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April 28, 2014

Thinking Small: The Key to Growing Big

By TMCnet Special Guest
Leyla Seka, General Manager and Senior Vice President, Salesforce

Bigger is supposed to be better, right? Everyone says thinking big is the only way to be successful in today’s startup world. Be first to the next new thing. Aim for the stars and the rest will follow. We see a lot of entrepreneurs that are so focused on the next shiny object — mobile apps! bitcoins! wearables! — that they de-prioritize the smaller aspects of the business. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the business world, it’s this: sometimes the little things are the most important.

Things like customer service. Everyone knows you need it, but not everyone gives it the right amount of focus. Lots of entrepreneurs use a shared inbox to manage customer service. In fact, our recent customer survey shows that 63 percent of our customers used a shared inbox before moving to for customer support. Luckily they made the move over to a dedicated support system, but for many other startups, using email for customer support long after the system breaks down is not uncommon. But they’re missing a huge opportunity to build relationships with customers and improve their business.

To be successful today you need to balance “thinking big” with “thinking small.” And you need to do it from the start. Every single interaction with a customer — even if it seems insignificant — is important to your business. Make customer service a part of your company’s DNA from day one. Take Zappos, for example. Selling shoes online may have been relatively new when the company was founded 15 years ago, but it was hardly revolutionary, but Zappos’ commitment to offering a very personal level of customer service was. From today’s vantage, it’s hard to argue with.

There’s a new generation of startups today, but awesome customer service still catapults a select few of them to the top of customers’ minds and hearts. Here are a few examples where, “thinking small” is helping these successful startups “think big”:

Creating a Brand Customers Love: Check out BarkBox, a monthly subscription service that delivers treats and toys for pets. Customer service helped them create a fun-loving brand and sustain it through exponential growth. Their “customer love” team tracks which messages resonate with customers —and which don’t. They duplicate the most popular ones (like “poochas gracias” and “kind woofs”) to turn first-time customers into friends for life. It’s working: BarkBox’s base grew more than 10x last year.

Getting Closer to Customers: Look at HotelTonight, a mobile-only hotel booking service operating in 12 countries. Because it specializes in bookings on the go, getting back to customers in minutes is critical. If customers can’t book right away, they’ll go elsewhere. HotelTonight has been using a customized service solution that’s optimized for speed since day one. In an industry that averages 24-hour wait times, their average response time is extraordinary. It’s one of the reasons they grew 300 percent over the past two years.

Or GetFeedback — a startup that’s challenging Survey Monkey and other online survey tools. Sure, they have a swanky mobile interface, but they also differentiate themselves by being more responsive. Everyone on the team pitches in for customer service. And, using the mobile app, they can respond to customers while at home, out on the town, or even while dropping off the kids at preschool. The average response time? 15 minutes. And customers love it: GetFeedback recently announced deals with (News - Alert) Student, Dropbox, LinkedIn, and The North Face.

Building a Better Mousetrap: At ZenPayroll, a cloud-based payroll service, the customer support team actually reports into the product team. They constantly analyze feedback to find ways to improve their products and discover which features to build next. The team even circles back with the customers that suggested improvements to see if they want to beta test them. And, by optimizing the product to address customer needs, they’re able to maintain a ratio of clients to customer advocates of 50% more than the industry average. 

Product launches and seed funding are always going to be the milestones that entrepreneurs reach for first. But don’t fall down the rabbit hole of thinking that bigger is always better. If you remember to sweat the small stuff, you can improve your chance for success.

Leyla leads,'s all-in-one customer service app for fast-growing companies. Attracting some of the leading customer-oriented brands such as Yelp (News - Alert), SnapChat, Fitbit, Bonobos, and Disqus, has become known as the savvy customer support app that connects agents with e-mail, phone calls, and social channels.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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