By Mat Wylie.
I started working for myself when I was 20, and at 23 I started The Dynamite Advertising Company with a couple of good mates. At that age, we had plans to set the world on fire by doing things our own way, but it was as much about having fun as building a business.
Running a business has provided me with more lessons than I could have ever had anywhere else. The feeling that comes with taking a risk and building a business that helps people is enormously satisfying. More recently, building Customer Radar and changing the way businesses get feedback from customers is enabling me to take lessons learnt from previous endeavours into a totally new business.
To run a successful business, you must have the right people. Even the biggest and best technology companies in the world can’t operate without being driven by great people. Additionally, there needs to be a clear vision for where the company is going, and it must be meaningful to the people who work for it. Businesses that do well have people with a strong vision, and leaders who engage and inspire people. These leaders often have a different view of the world, are not afraid to take a risk, share ideas with others, and are willing to share their experiences openly.
Being in business also means that you can’t be afraid to fail. This is very easy to say but hard to accept. With hindsight, I realise that I have learnt some of my most valuable lessons through my mistakes. Sometimes, despite all the best advice and all the self-help books in the world, you can only learn by doing it yourself.
Things change, and to succeed in business you need to be constantly looking at what is coming up. It’s interesting to see how businesses have embraced technology, or indeed how businesses have been detrimentally affected due to those changes. Twenty years ago Kodak was one of the biggest companies in the world. Technology has essentially made them obsolete, while players like Facebook (who didn’t exist 20 years ago) are now globally dominating, and worth many times what Kodak ever was.
Understanding the changing world of technology means you need to continuously innovate.
I regularly keep up-to-date with what is happening in the business world globally by being a member of the New Zealand chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO), which is a peer-to-peer global network of 10,000 entrepreneurs. I have an advisory board made up of entrepreneurs as well as key mentors for expert advice and support as needed. Additionally, I like to stay connected as to what’s happening around the world through many forums and technology sites.
Defining customer excellence
Businesses often focus on ‘service’ as the defining factor of customer engagement, when in fact it is the total ‘customer experience’ that the customer judges you on. When someone asks you about the service at a restaurant you immediately think of the contact between the people you interact with there. When you are then asked “how was the experience?” you think of the food, ambience, décor, vibe, and value for money as well as the quality of the interaction with the staff.
Customer excellence ultimately comes down to understanding what your customer needs and meeting those needs. Long-term customer relationships are built on continually and consistently providing what your customers want.
Two examples spring to mind when I think of excellent and terrible customer experience. Both involve travel, and highlight the continuum on which service is often judged.
On a recent trip to Dublin, I needed to pass through Heathrow Security while in transit. The attitude, service, and behaviour of the customs staff were so appalling that I ended up missing my flight. This is a great example of customer-facing staff who do not appreciate that they have a role in delivering on the customer’s experience. In my case it was one of the worst customer experiences of my life. Interestingly, and sadly still, it was not only the customs staff, but also management who showed a total indifference to what was happening, and didn’t seem to care if people missed their flights.
Conversely, my wife had ordered a new passport before we headed off on holiday. Unfortunately, we were not around when the courier delivered the parcel at our office, so it was returned to the nearest post shop. With no contact phone number on the parcel it could have sat there for some time. A staff member at the local post shop recognised what the package contained and set about making numerous phone calls until she knew my wife would get her passport in time. This individual demonstrated a total commitment to the customer, which we were eternally grateful for. This person did not do it for money; she did it purely to make sure the customer got what they wanted even when it was not easy to deliver.
This is a great example of looking for the opportunity to do the right thing by the customer in any given moment.
In the digital age the ‘customer experience’ becomes even more important because we often don’t have someone like a waiter to speak to easily. Take the example of buying a pair of shoes online. You don’t have the luxury of trying them on so there is a huge risk factor involved. Zappos, a US online shoe retailer, is a business that has such a huge commitment to the customer experience that they provide free shipping and returns. They also give awards to call centre staff who are on the phone for the longest to fix a customer’s problem.
This shows they have a commitment to doing whatever the customer needs to make them happy.
Mat Wylie, is CEO of live customer feedback technology provider Customer Radar. He’ll be sharing more advice on customer experience in upcoming issues of NZBusiness. Meantime visit www.customerradar.com.
July 15, 2014