One of the smartest entrepreneurial writers out there, Jonathan Fields, recently wrote about the difference between building a startup or a business. One can lead to another, he says, but they’re very different. One focuses on hustle, innovation, something-from-nothing, and doing everything from scratch. The other involves tweaking, perfecting, and building processes. They both product similar but different results, and most people love one or another.
It’s a good distinction for those thinking of starting a company to make. However, I want to call out something I think is important: whether you’re building a startup or a business, customer service is key.
If you’re building a startup, it’s about moving quickly and trying to attract customers any way you can. You’re trying to sell people on the concept more than a finished product. Your product is probably half-baked and buggy. That’s just the way it’s going to be if you’re moving that fast…which is why you have to make sure to listen to & serve those customers. This doesn’t mean fixing everything: you don’t have time for that! But if your app breaks left and right, you at least need to awknowlege that you hear your customers’ complaints. If they’re telling you that they need feature X, you need to hear them so you can iterate and keep them using your product. Alienate the few customers you have and you’ll never get off the ground.
If you’re building a business, you probably have a far more stable product. It looks good, it works consistently. You are not starving for users. Who cares if you don’t answer their emails right away? Well, actually, they care. They care a lot. Along with this more stable product and bigger audience comes a level of expectation. You need to respond to and act on issues quickly, or your name will be plastered all over Twitter with the hashtag #fail. You may not need to innovate as quickly as a startup, but you need to provide service twice as fast.
Fields ends his article with this suggestion:
“As you think about your entrepreneurial future, especially if you’re in the early stages or about to dive in, take the time to reflect on what part of the process lights you up. What empties you out.”
If you’re not “lit up” by serving customers, find someone who is. Find them early. Let them plan to scale your customer service as you grow. Give them to freedom to delight your customers and you’ll succeed, whether you’re a business or a startup.
Boat photo courtesy of Kevin Dinkel.
Photo courtesy of scrappy.