I’m sure you’ll find hundreds of articles if you Google how to provide the best customer service. Those articles will be full of tips and tactics, disciplines to follow, software tools to use, etc. This post is not about tips or tactics. It’s about a simple philosophy. Ok, I’ll not stretch too long, but here is a simple secret to provide the best customer service –
Treat your customers the way you want to be treated by other businesses, and you’ll be naturally providing the best customer service.
That’s it. Ok, I understand you might ask why do I believe this simple philosophy works. Let me share my recent experiences with you. In last month, we released monthly subscription plans to our appointment reminder software product. After launching these plans, I started getting more emails from customers regarding feature requests, pricing concerns, issues they’re facing, etc. Since that product is still majorly operated by me, I answer all of these customer support emails. And I follow one simple philosophy — put myself in the shoes of the customer and answer emails or treat them the way I want someone to treat me. That means writing detailed emails on how to solve the issue they are facing, or giving them extra free credits when inconvenience is caused, or refunding their money if they’re not happy.
Here are some of the testimonials we received in last 2 weeks –
“P.S. You provide excellent customer service. Thought you would like to know that.”
Here is one more –
“This definitely calls for me “advertising” for this app on my Facebook and twitter sites. That’s about 320 friends right there. And I can convince many of them that you guys have a price range for them, as u have many plans! so hopefully I can bring you more business. You deserve it PLUS I will be sure to let everyone know that you’re ALWAYS HERE for us with your first-class customer support. I know everyone appreciates that! ;)”
So far so good…but you might say that how this will work when your organization gets bigger…and you’ve to hire customer support professionals. Same thing. Just give your customer support professionals freedom and sense of ownership of your company. Just tell them that treat your customers the way they want to get treated by other businesses. Ask them to use common sense more often that some rule book.
Recently I experienced horrible customer service experience from American Express, ICICI Bank and a local Thai restaurant. At all these places, the customer support representative was just following the corporate guidelines, was thinking their profit, and was not really concerned about how customer was feeling. They had limited authorities to resolve my issues, and had common answer that they don’t have permission to fix certain things even though they thought it was right thing to do. They had to involve their supervisors, who also weren’t much of any help. Their apologies were also very fake and scripted.
It’s very valuable to get a new customer, but it’s extremely important to satisfy existing customers and make them your loyal fans. And the only way to do that is to be authentic and treat your customers the way you want to be treated.
Last week I wrote about how I improved my productivity and happiness by being inactive on Social media. But that’s just one part of the story. Definitely few things really worked well, but there are few other things which could have also worked well but didn’t. Here are those –
What worked well
Improved my focus and productivity: As I said before, this was the biggest benefit I achieved by staying focused and less distracted. I could finish 2 major milestones on my plate –
I launched my social commerce solution company Shopalize in Private beta. It’s still not open to everyone to access yet as we’re currently working on acquiring early customers and trying to hash out product flow with them. Once we have more confidence on our product and it’s value, we’ll open it to more people.
I also launched major upgrades and subscription plans for my appointment & personal reminder service company JustRemindIt. It was a lot of work to add these enhancements on both Web and iPhone application at the same time. So I’m really glad I could complete this milestone as planned.
Spent really quality time with family & friends: This is something I can’t measure quantitatively, but I would definitely say I felt lot happier and relaxed spending more and quality time with people I care about. In general, I was majorly focused on my work, but whenever I used to get tired, or stuck on something, instead of spending time on the Internet, I spent it with family or friends — either helping my wife day-to-day house activities or just hanging out and relaxing with friends. Simple tricks I mentioned in previous blog post helped me to give full attention to people or events around me, and not get distracted by other distractions.
Improved my self control and discipline: This is kind of a side benefit. Typically you gain more self confidence when you see yourself following certain discipline consistently for good time. It’s just re-affirming that you’re disciplined and you can control your actions.
What didn’t work so well
Missed Social media: I’m learning lot of things on both technical and non-technical fronts while building my online businesses. Every time I learned about some hack, insight or advice, I wanted to share it with the world, but I restrained doing it. My natural instinct was to be more social and vocal, but I forced myself to stay silent. I guess Social media has really become an integral part of our lives. Every time we get excited about any small thing, we want to share it with the world. Of course, if you don’t share anything, your life is not going to end, in fact you’ll live very happily. But I guess by being more social, you’re expressing your happiness, excitement and learning with the world, which might make more people happy, excited and knowledgeable.
