When you get a chance to go back to a great team, jump at the opportunity!

courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/hernanpc  

Have you ever been on a great team?

I mean the kind of team that people and alumni talk about years later. I’m talking about a team that produces results, leads the market, and is the kind of team that spawns other great teams. It’s hard to produce these kinds of results once, so it’s all the more remarkable when the same team produces another high-performing team (and highly correlated to success in the new venture)

In my career, I have been on great teams, and also participated in not-so-great teams.

Here are a few things that great teams do that mediocre teams do not do:

Great Teams Focus Their Efforts

In a startup (or really inside any company) there is always too much to do and almost always not enough time and resources to do it. Great teams build a culture where people focus on the next best thing they can do to improve the company, and make it easy for people to work together to gain results. For example, when you cut a lightly used feature and take the time to improve an existing feature, you are lowering the surface area of your product and helping the whole team to feel better about the quality of your software.

Mediocre teams work on many projects at once and never ship. On these teams, someone always claims credit for doing the work instead of giving kudos to another team member to congratulate them on a job well done. Mediocre teams endlessly add features without taking the time to ask customers whether the existing features meet their needs.

Great Teams Identify and Amplify Team Strengths

On a great team, it’s easy to find specialists. They are busy doing what they do best – not struggling at tasks they do the worst – and producing strong results. Some of the specialists have a specialty of getting other people to make decisions, push themselves to do new things, or to reduce the overall quantity of work to produce higher quality work. Great teams form around individuals who have strengths the whole team can use. These teams ask “how can I help?” to each other rather than saying “I’m too busy – can you ask someone else?”

On a mediocre team, it’s hard to determine what anyone does well, because everyone is meeting with each other in the same meetings. There is no time for work during the work day, because no one comes prepared to discuss items at meetings, and people spend the meeting time multitasking and doing the work they could not complete in their previous meetings. Mediocre teams leach away the strength of their individual specialists by creating an environment where no one knows how to make a decision and where no one feels empowered to ask for that decision.

Great Teams Are Resilient

Having a great team does not isolate you from conflict. Great teams are effective at meeting conflict head-on, discussing the problem, finding a solution, and then moving forward either by “disagreeing and committing” or by genuine consensus. These teams are resilient because during times of trouble team members lean on each other’s strengths and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Mediocre teams fall apart or descend into chaos during stressful situations. There are few things more disappointing than thinking you’re on a great team, encountering a stressful situation, and then realizing your team is rather mediocre. Instead of the support you get from a great team, on a mediocre team it ends up being every person for themselves.

Great teams are hard to find.

I recently joined the team at Kustomer because this is a great team solving a hard problem in an important market – CRM for support customers – and I wanted to be part of that effort. So far, working at Kustomer feels similar to the atmosphere I shared with some of the team members when we worked together at Assistly. We work hard, we play hard, and we are building a business centered on our customers. But what makes a team great?

Great teams sometimes form by themselves and sometimes are made. People know a great team when they experience it. Great teams do not last forever, because culture is hard. When you get the band back together, it doesn’t always work. But when it does, it’s amazing.

Kustomer is a great team. We are crushing it. That doesn’t mean we’re always right – it means we are going after a great market with proven technology expertise, deep domain expertise, and a kick-ass attitude.

Read more books (please)

Read a fiction book. Read a non fiction book. Read a cookbook or a comic book for all I care. Just spend more time reading.

I should say that I am very much in favor of a good blockbuster movie, an exciting football game, or a taut detective thriller. And I am also asking you to try turning off the show you didn’t mean to watch, the extra 20 minutes you didn’t realize you spent on Facebook, or that part of your life you lost to Candy Crush.

Because books are every bit as good at stimulating your brain, and more.

Great books take you away to another place for a while. Great books give you perspective. Great books make you laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. And great books make you wonder, are we alone in the universe?

When you get back from spending time alone in your head with a book, you are better suited to be with other people. You might have new insights to share with others. You may look at your life a little differently.

Whether you read the book out loud, info-snack using a Kindle, stay in bed with a flashlight under the covers until the book ends, or read in other ways and places, great books inspire. Great books stay with you and don’t let go. Great books remind you of good and bad times and those yet to be. Make sure you read some more this week and you’ll see what I mean.

If you love customers, set them free

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/

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Do all of these things make your blood boil? When I first used the internet, I was amazed at the ability of computers to talk to other computers over long distance. I also marveled that email and later voice and video connected you like magic to your friends. And I was really disappointed to find out that most companies don’t actually want to talk to their customers.

Why are companies not listening?

There are a few who are: Amazon.com just launched “Mayday”, a system to allow instant tech support on your Kindle Fire device – this is a great idea! But try to get in touch with most banks, insurance agencies, or other bureaucracies and you’re likely to end up in phone tree hell.
The only conclusion that I can draw from the behavior of these other businesses is that they don’t really want to hear what you have to say, and that your voice doesn’t matter.

Your voice does matter. Dear companies (and CEOs and marketers): if you love your customers, set them free. Listen to their complaints and agree to feel a little discomfort. You might have to tell them, “I’m sorry. We made a bad decision, and I can’t make it better for you right now. And here’s what I can do for you.” Because in the age of social, where customers are always communicating among themselves, companies who want to provide great service need to respond and improve their relationship with the customer.

Without the customer, there is no business.

If you truly love customers, set them free. Let them leave. And find out why they are leaving. Customers want you buy what you’re selling for a reason. And if your reason no longer works for them, or they need something else, finding out what is wrong and understanding and solving the root cause is as important as saving that customer.

