, it should be addressed.
The KISS method never fails. It stands for Keep it Simple, Stupid and is one of the most important acronyms you’ll ever hear. In essence, whenever you are creating a product or you are creating something ancillary to your product (advertising, website, etc.) you want to keep it as simple to use as possible.
I’ve got news for you: nobody is interested in sitting in front of mission control for the Space Shuttle in order to figure out how to operate their blender. Nobody wants to see 500 buttons in front of them when all they want to do is to turn on the TV set. And nobody wants to see a website with dozens of layers which they need to drill through to find what they need.
Okay, I admit it, there probably are people who take great pleasure in overly complicated setups. Heck, my own home entertainment system involves four different remote controls and a keyboard (hey, when you want to be able to watch Hulu, Netflix and Crackle along with your personal library of six terabytes worth of TV and movies not to mention being able to use Pandora and local TV as well, all while using a projector with a 110” screen, it takes a pretty complicated setup).
However, in the majority of cases, your customers just want something simple and easy to use. And to be honest, even though I understand the system I built for my home theater system, I sometimes wish I could make it simpler to use because guests in my home never seem to be able to figure out how to use it and inevitably mess something up.
And remember that the KISS requirement applies to pretty much anything your company does. If you create a user manual, it should not need to be the size of a telephone book (for those who still remember what those are) in order for the person to be able to use the thing. Simple is and always will be better.
Even feature creep is a problem for most people, which is why so many people wait for a long time before they update things like Microsoft Office – they don’t want the steep learning curve of having to learn a whole lot of new ways to do things when they were still confused by the old system.
Even your customer service shouldn’t be overly complicated by the way. As I mentioned above, if you want your company to stand out from the pack, your phone tree shouldn’t be so complicated that it makes people start shouting obscenities while trying to get the answer to a simple question they have about whatever they need to do.
Listen to Your Customers, Not Your Head
One of the biggest problems that many entrepreneurs have is that they tend to ignore what their customers or even other people say and they decide that they know better than everyone else what needs to be done with this that or the other feature.
Now while you may be a very smart person and you may have a great idea, you cannot possibly know everything there is to know. Nobody can. This simple fact means that you need to actually listen to what people are telling you. Now here’s the real kicker: people will in fact tell you what you need to know if you only listen to them.
I was recently reading an interesting article in Fast Company about how to get the most out of a mentoring relationship and one of the things they mentioned there was that you should not consider your mentor someone who needs to stroke your ego and validate whatever ideas you have. You should in fact consider your mentor someone who will poke holes in your idea.
Your customers are pretty much like your mentor, except for the fact that they actually paid you for the privilege of telling you what it is they actually need you to do. In other words, they have paid for a product and they feel it could use certain improvements. Listen to what they have to say. Show your customers you appreciate them.
Those who actually follow this advice tend to find that their business doesn’t necessarily resemble what they thought it would resemble back when they originally started their business. However, they also find that they are the ones making the most money because people want to feel that you listen to them.
Now this of course doesn’t mean that you must listen to customers who pester you for a particular feature even though nobody else asks for that feature. So for example the customer at your toaster factory who demands that the toaster he buys should also include an ice maker is probably someone whom you can safely ignore.
On the other hand, the customer who contacts you regarding your SEO software which automatically posts comments on blogs (a bad idea generally – you can semi-automate, but full automation usually works poorly) and asks for the ability to be able to write customized comments for each blog but to use the software to find blogs to comment on and to fill in the registration information is one whom you should listen to.
You may also want to consider including some kind of a commenting feature on your website where customers can tell you what they’d like to see in future versions of your product because that will allow you to actually get the feedback you need. And yes, you may get some wacky ideas. You may also get some angry notes. That’s all part of listening to your customers though.
Focus On the Pain
An old business axiom is that there are only two reasons that customers ever make a purchase of a product. They are in pain or they are in lust. In other words, they have a problem they need to solve which is either causing them “pain” or they have a problem they need to solve in that they feel a strong desire for something.
Good examples of this include Tylenol and a Ferrari. People buy Tylenol because they are in pain while people buy a Ferrari because they are in lust. However, even in less obvious situations, these two basic reasons for making a purchase always hold. People may be in pain because they find their word processor too difficult to use. They may be in lust because they think that color printing with embossed letters looks gorgeous.
Now, the secret to making your business stand out from the crowd is to focus on the pain. People are always more likely to make a purchase because they need something to deal with an annoyance or a pain than they are to make a purchase because they lust after something.
For example, you’re very likely to pay the hospital if you break your arm even though it could cost you thousands of dollars. However, you’re less likely to splurge and buy that Caribbean cruise even though you are lusting for the days of sun drenched beaches and shipboard meals which seem to be offered at almost every turn.
They key of course is to find the pain that people are feeling and to focus on ways to solve it. Don’t forget by the way that pain doesn’t have to be physical to be pain. Pain could be that the guy is stressed out at work and needs that Caribbean cruise in order to relax and be more productive. The key then is to focus on the pain without it being too obvious (unless of course the pain is obvious – Tylenol doesn’t need to be subtle about relieving pain after all).
Don’t Be a Jack of All Trades, Master of None
Remember the KISS principle? It also makes sense for you as a person and for your business as a business that offers something. Don’t try to be all things to all people. You are not running Amazon.com or Wal Mart (unless of course your name is Jeff Bezos or Martin Duke, in which case, welcome. Thanks for dropping by. I hope you like our blog.).
Now I know some people may be saying that they feel that they shouldn’t specialize too much and that’s true. The handyman who only knows how to drill holes in the wall but doesn’t know how to hang shelves or fix an electrical outlet is not a handyman who is going to make much money. On the other hand, that same handyman doesn’t need to know how to pour the foundation for a house in order to make a living.
The bottom line is this: think about what you would want if you were your customer and try to do that for your customer. All of the above advice really does boil down to the so called golden rule – if you want your business to stand out, then do to others as you would have them do to you.