Customer service isn't a department

So far during my time at Teespring, my most striking observation has been the importance of great customer service. Every conversation at work is laced with the subtext of improving customers’ experience, and every employee does customer service at one point or another. Good customer service helps you understand your customers, define your company, and grow your business, and should be nurtured carefully.

Customer service is the best way to understand your customers

Every single employee at Amazon - even Jeff Bezos - spends at least two days per year doing customer service. A lot of interesting things start to happen when people from every part of a company take the time to interface directly with customers. Maybe a product person realizes a clearer way to present users with the information they care about, or an operations person recognizes that a certain supplier is causing too many problems. In these kinds of ways, customer service helps you define your business.

When the entire company is relentlessly focused on serving customers, the company's value proposition tends to increase. Great customer service is not just a department, it’s a characteristic of a company that focuses on its customer’s needs and works backwards from there. It should appear in all parts of the company, the way that the DNA encoding your eye color can be found in every one of your cells. 

Good customer service drives growth

Good customer service can do as much to grow your company as any other avenue. Not only does it increase your user retention by keeping existing customers happy, but it also creates an army of advocates who will tell their friends by word of mouth how much they enjoyed their experience. 

As a driver of growth, word of mouth has a very special quality; as your service grows, you get more advocates. Ideally, you retain a constant ratio of advocates to users; e.g. 20% of your users generate a new user in any given month. This is why startups with very happy customers tend to grow exponentially.

Growth is the silver bullet that solves all problems in a startup, and customer service is one of the best ways to get growth.

Just because it’s easy to do customer service doesn’t mean it’s easy to do well

Customer service is an essential business function. In fact, customer service is the essential business function; serving customers is what makes you a business. Because of this, it deserves incredible attention.

Too often, people dismiss customer service as one of the softer sides of business. Decent customer service is easy, but great customer service is hard - companies like Amazon pour massive time and financial resources into getting it right.

There is an erroneous tendency to give less credit to activities that have a lower barrier to entry. Anyone can play chess, but becoming a grand master is extremely difficult. Even though customer service is easy to do moderately, companies should invest heavily in doing it well.
18 responses
If given the opportunity to deal with an experienced customer service employee or someone from elsewhere in the org doing their "two day sit-in" in customer service, it seems obvious that you will have a better outcome with the experienced customer service employee. I hold an opposite view...if you value service, you value the people who provide it, and you don't engage in the thinly-veiled insult that others in the org can or even should sub in for them. On a practical level, I also find these exercises to be a waste of time. The exec from elsewhere in the company will just fumble around figuring out how to do the job of the customer service rep...which they will promptly forget as soon as they have finished their "tour"...and the experienced customer service employees waste valuable time instructing these other employees when they could be helping customers.
I think developers should really pay attention to how customer service works and what the common issues and questions are. It's very often the case that there's some settings worded vaguely or something isn't clear about how the workflow should proceed that a developer might recognize if they spent some time looking at the customer service's ticket system. Bad customer service is a very common reason why people write negative reviews and go on Twitter rants about you that harm a brand. Good customer service is a very big reason why people go out of their way to remember you and praise your brand, and most review sites weigh that heavily (see for instance). That being said, people are software developers for a reason, and different people have different skillsets and many of them might not be the best at interacting with other people. I don't think you necessarily need to do something like Amazon does and have a set time period where all employees have to do customer service, but it is something that more people should pay attention to. It's not just a cost center, as some companies view it.
Hi Jack It's serendipitous that you write this post now. I've been meaning to get in touch with Teespring so I may as well introduce myself here instead of via email. I'd love to help provide the customers that are advocates of your brand with a platform to amplify their reach. Mybema is a website I've built to give consumers more control of discovering great brands by allowing them to add and discover brand reviews, as well as resolve service issues. I'd like to invite you to try out the dashboard available for brands. You can have a look at Let me know if you'd be interested in turning your customers into super-advocates Pawel from Mybema
This is the main reason why I love Dogecoin. It is the great customer service that can be found. I do not know another cryptocurrency that offers this business function.
Can't agree more. 37signals are doing the same thing as Amazon/Bezos you mentioned - every month the founders spend couple of days doing technical support. They even compete with fulltime supporters to earn "badges" - who's better at supporting customers. This is what every startup should do. Every developer - even the "rockstar" ones - should spend some time to answer tickets! Customer service is cheap marketing.
I'm amazed some companies are still not doing this, especially the companies that offer some customer-support/customer relations products (crm's, helpdesk's etc). Heck, even we weren't doing this until last years (we sell a helpdesk app ) when we finally realized - EVEN DESIGNERS should spend some time answering customer issues...
Oracle rightnow can provide u a platform to get you started on a journey to great customer service ;)
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