07. March 2016
When your business is growing rapidly, one of the first things to fall to the wayside is customer service. Workloads increase and processes need to be changed and adapted which leads to the staff and business owners being overwhelmed. This is where your popularity becomes a double-edged sword. High demand for your service or product creates a buzz but the flip side is that keeping up with the demand becomes difficult. Here we have brought out the risks and challenges that ever fast growing business can experience. We have also interviewed some of the fastest growing businesses in Estonia and internationally to understand how they managed to overcome these challenges.
Failing to plan ahead and ignoring the numbers
The biggest mistake made is not planning ahead. If you have the resources to launch marketing campaigns that will bring you volumes be prepared to also have resources for handling the volumes. Otherwise you are doing nothing else but wasting money. Plan your hiring, analyze the numbers your campaigns will bring together with marketing department and make sure how much you can handle. If you start hiring after the volumes have peaked you are too late already.
Monitor your team and see how much workload each person can handle and therefore how many new team members you need to hire to maintain the balance.
“One of the challenges is scaling the support team fast enough to cope with the growing volume of requests, while still being lean and not overstaffing.
This may seem as a simple thing at first, but that illusion disappears quickly, once you hit the first major unexpected spike in volume. Hiring after the support volume has grown will damage you and the cure for it is constant measuring – how much load can each agent handle and how fast you need to hire,“ says Martin Kõiva, Head of Sales and Support at Pipedrive.
Developing an efficient service model
For a fast growing business it’s essential to automate as much as possible to reduce manual work. On the other hand you need to create a service model that is still customer friendly and meets customer needs. As soon as your clients start waiting on the telephone queues for the operator and will be transferred from one department to another your customer retention levels start dropping. While growing you need to implement more and more procedures in customer service to maintain good customer experience. Make sure your customer service standards are in place. At the same time you should be able to communicate the importance of the changes in the processes to your team to make sure they understand why your service model is changing while you are growing as a business.
“Another biggest challenge for fast growing business is – how to be one step ahead with our service model, so that it meets all customers’ needs but at the same time also supports the growth of volumes. It means that all processes should be carefully analysed– if needed then developed and automated to significantly reduce manual work. Otherwise it is just not possible to survive. And last but not least customer experience should be the same or at least really similar in all channels, in offline and online,” says Moonika Palmse, Head of Sales and Client Service at LHV Bank.
Keeping the touch with customer
When you’re growing quickly, it’s extremely important to make sure your customers are happy. When sales are up, it’s easier to get a bit sloppy with products and services and not pay attention. In fact, it is terrifyingly easy for customer service to fall flat. Even if you’re winning new customers, your old ones may be becoming dissatisfied. This leads to customer retention issues. Even in times of growth, customer service has to be front of mind.
“LHV is growing fast and the biggest challenge we have faced in customer service is how to maintain the same good level that we have reached so that every customer could feel himself/herself unique and valuable.
Running a fast growing business means usually hiring a lot of new team members and therefore it is really important to have a clear and strategic training program so all new employees would have a clear picture of what is important in customer service,” says Moonika Palmse, Head of Sales and Client Service at LHV Bank.
Hiring wrong people
Once a company is growing quickly, the quality of the people you hire becomes even bigger issue. You will most definitely find yourself doing more hiring than actually running your business. You want to hire the right people and the culture of a company is very important. When just starting up as a small business you have set up your vision of the company culture that would attract the right people. As they say the first hires are most important. Now bear in mind that your next hires are not less important. Your company culture should remain the same. As you might need to hire new people fast you should not look aside from your usual hiring practices. When starting your business you probably had more time to invest in recruitment but when volumes are growing and help is needed fast you might start bending the rules as you need to fill the positions fast to grow the business.
Keeping your employees happy
If your business is growing uncontrollably, naturally a large proportion of that added burden will have to be borne by your employees. Rapid growth significantly increases the demands on each individual employee and your team as a whole.
Suddenly employees are asked to do more than they are capable and more than they are used to which results in longer working hours, stress, lower morale and fighting with other team members.
This leads to a dip in productivity, and a rise in employee absenteeism and some might even leave which only increases the workload of those left behind. This starts affecting your turnover – all of which can have a negative impact on your business.
You may find yourself occupied with hiring and training new staff, when other much more sensitive and important aspects of your business might need your attention.
One of the challenges is developing an employee motivation program that ensures the employee satisfaction while maintaining the efficiency and quality of the service.
When growing rapidly your main focus in customer service should also be to avoid high employee turnover and keep our existing team motivated.
“While growing extremely fast and having very ambitious plans you as a leader have to know how to serve the goals to your team in a way that they seem achievable. We had a very strong team spirit and we tried to create an environment where people don’t compete with each other but work together for the mutual goal. Although each team member was trying to reach their individual targets to earn the bonuses we tried to emphasize how important it is to work as a team rather than individual,” says Triin Linamagi, Former Head of Customer Services at CashOnGo.
Keeping the level of customer complaints low
You cannot avoid the growth in customer complaints with the continuous growth of your business but you can try to keep it as low as you possibly can. When your company starts to grow quickly the back-end support systems, delivery and order fulfillment sections often fail to catch up. Lack of training for new staff and the urge to send new hires straight into cold water comes up often when high volumes need to be handled. Therefore the mistakes are easy to come up. As a small business with a small number of customers you can easily provide individual attention to everyone and offer tailor-made solutions. When business grows rapidly, however, you may be forced to cut corners, which often results in an increase in complaints.
If you notice an increasing number of customer complaints and negative feedback, this is one of the biggest signs that you might have to step back and reassess you priorities.
Managing customer expectations
As a small business it’s much easier to manage customer expectations as you can deal with customers’ request in more detail and response time tends to be very fast.
As you grow you need to learn prioritizing and maintain effective communication and quick response times.
Make sure you have good communication between departments in your company, employees within each department and then between your customer and your company. It takes good communication to make sure you send the right person to talk with the customer. Customers still expect the same level of service you offered them with lower volumes. Even if there is a change in your processes you should make should the end result will satisfy your client.
With good strategy in place you should not have problems with response times. When in early stage of your business you were able to respond to clients in couple of hours but now it takes you one working day then set up an automated email to notify the clients that their email has been received and they will be responded in one working day. Manage your customer’s expectations but deliver what you’ve promised.
While growing you cannot serve all your customers in way they would like to and please every client’s wish. You cannot implement every feature your client requests, you have to look at the bigger picture. This can be frustrating for clients and it comes up that you must say ‘no’ more often.
“Another challenge coming along with rapid growth is managing the expectations of your customers. Especially with a global user base, you will have customers with wildly varying expectations for speed of and depth of the responses.
While the “hype” for providing awesome and lighting fast customer service is definitely positive, it can also lead to some of your clients having unrealistic expectations. The cure for that is surprisingly simple: 1) manage the expectation with appropriate messaging 2) under promise; over deliver,” says Martin Kõiva, Head of Sales and Support at Pipedrive.
Customer service helps you to gain an edge over your competitors and as a business you should see customer service as the key to building your brand. While growing don’t forget how important it is to maintain the level of good customer service and focus on developing your service model and employee motivation program to make sure service will not become the pitfall for your business at the same time.