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Doing Business 101: Great Product, Awesome Customer Service

What makes your business stand out?

That's the most basic question that any entrepreneur must ask himself.  Building a business is not an easy task.  Building a successful one is even harder.  The way I see things is that entrepreneurs are in two groups: those who care and those who don't.

Let's start with those who don't care.  Those entrepreneurs are there for a quick buck.  They have an idea, built it fast, try attracting as much attention as possible, sell out, and then move on.  Life span of such a business doesn't last long.  Few years, often less.

On the other hand, entrepreneurs that care are more likely to build a business for the long term.  They want their company to stand out.  This is hard as the market is full.  But with determination, those entrepreneurs eventually succeed.  It takes more time, but the reward is greater.

So, to answer the first question, "what makes your business stands out", you must first ask yourself what kind of entrepreneur you are.  Do you care or not?  If you don't care much, then you can't really answer the question.  To stand out, you must care.

If your company offers a service or a product, then this is an important part of your identity.  You need to offer a great product.  Your customers will be using your product on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.  If they don't like it, they will stay away.  Don't try to sell a product that doesn't work.  Work on it, improve it, polish it, and make it as perfect as possible.  If you are having problems doing this, then maybe your product is not right, or plainly just too complex.

Another point in product design is to focus on your core competence.  Don't try to build too many products that you can't correctly manage.  In the book "The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs" by Carmine Gallo, they give a great example that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.  When Steve Jobs took back control of Apple in 1998, he cut Apple's total product offering from 350 to 10.  When you look at that, it's counter intuitive; you would think that a company would fail offering such a low number of products.  But in reality, less products means more time spent developing those products, so greater products in the end.  Great products make your business stand out.

Customer service.  Two words often overlooked by entrepreneur, but offering an amazing power.  In fact, if you should focus on a list of priorities for your company, this should be at the top.  There is no secret in offering customer service, but it requires work.  It's the addition of multitudes of details and actions from your part.  Here's a few ideas to improve your customer service:

- If a customer sends you an email, reply as fast as possible (within 30 mins max).  Doing so, the customer will be amazed by your responsiveness.

- Get a dedicated phone line and put it on every page of your site. Then, ANSWER the phone when a customer calls.  Don't let it go through a voicemail or don't offer phone support only for premium customers.  Doing so, the customer will be amazed by your availability.

- Listen to your customer needs.  Each customer is different, and you might need to adapt your product a little.  Doing so, the customer will feel that you are listening.

- Show happiness in every communication you have with your customers.  If you are happy, they will feel it and feel much more secure in doing business with you.  Doing so, the customer will feel at home.

- Once you sign up a customer, don’t turn your back on him.  Continue to be responsive, do regular follow-up and ask feedback about your product. Doing so, the customer will know that you care.

- Not all customers are equals.  Adapt yourself to each customer, not the other way around.  But listen to your heart.  Does the customer request make sense? If the answer is no, politely decline the request.  If possible, offer an alternative that makes sense.  Doing so, the customer will adapt himself to your offering.

Another book worth a read is "Delivery Happiness" from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.  What strike me while reading this book is that customer service is not just something that you add to your list of company policy; it's the most important aspect of your company.  Although I always thought of customer service, it's now the priority in everything we do.  Responding to email quickly, answering the phone on every call, listening and making offers to customers.  These are all part of making your business stand out.

There are many things to avoid.  Don't offer what you can't deliver in customer service.  If you have a phone number on your site, but you never have someone pick-up the phone, remove it from your site.  Customers hate voicemail (think about it, when was the last time you called your phone company and had an automatic system answering).  If you have a contact form on your site, but you don't reply to 100% of the queries, find a better way to manage those.

Doing business is not easy.  Doing great business is plain hard.  But with great product and awesome customer service, you are there for the long run.