More small businesses are looking to build a strong online presence, which brings a whole array of new challenges. Remote or digital customers have the same expectations of service as anybody else, and it's essential that small businesses know how to deliver.
We spoke to Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk, a provider of cloud-based customer service software, on the role of technology in customer service and what he's learned while building his business.
Open Forum: How has customer service changed in recent years?
Mikkel Svane: We talk about how it's a subscription economy now. Businesses are changing their revenue models from being very transaction based to being much more about buying over time or a subscription. Revenue from customers is not about per-transaction numbers—it's about the lifetime numbers. To nourish that relationship, customer service is such an essential part. That’s another big trend that has defined this industry and helped us tremendously.
OF: How does a focus on customer service inform your management and leadership philosophy?
MS: We tell our customers about great customer service, and we try to live up to it ourselves. In all relationships between people–and a customer service relationship is very much a person to person relationship–it’s all about trust, talking to each other at eye level, being open, transparent, honest. We try very much to live up to these standards ourselves.
OF: What's something you wish you knew back in 2007 when you started out?
MS: Most of our customers have realized that customer service is really, really hard. It’s hard to put together relationshps when customers are in a lot of different regions and countries and time zones. You have treat each of them respectfully and try to make the best out of any situation. It's not something you can go out and learn like studying for an exam.
I like to compare it to starting running. For most people, it’s not super pleasant getting up at 6 a.m. in the rain and running for 10 kilometers. But once you get into the rhythm and start enjoying it, you kind of get addicted to it and it becomes part of your DNA. You understand how it makes you better, how it helps your body and your soul. Customer service is also something that is really tough and complicated, but by getting up every morning and embracing your customer relationships, you could build a culture where you understand and appreciate the value of spending time with your customers.
Read more about small-business customer service.
Photo: Courtesy of Zendesk