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In a startup, EVERYONE is a customer service representative

 Customer service is the responsibility of everyone when you're running a small team. 4 steps for how to approach your customers and your needs being met. 

By: Heather Wentler - Co-founder & Executive Director of Doyenne 

As we all know, when you run or work for a startup, everyone’s job roles shift, pivot, and change pretty regularly. When you’re a small team, everyone picks up the slack as to how and where needs are. This means we all support our customers and each other. When we think of customer service, we typically think of 800 numbers and those chatbots on websites. 

When we are the ones seeking customer support think of the state of mind you’re in, usually pretty frustrated. We’ve usually exhausted other ways to find a solution before we reach out to ask for assistance. 

We also know, as a business owner, you want people to be able to find answers without needing to reach out. We implement FAQ sections, chatbots, Contact Us form, and even go to the extreme of not putting contact information on sites because we’d rather people don’t know how to directly contact us. But customers are what keep us going and when we’re serving our customers to solve their problems, and we all have to be able to support them, not just the people who have “customer service” roles within the company.

  1. Stick to the facts

When someone reaches out, repeat your commitment (promise) to your customers. What is the policy around this, where can they find this information, and how did you ensure they agreed (even informally) to it when they purchased from your business.

You don’t have to have a checkbox saying “you agree to…” when someone purchases, but that’s why we see so many disclaimers on every product we buy. It’s why there’s “CAUTION: Contents Hot” on our coffee cups and “Will Cause Electric Shock” on cords. These are ways to protect the company if/when something goes wrong. 

The best thing you can do is stick to the facts and point people to where these are outlined.

  1. Don’t apologize unless necessary

First, don’t tolerate bullying or harassment. You don’t want them as your customer anyways. The best bet is to cut ties and move on. 

The saying “the customer is always right” isn’t correct. I worked in retail when I was in college. I used to get so mad when a customer would want to return or get a discount on something clearly violating store policy. Some people thrive on knowing they got away with something. You could see it in their eyes. I believe that most people aren’t trying to cheat the system or even want you to give them everything in return, but they do want you to be held accountable for the promise your company makes to its customers.

So if I go to the store and buy 2 identical pairs of pants from the same brand, style, etc…and only try on 1 pair, I should be able to assume that the second pair will fit the same way (Isn’t that how mass production is supposed to work). Or if I follow the washing instructions on the tag, my clothes shouldn’t shrink or be ruined after one wash. In these cases, then yes, a full refund or exchange is necessary. Does the employee at the store owe you an apology for the jean manufacturer’s mess-up? Nope, they had zero control over it. But empathizing with the customer and saying, “I’m sorry that this happened and that you had to come back to get another pair” goes a long way.

Empathy and accountability - 2 moral compasses when working with anyone!!!

  1. Check your emotions

Look, we all have bad days and bad moments, just as much as we have positive and good days and moments. Again, back to accountability and empathy - you can only manage yourself. You cannot control how others feel or what they say.

Remember that when someone reaches out for help/support, they’re usually at an elevated level of frustration. When you match their level of frustration, I don’t believe it actually helps the overall situation or trying to find a solution.

In these situations, the best thing to do is go back to tips under points 1 & 2 and then figure out how to conduct yourself. 

Everyone has the right to their feelings. How are your feelings coming out through your response? If you need to sit on managing your feelings before responding, you can say, “Thank you for reaching out. We’ll be back in contact with support soon”. Or put them on hold while you compose yourself before saying something you'll regret. People record EVERYTHING, phone calls and videos. Some states make it mandatory to let people know you're being recorded, some don't. Controling your emotions protects you and your company from becoming the next internet meme or TikTok viral duet.

Also, don’t redirect your feelings from other situations onto these situations. And if triggered by a response (no matter how intense the trigger), is there someone else who can support you through this? 

  1. YOUR feelings are valid

I will repeat it. Everyone has the right to their feelings. This doesn’t mean we have to understand those feelings, but they have the right to feel those feelings. 

When working customer support, even if you listen, empathize, and care about the other person’s feelings doesn’t mean they’re going to give a rip about your feelings. Remember, you can only control yourself. When people bully you into getting what they want or cut you down because of their own insecurities or failings, it is NOT about you. They may never understand how they caused harm or hurt to you, your company, your staff/team, but you can say, “We don’t want your business.”

When you’re in your feelings, reflect on how/why you had those feelings. Are they coming from a place of fear? Are they coming from a place of “why you and not me”? Are they coming from a place of not fully understanding the situation? How can you learn and do better while also holding yourself accountable for your feelings?

Customer Service is everyone’s responsibility. There are a few key phrases that I’m going to say again because I think they’re the most important part of this post

  • Accountability and Empathy are not the same as “the customer is always right”

  • Everyone has the right to their feelings

  • You can only control yourself

Those three bullets are a cycle; you move through them while serving customers. You switch and modify (sometimes on the fly) to meet the customers where they’re at and how they’re contacting you. And sometimes you f*ck up. You say things that shouldn’t have been said at the moment. You cause hurt on others. You fail.  

When that happens, what should you do? Listen, learn, apologize (when necessary), and start the cycle again.