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How to put customer service at the heart of your startup

Earlier in the year Arnaud Bertrand, CEO of HouseTrip explained how he got three of Europe’s biggest VCs to back his startup. In his second column he explains how startups should focus on an often forgotten quality – customer service.

For a startup entrepreneur, having a great idea is just the first step in a long chain of events that leads to building a profitable company. Yet, the one thing that tends to be forgotten when creating a brand is customer service.

Thinking beyond profit

Too many times I see entrepreneurs focussed on the end goals of profit, fame and success forgetting that they need a passionate and appreciated client base from which to achieve their desires. For startups, it’s even more critical because the company will be in need of brand champions to shout about the positives and spread awareness in the early stages.

Companies operating in the collaborative consumption space are especially exposed to comment, as they are only as good as their worst ‘collaborator’

As a hospitality graduate, I had it drilled into me when I was a student that everything a company does should be performed to delight the customer at every possibility. My startup has to listen to this mantra as we work in the travel and leisure industry; where the difference between a dream holiday and a nightmare can come down to whether there is a working coffeemaker or sufficient WiFi. Companies operating in the collaborative consumption space are especially exposed to comment, as they are only as good as their worst ‘collaborator’. If an experience is poor when booked via a collaborative consumption marketplace, the blame is usually thrust onto the brand and not onto the supplier.

Use net promoter scores to measure success

At HouseTrip, we measure our success using Net Promoter Score (or NPS for short), whereby we survey every guest who has booked a stay with us to find out if they would rebook or tell their friends about their experience. We then monitor the scores on a regular basis to see if they are going up or down, determine where we can make changes in the company to improve scores and pinpoint product enhancements that can be developed to further respond to the needs of our client base.

Presently, our NPS is above industry standard – but we continue to try for better and higher scores as word-of-mouth is always the best marketing tool.

Tips for early stage startups

  1. No matter how proud you are of your product, think about everything that could go wrong with it and be prepared for every eventuality.
  2. Make sure you have at least a basic customer service department or plan in action before you ‘go live’ for customer sales – don’t rely on ‘picking up the phone and dealing with it haphazardly’.
  3. Establish clear goals. For example: “We aim to respond to all calls or emails within xx hours.”
  4. Be prepared for the fact that customers will make their own rules about how they contact you – social media is a favoured tool for complaints so monitor these channels at all times.
  5. Create as many tools as possible to answer basic questions that a customer might have. The more you can get them to help themselves, the less taxed your team will be with basic questions. However, there will always be people who prefer a human voice so don’t be over-reliant on technology to do your job for you.