03 / 11 / 2021

Service with a Smile (Or Help Your Customers Help You)

Planes Trains and Automobiles

In Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Steve Martin endures service at a car rental agency that is subpar, to say the least. He speaks for all of us when he tells the agent behind the counter that he needs a f*cking car, f*cking now. Most startups don’t understand the value of customer service, and it’s their loss. Because when done right, it’s the best marketing tool there is.

Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian

At Unorthodox Ventures, we’re so focused on helping our partner companies attract customers that we don’t talk enough about customer retention. But keeping customers happy once you have them is even more important than getting them in the first place. Without loyal customers, your chances of building a successful business are pretty much zilch.

Over the last year and a half, customer service has either improved or taken a hit, depending on the media outlet and day of the week. Personally, I’m on Team Worse. It’s obvious that customer service has been on the decline since the moment money-grubbing corporate penny-pinchers had an epiphany and realized they could outsource it to a different hemisphere. And the pandemic has done nothing to reverse that trend. That’s why it was so refreshing to read recently about a customer-service experience that was exceptional — though it should be the norm.

According to an article by Inc., a Lego customer forked over around $350 to buy a Star Wars compound, specifically the Mos Eisley cantina. That means nothing to me, but StarWars.com describes it as a “dimly lit tavern known for its strong drinks, hot tunes and occasional outbreaks of shocking violence.” So I can understand the appeal of building it from tiny, sharp-cornered plastic blocks that have an uncanny ability to find the soft underbelly of a parent’s unshod foot in the middle of the night. But I digress. They’re wonderful toys.

And certainly their customer service is wonderful, too. Because when this same customer discovered a bag of pieces were missing, he contacted Lego through its website. And guess what: Lego answered him, not only quickly, but cordially and humorously — while at the same time accepting full responsibility: “I am so sorry that you are missing bag 14 from your Mos Eisley cantina!” the email read. “This must be the work of Lord Vader. Fear not, for I have hired Han to get that bag right out to you.”

That’s how you do it. You never argue with the customer. In this case, who knows? The customer might easily have been the one who misplaced the missing bag. But nothing is to be gained by suggesting that. You do what it takes to make customers happy — and if possible, make them laugh — and what you get in return is a great reputation and a stellar brand.

That’s how we did it back at the fan company. We put our customers on a pedestal, constantly talking to them and insisting they tell us if there was anything we could have done better. In fact, we had a team whose sole jobs were to call every customer after a sale — call, not email — and see how we could improve. And when we blew something, we made it right. As a result, we had a net promoter score that would be the envy of any business — it was more than triple the industry average.

Forget Facebook. There’s no better advertising than word-of-mouth from happy customers.

Too often, founders are reluctant to contact their customers, and they certainly don’t want to hear anything bad. Instead, they base decisions on what they’d like to hear, and that’s a damn shame. Because they’re missing out on the best intel there is on how to improve their products and build their brands. And in the immortal words of the car-rental agent after listening to Steve Martin’s tirade, that means they’re probably f*cked.