So don’t make it hard to leave simple transactional items like email lists. Do have a conversation when a customer is frustrated enough to want to take their business elsewhere. And learn from the experience so that more customers don’t feel the same way. When you solve the problem for the customer who wants to leave, they will come back. The customer will come back because your product is better, your service is better, and your overall experience is better. And because you listened to them and let them know it.

Customers are Always Right (Until They’re Not)

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/37603091@N02/
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/37603091@N02/

This post is part of the Startup Edition writing collaborative. Read more about this here.

When you get a request from a customer, one of the following quotes just might come to mind:

“The customer is always right” –Marshall Field

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” – Steve Jobs

These quotes are both worth considering. When you get customer feedback, you don’t know if it’s the next thing that is going to make your business successful. Perhaps the feedback is just a random thought from a person who might not have the same concern the next time they open your product and use it. The feedback might also be the key to understanding what makes your customer tick. So what’s an intelligent, thoughtful person to do with user feedback. What should you do to balance your long-term vision against the thing your customer said today?

I believe you should start with empathy when you’re considering the customer’s feedback. When someone takes the time to give you feedback, it’s often because you failed them or because there is a mismatch of expectations between what you told them and what they experienced. Trying to understand what they are feeling and repeating that effort back to them is a very important way that you can learn more about your customer’s experience today.

Having the presence of mind to be in the moment with that customer and focus on what they are thinking and saying right now is another key way that you can address their feedback. As Field suggested so many years ago, the Customer is Right not because your business needs to change drastically but because your business is the sum of small relationships that continue over time. Your customer’s feedback is a sign that the relationship can be nurtured and that it’s your job to figure out how to make it better for them. If you can’t make it better for the customer, you owe it to them to explain what you can do and to make the steps of the process as transparent as possible.

Does this mean you are going to be able to make things right for every customer? Is every customer’s feedback relevant to your long-term vision? Maybe. It’s really hard to know at the moment of receiving the feedback, listening to it, acting upon it, and finishing whether the customer’s feedback is an issue for the long term. And you do know it is an issue for today: so start today by responding to that customer in the best way possible.

And a note on vision. After a while, you’ll start to have a “sixth sense” or internal compass that will tell you whether the customer’s feedback should and does fit in your long term vision. You and your organization get bonus points if you have a living document that explains the tenets you believe in, and if you actively debate those tenets to arrive at a vision matching some of what your customer tells you every day. The customer will not always be right, and they will always be more right than you in letting you know what they want today. It’s your job to figure out how that fits into the longer term vision.

This post is part of the Startup Edition writing collaborative. Read more about this here.

Avoid These Customer Service Mistakes

Think of the last customer service fail you experienced. You might think, how did this happen? Why did the company I contacted give me an idiotic response? Why didn’t they answer my question? Or why did they (figuratively or literally) hang up the phone?

We’ve all made these mistakes. There might be many reasons – you might be too busy to respond fully, might not have enough time to research a solution, or you might just be having a bad day. Yet the impact of making a customer service mistake ripples beyond the immediate interaction, the immediate customer, and the immediate brand impact.

What do you do after you’ve made a customer service “oops?” Here are some solutions to help you catch yourself before you make such a mistake, or to give you tools to resolve the problem before it becomes a crisis.

When you are too busy to respond with an intelligent answer

“Wait, I know I can solve this, but I have 26 other things to do.” You know this has gone through your head, and even if handling support requests is your primary responsibility there is always more to do. So do this first: acknowledge the customer as quickly as possible, and give them a realistic expectation of when they might hear back from you. You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you read the case from top to bottom and understand the whole issue. You will also save time if you suggest a solution that the customer can follow to self-help and resolve their own issue. (If your only solution is “Hello, I.T., have you turned off and on again,” you might want to refine your suggestions.)

The goal of responding even when you are busy is to provide the best answer possible at the time and to remove a blocker for the customer. Even if you can’t provide the best answer possible you should be able to move them forward. And if you use the same answer more than twice you should turn it into a standard answer that you can insert automatically with just a few keystrokes – check out TextExpander for that.

When the problem is big and doesn’t have an immediate solution

Great – so you’ve managed to respond and sound reasonably intelligent – but the problem is “bigger than a bread box.” In fact, you’re not sure what the problem is and how to solve it. Many customer requests might end up being much more complicated than you or they would prefer, especially when you can’t solve them with a single back-and-forth interaction.

Here are some things you can do when you don’t have enough information to solve a problem. You can always ask for qualifying information from the customer. When you give them the same troubleshooting steps you might use, you involve the customer in the process and are helping them to learn how to “fish” for the solution. You can also try to solve the problem yourself and share whether you can find a solution. This one seems obvious, yet sometimes you can short-circuit the problem by ruling out options and save you and the customer a lot of time. You can also ask for help from your team or from “Uncle Google.”

When You’re Having a Bad Day.

It’s okay to tell the customer you’re sorry when you’ve responded sharply after having a bad day. It would be better if this never happens, and it does. So start with the premise that the customer wants to solve their problem and is not interested in beating you up – they just are really frustrated.

Before every email or call, take a breath and imagine the customer’s frame of mind. If you need to apologize because you started off on the wrong foot, apologize sincerely and do whatever it takes to avoid responding in the same way again to that customer. When they hear that you are doing the best you can, you’ll get a better response, even if the customer is annoyed with their issue.

If you act in the best interest of the customer to solve their problem, you’ll be able to offer the right set of solutions that match their problem. That doesn’t always mean that you will make them happy, and it does mean that you will act with integrity. And you will either avoid making these common customer service mistakes or you’ll be able to recover when you find yourself in that situation.

This post originally appeared at http://www.evergage.com/blog/avoid-these-customer-service-mistakes

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