Might have not learned as much as I could have: Working alone means you will learn from your own readings and experiments. You don’t have a colleague or friend with whom you can brainstorm different ideas or thoughts. So by limiting how much time I spend on content consumption, I definitely must have missed many interesting articles on various different topics. But I knew that this would happen, and that’s why I had decided to consume the information reactively rather than proactively.
Couldn’t grow blog subscribers, Twitter followers, and personal brand: No one wants to engage with your blog if it’s dormant and you don’t write valuable content. Similarly no one wants to follow you on Twitter if you don’t share interesting articles, insights and inspiring quotes unless they’re your friends. You might ask, but why one cares about these numbers? Sure, many people do not have to worry about these metrics. But if you’re building an online business, then it’s super important to build your brand and make your identity known in the industry. It opens many opportunities for you and your business to meet with new people, get word about what you’re doing, get feedback and valuable introductions, etc.
So overall, being inactive on Social media didn’t affect my personal life in any significant way, in fact it actually helped me a lot. Similarly, it also didn’t hurt my professional life in any major way, but at the same time, it didn’t help me either. In fact, it would have been helpful if I would have been more active on Social media.
Plans going forward
Since there are both advantages and disadvantages of being active on Social media, I need to find the right balance between on what activities I spend more time vs what activities I spend less.
More Blogging & Tweeting: This is definitely valuable to build my personal brand and identity. Blogging helps me to clear my thoughts and put it in concise and crisp manner. It is improving my writing and my communication abilities in general. Tweeting enables me to share and discover thoughtful articles and insights and connect with similar minded people. Both blogging and Tweeting are related to my interests — entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, etc. So I’m going to invest more time in connecting with people who share my interests.
Less Facebook, Foursquare, etc.: All other social activities, I’ll be spending very less or no time. I think Facebook is good enough to check 1–2 times in a day. Facebook is a true social graph. So I’m connected with people from my real life social connection — from my nephews to uncles, from elementary school friends to grad school friends. I feel comfortable sharing my personal life things — like interesting life events, inspiring quotes, funny videos, songs I’m listening or things I’m buying — something that can be relevant or interesting to all types/ages of people. But I’m not sure it will be relevant if I share my professional interests related things like articles or quotes about Startup, Internet Marketing, etc. My nephew or uncle won’t be interested in that.
This way I would be less active on certain types of Social media sites, but will be active on few of them. As a result of it, I still can be focused on my work and spend quality time with my family and friends, and also don’t need to compromise on growing my professional presence and connections with interesting people from my industry.
First of all, I haven’t blogged anything in the last few months. In fact, I haven’t also socialized much on Twitter, Facebook and other social media services. Well, there wasn’t any major reason for my inactivity apart from my simple attempt to focus on few important milestones on my plate. I wanted to spend most of my time on my work and with my family and friends, so wanted to restrain myself from all other distractions a.k.a. Social media as much as possible.
To me, spending time on Social media means spending time on Email, Blogs, News Aggregators, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. In general, I wanted to consume minimum required content — like checking important emails, reading interesting blogs or seeing friends’ updates only couple times a day instead of being hyper active. And I also decided not to produce any content at all — no blog posts, no Tweeting, not even Facebook liking.
I had not set any time limit for this experimentation. I decided to continue doing it as much as I can or until I complete important milestones on my plate. Writing this blog post may be considered as the end of this experiment, which lasted closed to 2 months. I guess part of the reason I’m ending this experiment now is because I just completed 2 major milestones on my plate and other part is because I missed being active on Social media.
So I thought what’s a better way to end my dormancy on Social media than writing about tactics I used to shut off myself from Social media and be more productive. In this article I’ll just cover simple tactics I used, but in the next blog post I’ll also write about what worked and what didn’t work so well as a result of this experiment.
So here is a list of tricks I used to improve my productivity & happiness –
1. Unsubscribe from newsletter & notification emails
I wrote about this before — now a days email has became more of a notification medium rather than a communication medium. Every single day you’ll receive tens of newsletter emails that you’ve subscribed to (e.g. Daily Deals, Events, etc.) or notification emails from web services that you’re using (e.g. Twitter, Quora, Foursquare, etc.). Most of these newsletters are not relevant and are complete distraction. All those notifications emails take your attention and waste your time. Unsubscribe from such newsletters that are not really important. Also change your email notification preferences on most of these social services to receive no email notification about any activity that happens on that site. It’s not going to matter much if you don’t learn who started following you on Twitter or Quora.
