Startup Tip: How to Handle Customer Phone Calls

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Jackson Fish Market gets it rightOver the last year I’ve been hanging out quite a bit with other entrepreneurs focused on building their startups. And it’s remarkable to see the stark contrast between those who have launched a product and those who are working on launching one.

One of the main differences is that, generally speaking, before launching a product an entrepreneur holds several misconceptions:

  • That customers are an annoyance and it’s best to avoid talking with them
  • That you will be flooded with inquiries and you need to have a deflection process in place

Then you launch and you learn:

  • That there’s nothing more precious than a customer and nothing more valuable than their feedback
  • That prioritization of work starts and ends with serving customers better
  • That generating demand is always harder than you thought

So it’s very refreshing to see entrepreneurs who get it right, such as Hillel at Jackson Fish Market, who realized that:

“It often seems like companies will do anything possible to avoid actually speaking to a customer. I’ve experienced this many times as a customer and I know how it makes me feel. Like crap.”

And then he grabbed the bull by the horns:

“We set up a new 800 number that rings straight to my cell phone. Caller ID lets me distinguish between my mom calling and a customer needing help. And now, every few days, I get a phone call from a customer who has a question about our service.”

The result?

“When customers call, not only am I in a great position to help them as I understand the product inside and out, but their questions and feedback are essentially a free focus group. We always have a list of improvements we need to make to the product, but sometimes prioritizing can be a crapshoot. Vocal customers tell me quickly which work items need to move to the top of the list. I can only imagine how many customers of ours experience the same frustration as these callers but don’t bother picking up the phone. I think of our support callers as unelected representatives of our customer population. Each of them represents a non-trivial number of users who (understandably) didn’t have the time to call us.”

Now, I just hope Hillel will give Ringio a try, because we built it to be a complete small business phone system for people just like him. (And soon he’ll realize that he needs the help of other employees and that the other employees also deserve to get the same kind of feedback that he is getting.)

So… go ahead, build yourself a free focus group!

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