These days, practically any kind of business service is based on customer interactions. Restaurants, hairdressers, and even your good ol’ plumber rely on review websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook.
Have you ever wondered why that weird Indian restaurant is ranked #1 in your area? Food quality? Atmosphere? Decor? Well, probably a combination of all of these, but most likely the incredible personal service that goes with it.
I’ve just returned from a trip to South Korea where I wandered around Seoul with my girlfriend. We are both extreme foodies and we like discovering new cultures through food, dining at places recommended by locals.
We came across a nice looking taco restaurant with reviews like “probably the BEST tacos in the world” and “Amazing. Just purely amazing.” We were intrigued and decided to give it a go. The tacos were juicy and delicious, but I would have a hard time labeling them the “best in the world.” However, what this place did do incredibly well was customer interaction.
As we walked in, we were greeted by the owner personally and shown to good seats by the window. He made sure we were seated comfortably and suggested some menu combinations. Later on, he came over to check on us, and this is where the magic happened.
Aaron, the founder, introduced himself formally. He sat down next to us and walked us through the story of his place. It started as a small 5 seat taco shop and became something he is planning to franchise to hundreds of locations across the world. None of what he said actually felt like a marketing sales pitch. In fact, we couldn’t care less, we were already sipping the cocktails he brought over. He even shared personal information with us about the reasons he moved to South Korea with his wife, which involved fertility problems. He answered our questions and recommended some great places to check out in Seoul, which we did later that night. By the time he left and wished us a good meal, we felt as though he had been a long-time friend of ours.
All this took less than 3 minutes. However, we were impressed, and as silly as it sounds, we felt good and cared for. Of course we realize that he had probably given this speech 15 times that day, but it felt genuine to us and that’s what mattered.
What he did there doesn’t seem like much, but I personally believe that this can easily turn into a 10X or even 100X return on investment in the long term.
If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t the founder of a sit-down taco joint in Seoul. More likely, your enterprise exists only online, and you’ll never see your customers or users in real life. But I believe that having Aaron’s level of interaction for an internet business is not only possible, but even… easier! If you are using a tool like Intercom, Drift or Crisp for customer messaging then you have access to an unbelievable amount of data that can help you customize your answers and provide personalized service.
Adding value through service
If you think you don’t have time for that, think again. Here are the top 5 reasons you should engage personally with your clients.
1. Add value where the value is
I think that most of your time as an internet business founder should be spent on adding value to your business. If your startup involves providing a service, then engaging with your customers directly is probably where the value is. Obviously, this practice wouldn’t make a lot of sense for someone like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, so in the end, it all depends on the scale of your company.
2. Get invaluable, unfiltered feedback right from the source
Talking with your client reveals everything about your business, from what’s working to what isn’t. You will then be able to use that info to get your product on the right path.
3. Screen each customer individually to provide one-on-one service
You will also have the unfair advantage of screening each customer individually, so you can notice VIPs and give them special treatment. I am personally reviewing every payment we receive, checking our customer’s websites and trying to get a general idea of how they plan to use our product, so I’m able to recommend them a specific direction and tailor my tone and discourse to them before we even interact.
4. Use your founder action power to solve issues
No one ever likes to feel like they are talking to a wall, or worse, people without action power. Airlines are the best example: should anything happen, you often see people screaming their lungs out at a poor check-in desk employee, desperate for action.
As a startup founder, you have direct action power in any situation. You don’t have to ask permission from anyone. You want to give someone a full refund? No problem, issue it on the spot. Customers appreciate the flexibility, the reactivity and the direct action made to solve their concrete problem. Use that.
5. Turn negative situations into positive ones
You will also be able to turn any negative situation into a positive one. I’ve personally been amazed at how tone can change from one email to another just by answering politely and offering an empathetic and thoughtful solution to the problem.
It’s up to you. What kind of business do you want to build? Don’t run a business with faceless data where your customers are just rows in your database. Don’t automate your customer service. Get personal. Once you grow, you will have time to scale this or re-adapt your strategy. Talk with people, help solve their problems, and use that to improve the experience of your next customers.