2. Consistently keep your inbox clean
I don’t read every single email I receive. In fact I delete more emails than I read ones. To be specific, I only read emails that are sent only to me. I rarely read or participate in emails that are sent to groups. Most of the times I delete them based on the subject and my judgment of it’s relevancy to me. If I have time, and if it’s relevant, then only I’ll read it. Keeping this minimum engagement with emails definitely helped me to focus on important emails, and not feel burdened with email overload. Deleting non-personal emails also helped me to keep my inbox clean and find relevant emails quickly when needed.
3. Close your email browser window
Another trick that helped me immensely was to close the email browser window when I’m done with reading/writing emails. If I keep that tab open and if I receive a new email, then Gmail shows a notification count of how many new emails I’ve received. When I see such notification, my natural instinct is to click on that tab and see who sent me emails. Seriously, do we need to be so hyper-responsive to check these emails? I don’t think so. So I simply close that email window when I’m done with checking/replying emails. As they say — ignorance is bliss. Then in few hours (1–2 hrs typically) I’ll open my Gmail, read/reply/delete emails as necessary, and close the window again. Practice it, and you’ll definitely see the results.
4. Logout from Twitter & Facebook every time you’re done browsing
This is another simple trick that works really well if you want to spend less time on Twitter or Facebook. Whenever you login to Twitter or Facebook, these services store your cookie on your computer, and next time you visit their URL, you’re already logged in to that service and you’ll be spending next 20–30 mins in browsing without even realizing it. You don’t visit these sites with the goal of spending 30 mins on it. You think that you’ll just spend 5 mins, quickly see what’s going on, and get back to work immediately. But it rarely happens that way and you end up spending 30 mins of your precious time. But next time you visit these sites, make sure to logout from them when you’re done with browsing. This way, if you try to visit their site for 5 mins, then it will redirect you to their login page and ask you to enter your login credentials. Don’t check the “Remember me” option while signing in. When typing a service URL doesn’t log you in automatically to that service, and when you’re faced with additional hurdles like entering login credentials, most likely you’ll realize that you don’t want to login now, and you’ll give up signing in saving your next 30 mins of precious time.
5. Schedule your content consumption routine and be reactive than proactive
This is a simple discipline — just schedule your day. Decide when you’ll be reading news or blogs, when you’ll be Tweeting or Facebooking, and follow that routine. News in the morning, or Facebooking after lunch, whatever it is, just plan roughly, and try to follow it. One more thing to add is — you don’t have to read every single interesting article that you found on that same day. If you don’t need that information right now, then don’t read it. Read it when you need it or when you have ample time. Be reactive to read information, not proactive. Sure, real-time information is valuable, but you’ve to judge what’s more important to you at that moment — finishing your tasks or reading some more information.
6. Use a bookmarking service
This ties to above suggestion — do not read every single article that you find interesting at that moment. When I browse news sites or blogs after I wake up, my goal is to discover as many interesting articles as possible in given short time, and bookmark them with appropriate tags (Delicious) for later reading or searching when it’s needed. Most of the times I read it during lunch break or when I’m having leisure time on the weekend.
7. Don’t keep your mobile handy when you’re at home
This is another simple self discipline to spend quality time with your family & friends. Now a days we’re consuming and producing more and more content on mobile devices. I think it’s useful to use mobile devices when you’re not at home and killing your time in some waiting queue or waiting for someone at a coffee shop. But when you’re at home with your family or at friends’ place for party, then don’t keep that device handy all the time. Develop a discipline to keep it somewhere else — far from your easy reach. If you have your mobile handy, then you’ll have that constant urge to open those Email, Twitter or Facebook apps and spend your time browsing/updating things which are not important. Instead just be with your family and friends, and enjoy being in that moment.
8. Measure how many times and how much time you’re spending on certain sites
This is just to know what you are doing now so that you know what do next. I used to visit Hacker News, Twitter, Google Reader atleast 8–10 times a day. It was a major time killer and distraction. Just by measuring how many times I visit these sites a day boggled my mind and I reduced it down to 2–3 times a day. Also measure how much time you spend on these sites. Just by knowing how much total time you’re spending on these sites will help you understand how much time you can save and use it to spend somewhere else.
