Growth is the goal of most businesses but it comes with its own unique risks, particularly for your customer service operation. Staff can become stressed as greater pressure is placed upon them. The culture within the workplace can change as new talent is brought on board to cope with demand. Customers can experience diminishing levels of satisfaction as they move from a small business that knows them well to a larger one that treats them as a number. And profits can drop as increasing expenses, including loans to service those costs, begin to erode margins.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says 60% of small businesses close their doors in their first three years, and a major reason for some of these exits is the inability to cope with pressures of growth.
So how does a business prepare for such a test of its mettle?
Businesses that achieve fast growth tend to come undone because of all of the different policies and procedures that came about in their infancy. A lot of the original decisions were made on the run and, by their nature, suit the size of the business as it was then. For example, many important decisions around customers’ methods of contacting the brand are made without consideration of the effects of growth.
As a result, the systems and processes are not easily scalable. The sales team might be able to scale sales by boosting the advertising budget, but then the business realises it requires linear growth in its customer support department, and in other back-end functions, to match that frontline growth. Suddenly, cash flow issues are experienced.
Prepare for growth from day one
When somebody is building their business I counsel them to focus early on digital automation and self-service. You may feel because your business is small, you can get away with just hiring an individual to handle customer phone calls and emails. But it is better in the long run to have the right model in place so as the business grows, your processes can adapt and grow in an incremental way, not in a linear way.
If you begin by bringing more people on board to handle the increased load, you’ll naturally have to continue to throw more people at it as the business grows (which is what most companies do). Setting the initial infrastructure up with the future in mind is a wise approach that could avoid painful procedural changes down the line.
Get customer engagement online
We were approached by the management team from a start-up. They wanted to do a promotional blitz that involved publishing a phone number for customers to call in and sign up. I immediately said, ‘No, please don't do that! Don't publish a phone number. Instead, send them to your website or to an app and base the entire sign-up process online.’
By shifting customer engagement from a voice-based channel to a non-voice channel, the business can still engage with customers by offering web chat or web collaboration, and perhaps then offer a voice option if the digital support options are unsuccessful. The key here is that the default option should be digital first, support it effectively, then offer a voice option.
Non-voice contacts opens up the possibility of near shore or offshore support, thereby reducing your service costs. As an added bonus, you are educating your customers and influencing their behaviour to utilise self-serve options through your digital channels.
Be your own customer
In my blog How to Test your Customer Service, I outlined how a business owner or manager can test their own customer experience by actually becoming a customer. This is an excellent way for established businesses to check that they are keeping their customer promise.
The ‘undercover customer’ process involves seeing the business and its operations through a fresh pair of eyes, checking along the way the consistency of service, voice, experience and information on all channels.
This will flag up areas of improvement that, if not addressed, will become major tripping points during periods of rapid growth. It involves engaging with all contact channels and actually making a purchase. How were staff knowledge levels? Was the information you needed easy to find? Were there frustrations along the way? How does it compare to the Amazon experience?
Best of all, you’re now in the system as a customer, so you’ll have the ongoing experience, the customer journey, and have the opportunity to compare your offerings to those of other businesses.
Technology won’t fix a broken process
Often businesses make a technology decision without first figuring out how the process is going to work. What is the sign-up process? What are the critical pieces of information needed from customers? How can we automate and make things easy?
Once that understanding is in place, finding the right technology option to match the right process is the next step. But often the decision is made the other way around and good processes have to be retro-fitted into technology that may not accept them.
Technology in itself is never the answer. Fundamental and common-sense systems and principles will always deliver more. If you have a broken process and you automate it then all you’ve got is a broken, automated process. Instead, make sure your processes are as sound and streamlined as possible. Be ruthless!
This means that for the customer everything is easy, including finding information, buying and using the product or service, and seeking after-sales service.
If as much of this as possible is automated, then you won’t be caught a year or two down the track by an overload of phone calls. You won’t find yourself facing the expense of new hires or a major communication campaign to migrate your customers to an online platform with which they are unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable. It’s much easier and less costly to just do it correctly from the very beginning.
If you build this into your business then it doesn’t just help you avoid growing pains. It also educates the market about who you are, what your brand is all about, and how customers can engage with you. And if you make that engagement easy, people will happily take part.
Find out more about how we can help you serve your customers here or call us on 1300 725 628.