When you’re building a company, everything is a priority, but some things are nonnegotiable: you have to have a stellar product or service; you must secure funding; and, it’s crucial to have a strong sales channel to ink deals. With such critical points taking up the focus, it’s easy – and even understandable – to deprioritize other aspects of the organization. But customer service isn’t something that can be put off until maturity. It’s a critical piece of your brand that should be developed along with the rest of the company – not added later once there’s time to focus.
The reality is that 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or intended purchase because of a poor service experience, and—with 80% of Americans believing small businesses place greater emphasis on customer service— the stakes are higher for startups. Given the importance of customer service, and the competing priorities startups are faced with, partnering with a customer service provider is a smart approach – but one that many companies don’t consider. There are preconceived notions about outsourcing, relative to the size of a company, but the reality is: the smaller you are, the more reasons you have to outsource critical, but time- and resource-intensive business functions. Let’s address some myths:
1. It’s too expensive. There is a common belief among startups that they’re too small to take advantage of the resources that a customer service provider offers and that those services are reserved only for large organizations with big budgets. However, a major benefit of partnering with a customer service provider is you don’t have to make the full investment in space, technology and processes. In fact, most customer service providers maintain multi-tenant sites, meaning your 10 representatives sit alongside another company’s 20, and a third company’s 100. In many ways, you are renting a service, just like you could software. This type of partnership allows startups to take advantage of experienced representatives, an existing structure, effective technology and established processes. Another benefit is the historical knowledge that a customer service provider offers; it’s experience that can save you time and money. For example, states have different regulations on worker hours, labor laws and many site-specific requirements. Keeping track of these regulations and maintaining compliance takes research, time and costs money. Customer service providers have done this homework already.
2. I don’t want to lose contact with our customers. A customer service representative is one of the richest sources of customer insight at a company – after all, they’re speaking directly with them day in and day out. But it’s also one of the most critical touch points, and one that needs to be managed tightly and correctly. Many startups think it would be best to handle themselves, to learn directly from the customer and improve their business or service. It’s the right sentiment, but the reality doesn’t bear that out. Organizations get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of managing customer inquiries that they actually spend no time really listening to the customer – or, just as critically, analyzing the data they want to use to improve. Even asking representatives to share their anecdotal feedback is hard: after all, people generally only remember the exceptions. Instead, a customer service provider has the framework already in place, relieving the organization of the burden of creating it from scratch, and the analytical tools necessary to capture the insights they’re so hungry for. For example, many customer service providers have data and tools that highlight the reasons contact was made and customer satisfaction in real-time, in order to provide actionable insights. Specifically, Arvato’s recent acquisition of Ramyam, a data analytics company, not only provides dashboard insights on all key indicators in the contact center, but also provides suggestions on the next best action, based on the customer’s sentiment. It turns out, sharing the load actually puts you in closer touch with your customers.
3. Customer service is easy: I’ll just hire my nephew as a summer job or use chatbots. The perception of a customer service call center is rows of representatives reading from a script, but customer service today is more complex than many realize. With the advent of AI and chatbots, many simple customer service tasks can be automated – meaning that the ask of the representative is more complex. They go through extensive training programs and are regularly adjusting to new processes, especially as new technology hits the scene. In fact, a representative spends at least three to four weeks training before they even start taking live customer calls, and even then, they continue to receive additional training throughout their careers. They also go through brand immersion training, which involves numerous exercises—everything from store visits, to using the product in their everyday life, to even test-driving vehicles. Ultimately, representatives embody your brand, and often times, they are the only interaction customers will have with your brand; that’s not something you want to leave up to just anyone. Think about how carefully you hire for the rest of your staff: customer service should be no different.
4. We’re still building our brand: I don’t want to lose control of it. This may be the most critical consideration, and one that companies should consider heavily. But the reality is that customer service providers don’t take this lightly either. Customer service programs are built specifically to be an extension of your team. A profile is built for the ideal traits and experience that representatives are interviewed against. For example, gaming companies look for representatives who are real-life enthusiasts of the games they provide support on. Additionally, there’s a rigorous training program that not only includes the details of the job, but deep engagement with the brand to turn representatives into ambassadors. Due to this level of training, many representatives avoid scripts. Instead, their familiarity with the brand allows them to speak to customers with ease. The representatives’ surroundings also help them feel like part of the team. Many call centers are branded with the company’s logos and colors. Ultimately, the goal is to feel like these representatives are members of your company.
At the end of the day, the realities of offering effective customer service are too complex and critical for many startups to get right, especially in light of the competing priorities they’re facing. Just like many companies partner with marketing/PR firms to make sure they get it right from the get go, when they don’t have the internal resources to do it effectively – so too should more startups look to partner with a customer service provider. After all, you only get one chance to make a great first impression.