Gaurav Mantri's Personal Blog.

Cerebrata Story – Customer Service

In this blog post, I will share our experience regarding the most important aspect of running a company – customer service. To me, nothing is more important for a company than to providing the best possible customer service. This alone makes or breaks a company.

As a side note, personally I don’t like the word “Customer”. Instead I like to use the word “User”. A customer generally means somebody with whom we’ve done a financial transaction (in our context, they have purchased our product) whereas a user is somebody who’s using our product. A user may end up being a customer or not but that alone should not decide the level of service provided. Since customer is more acceptable term, in this post I would use that instead of user but both mean the same to us – user.

Why So Much Significance?

What kind of dumb question is that :)??? Everybody knows that you must keep your customers happy no matter what. Apart from that we had another reason. I always believed that the products we made were not so special and given time and money, anybody could make them. Heck, if Microsoft put 30 odd developers in a room for a month they could come with better products than ours (Thank God, they didn’t do it :)). Yes, having a product feature rich is an important aspect but that’s not alone (BTW, having a feature rich product in itself is superior customer service). For us, customer service was a matter of survival. The space we are in, there are several products, both free and paid and more or less all of them offered same functionality. Customer service was the differentiator. In my humble opinion, the most important reason we are successful (if I may say so that we’re successful) is because of the service we provided.

Key Beliefs

Let’s talk about some of beliefs concerning customer service. We honestly tried (I swear :)) to put these beliefs into action.

Customer Service Is Everybody’s Concern

In any company, I believe the customer service should be everybody’s concern. Everyone should be involved with this. This becomes even more important if you’re a small company because you just can’t have the luxury of having a dedicated support staff. Furthermore having entire team involved with this process has many benefits:

  • Your team members will know how the product or service is being actually used and will come to know about the “real” problems with the product / service.
  • The team will feel more involved and motivated as they’re now part of the entire product lifecycle and not just one or two aspects of it.

One must encourage the entire team to participate in helping a customer out. They may or may not end up responding to the customer query or directly interact with them but they should know the problems faced by the customer. However there must be some decorum. You don’t want more than one member respond to a single query simultaneously. That’s bad!!! Also interaction between a team member and a customer must be shared among all team members so that they know what’s going on and if needed they can just jump in if needed.

Customer Service Is Relentless Pursuit

Simply put, you don’t rest until customer’s issue is fixed. After all, this person has devoted his time (and hopefully money :)) in your product and if that customer is facing problem with that product, you better leave everything behind to ensure the issue is fixed. By fixed, I don’t mean fixed-fixed. It could very well be a simple (and honest) acknowledgement that we’ve received this information and we’re working towards fixing the issue and then get to work on that issue.

Timely and Honest Communication Is Key in Customer Service

It’s extremely important not to leave the customer hanging. It’s important to have communication with the customer. A customer approached you because he/she’s facing a problem and your timely communication helps immensely. Not only the communication with the customer should be timely, it should be honest as well. If you’re not able to reproduce the issue customer is facing, tell the customer that instead of not responding at all. If the customer stumbles upon that “Obscure” bug you thought no-one would notice :), just tell that to the customer. It helps build trust with the customer.

Customer Service Is About “Serving Customer”

Huh!!! What??? What kind of statement is that!!! Let me explain: A typical customer service exercise involves 3 entities: You (the company), customer and the product whereas ideally there should be only 2 entities: you and the customer. Your customer is facing a problem and you don’t get to wash off your hands if your product can’t fix that problem. An important part of customer service is to ensure that your customer gets the help needed irrespective of your product. It may involve educating your customer if need be. It may also involve recommending products which are not yours or even your competitor’s products if they could help.

Customer Service Is Human Interaction

As I said in the point above, a customer service exercise involves 2 entities: You and the customer. And last time I checked, both of them are humans :) so why hide behind support@yourcompany.com email address? Share your email address; connect with the customers on Skype or other IM tool; have them call you (or if they wish, you call them). Obviously for certain trivial things, you could use a generic support email address but when you think your customer needs to deal with a real person, go all in.

Customer Is Always Right

What a clichéd statement I have made :). Of course everybody knows this golden rule of customer service. However every now and then you run into stories of customer service done bad. Just a few days ago, I ran into this blog post where a “potential customer” and the service team of a company involved in a public verbal spat on Twitter. Needless to say, the company lost that customer. Not only that, they lost some others as well who were watching this. So when it comes to disagreement with a customer, the customer is always right. There’s another reason for that in context of our products – You see, when we built our products, we were not using Windows Azure that heavily. We scratched the surface here or there but our customers on the other end were deep into Windows Azure. They were using Windows Azure day-in-day-out so when they said something about our product (be it a feature request or a problem), we took their words verbatim and didn’t question them. In other words, our customers are the source of application enhancements.

Summary

So this is how we tried to do customer service. Some times we succeeded, some times we failed (mostly succeeded) but in general I think we’re doing a decent job. I hope this post will help some folks out. I would like to hear more from you on this matter – good stories, bad stories. Are there any other things you’re doing to enthrall your customers? Do share your thoughts by providing comments.

So long and stay tuned!!!


[This is the latest product I'm working on]

Speak Your Mind

*