When you’re starting a new company and trying to get a product out the door, worrying about your organizational culture might seem frivolous. Do you really have time for touchie-feelie morale activities when you’re trying to raise enough money to make payroll? But as your company grows beyond 50 employees, founders will have less direct influence on the people around them. If you don’t have the right culture in place before you reach that size, it can be difficult to drive the operational results you need. As GM of Desk.com, Salesforce’s all-in-one customer support solution for small businesses, I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs who are working to build companies that are centered around customers. Here are five ways you can do it too:
Focus your mission on customers.
It’s not just enough to talk about customers, you need to call them out in your mission statement so you can’t help but keep them top of mind in everything you do. Having them in your mission helps you maintain consistency over time. And it sends a message to the outside world that you are serious about how you deliver for customers. Look at Virgin America. In their early days they set a mission to “make flying good again” and they delivered on it with new planes, friendly staff, and exceptional service. Their ads are hilarious. Fun is called out in their culture and it’s baked into everything they do. If you create a mission around dollars, your company will be focused around money-making activities. If you focus around customers you have a better chance of delivering awesome service.
Make your people a priority.
Your employees will never be able to deliver stellar service to your customers if they don’t feel valued themselves. You can set the tone by making all people a priority — customers, vendors, employees, and the community around you. There are lots of ways that you can make individuals feel special, and help them get to know each other better. Many companies have cross-departmental lunches or dinners so they can get to know the people down the hall. Others ask employees to share fun facts at their team meetings, or put together a softball or kickball team. These activities help employees to know each other as people, not just as cogs in the machine. The result? They’re much less likely to think of our customers as cogs too.
Include customer support in everyone’s job.
Not only is offering “total company support” one of the best ways for small businesses to smoothly scale service as they grow, but it’s also one of the most effective ways to ensure that every customer interaction is exceptional. If you train all of your employees from your CEO to your receptionist on your support tools (perhaps as part of your onboarding process) and then make supporting customers a regular part of their jobs each month, the effects are dramatic. Just ask Asana, where everyone at the company regularly helps the support team. Employees who spend time on the front lines are naturally going be more empathetic to customers and take a personal interest in their problems. They build products that better meet customer needs. And they’ll bend over backwards to solve their problems.
Prioritize customer retention.
With startups like Luxe and Slack growing around 50% each month, expectations for today’s startups are reaching crazy heights as well. In this business environment, it’s almost impossible to add new customers fast enough. You simply can’t be successful if you don’t focus on retention. But too often retention takes a back seat in a company’s focus and the big accolades are awarded for signing the next big deal. If you make retention a key pillar of your organization, you’ll naturally do a better job of helping customers. Instead of giving the gold watches and trips to Hawaii to your sales staff, try awarding some to the support rep who signs a customer for a another year, or saves one that’s about to defect.
In recent years we’ve seen a huge shift in the way that businesses approach philanthropy. It’s no longer an afterthought once a company becomes successful. Today, volunteerism and support for charitable activities are woven into many startup cultures from the beginning. Is it a coincidence that this is happening at the same time that companies are becoming more focused on their customers? See for yourself. Encourage your employees to volunteer each month either individually or as part of a team. Chances are that you’ll see a more thoughtful and caring side to your employees. Not only is this good for the community, but it’s good for your customers too.
Most successful entrepreneurs agree that if you don’t put time into establishing a strong culture in the first 60-90 days of your organization, you may have trouble resetting it later. Don’t relegate thinking about culture to the bottom of your startup’s “to-do” list. Follow these steps to build a culture around customers from day one, and the results will astound you.
This article was originally published on Loyalty 360.