So these are the tricks I used to focus on my work and finish few milestones on my plate. I typically worked 10hrs-14hrs/day and still found lot of quality time to spend with my family & friends. Whenever I used to get tired or stuck on something, instead of spending time on Social media, I spent it with my family and friends — either helping them on any day to day activities or just hanging out and relaxing with them. Shutting myself off from Social media definitely made me happier as I spent amazing time with my family and friends and I also did not need to compromise on my work and sleep hours at all.
Hope these tricks will be useful to you as well to become more productive. What tricks do you use to be less distracted from Social media noise? Please share your ideas in the comments.
Now a days my personal inbox is primarily filled up with notification, alert or newsletter emails. Most of the emails I receive are about notifying me that someone has commented on my Facebook status or Blog entry, or someone has started following me on Twitter or Quora. Then there are alert emails from financial institutions or insurance agencies reminding me about paying my bills. And the third category is emails from companies or products about their promotions, offers or monthly newsletters.
In fact, now a days I receive very few personal emails. My friends are communicating with me on the social networks like Facebook and Twitter. My family is communicating with me using phone or similar VOIP services. Very rarely my friends or family members will send me a personal email asking about my whereabouts. If at all I receive email from them, it will be mostly related to some work only.
Over the past decade we’ve been believing that email is one of the most widely used communication medium, but I think it’s not entirely true anymore. The communication part of email is slowly dying down. The communication aspect now has been taken care by other social properties on the web, and email has become more of a notification medium for your communication activities on other services.
One problem with this trend is, even though our communication is happening on other services, we still spend similar amount of time on email services to manage these notification emails — we still have to open it, read it, and then delete it. And we also spend same amount time on other services to actually communicate with our friends and family. Now a days I don’t even open these emails and simply delete them based on their subject line.
I understand that I can stop receiving these notification emails by setting some options on other services and reduce my email overload, but my problem is I do want to receive these notifications. It makes sense to have one centralized notification centre which informs me about the activities that are happening on different distributed services.
But may be the current form of email services is not efficient to receive these kinds of notifications. All modern email services are fully loaded with features that are designed to foster 2-way communication. Features like Reply, Forward, Attachements, etc. make no sense if I just want to receive a notification from other services.
May be existing email services can identify these notification types of emails automatically, and separate them out in different view, and show me in different format, and once I read it, delete them automatically. Or may be we need some stripped down version of email service as a separate application to just receive notifications from all other services. Another thing can be done is to enforce these other services to only send text-only notifications, with really short message body, and not to send lot of unnecessary junk like graphic images, other marketing material, etc. That would also make accessing these emails much faster and simpler.
Anyways, I don’t know which email service will initiate this kind of change or will someone create a separate simple notification service and take off this burden from email service. These are just my observations and expectations, and I would love to hear your observations and experiences.
I was discussing with one of my friends about our temptation about starting a startup in hot markets. Here are my brief thoughts on it –
In my opinion, at any given time, there are always more than 1 hot markets. “Real-time web” is one, so is “social-gaming”, and so is “iPhone apps”, and so there are many. The key is — you pick one market, and keep pushing your idea in that market. It’s easy to get distracted by other hot markets all the time. It’s very tempting to switch to other hot market just because few others became successful in that market. But when we notice such successes, and realize that it’s a hot market, there are many others who also notice it and realize that it’s a hot market. Also, after we switch to that market and before we really start making our impression into that market, it might be over competitive and too late, unless we’ve that kind of expertise and speed of execution.
I think the key to win based on hot market approach is — we need to be pioneers or early adopters of that market. We can’t be too late in the game. I think 2–3 years is late. But just being pioneers or early adopters of any hot market does not guarantee any success. It’s our relentless belief and persistence to stick into that market until people start believing that market might make us successful. We can’t just hop-around to hot markets before we really execute for long and well in one market.
On the other hand, I’m not saying we should completely ignore the trends of hot markets. The best strategy might be to see how can we leverage those trends for our existing idea and market. We need to see what we can learn from other hot markets, and how can we bring similar experience to current ideas. There would be more innovative opportunities on the intersection of two or more hot markets.