Kurt Ruesch, Square 1 Bank Founder and Director of Client Services, offers quick thoughts and tips on establishing a client services team and fostering your service culture.
What challenges can a startup expect when launching a client services department?
Lack of an established service culture. Most startups don’t have a clear identity of what their service culture is, or what makes it different from others in the industry. The second challenge, which could hold true for any department starting off, is the lack of documented processes and procedures on how to handle different things that could come up. This is a particularly tricky challenge for client services, as questions from clients are often varied and can stretch across several different departments within an organization.
Startups are often long on vision and short on time, money, and resources. What are the keys to implementing a culture of excellent client service in a startup environment?
First,have a vision of how you want your service to be different (whether you’re comparing your service culture to a competitor’s or your industry as a whole. What’s going to set it apart? For example, at Square 1, we aim to provide our clients with an outstanding experience in a cost effective manner. You have to have a vision – without that, you’re not going anywhere.
It’s also imperative that you have the right people on board to implement and foster that vision. You could have the best vision in the world, but if you just go out and hireanybody, sit them in chairs, and they do their own thing, it’s not going to work. I have seen many times when you start off with a particular goal in mind, and as the days, weeks, months and years go by, it morphs into something completely different.
How does a company establish a client services team that successfully meets the needs of their clients?
You have to hire the right people. In a startup, people are going to wear many different hats. You won’t be able to hire a hundred people to run your customer service group, so you have to get people who are experienced enough to handle the variety of service-related issues and questions that may arise. Often, clients are spread out across the country, sometimes overseas, and they have to be comfortable knowing that a person a thousand miles away is going to know what they’re doing.
You also need to fill your team with people that are passionate about what they’re doing – and that’s something you cannot teach. So, the people you hire need to have a genuine desire to make clients happy and see them succeed.
What are common mistakes companies often make in establishing a client services team? What are ways to avoid them?
There is a tendency to undervalue customer service. While hiring inexperienced, cheap labor is an option, remember that in the end, you’re going to get what you pay for. I recommend stacking your team with very seasoned and qualified customer service representatives – folks who have experienced the myriad things that could happen (good or bad) in a service environment.
If you could offer one point of advice for establishing a client services team, what would it be?
I would offer three points of advice: You have to have a vision. You have to put as much value into building the customer service team that you would any other team. Don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made a mistake when the person (or people) you hired isn’t a fit for your vision. And if you realize they’re not a fit, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and move on. I think too often people are afraid to take that step.
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