updated 7/17/2014 5:16:01 PM ET 2014-07-17T21:16:01

The late Maya Angelou once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is as true in business as it is in life: Outstanding service can help a company stand out and be remembered in a crowded marketplace.

Unfortunately, many startup founders believe that great customer service can’t be delivered until their company has reached sufficient scale. While it’s true that customer service can’t be streamlined and automated to the same extent as some other business operations, even the leanest of startup teams can create a wonderful experience if they have the right mindset.

Here are three ways your company can provide world-class service on a startup budget:

1. Put your customers on a pedestal. It may sound obvious, but if you want to deliver excellent service, you need to make customer satisfaction the top priority in your organization.

Related: This Might Be the Most Infuriating Customer Service Call Ever

Pick a metric or group of metrics that you believe best represent customer satisfaction (e.g. net promoter score, churn rate, percentage of customers who make repeat purchases, etc.) and display it somewhere everyone can see. Let your team know that these are the most important metrics in your company and that it is everyone’s responsibility -- not just your customer service representatives and account managers -- to ensure that you meet and exceed your goals.

2. Listen to your customers, wherever they are. Customer feedback can come through a variety of channels -- email, social media, live chat, telephone and even snail mail -- so it behooves you to build a system that can capture, synthesize and analyze this feedback while your company is still small. Properly organized, this data can provide invaluable insights that can inform your product, marketing, service and even fundamental business model. While it’s probably not advisable to open all of your business’s decisions to a public vote, companies that demonstrate that they listen to what their customers say and take their feedback seriously tend to earn more respect and brand loyalty than businesses that operate inside of a feedback-free bubble.

Related: 5 Ways to Woo Customers With Special Attention

3. Use technology to connect with your customers faster than the competition. While startups lack in size and resources, they can compensate with speed and nimbleness. Using live chat and social media, you can address customer questions and issues as they arise while putting a human face on your brand. For best results, train your staff to take a helpful, patient and conversational tone (speaking with a rude and uncaring customer service representative is arguably worse than not speaking with anyone at all). On social media, use your best judgment to determine which posts you will and won’t engage with. Direct questions and constructive feedback always merit a response, even if it’s just to say “we’re sorry, we’ll do better.” Personal attacks and blatant provocations, however, are best left unanswered. As the old Internet adage goes, “Don’t feed the trolls.”

In addition to answering customer questions and addressing their complaints, both live chat and social media are invaluable in that they provide you with an additional opportunity to tell your startup’s story in a conversational and personable way. Given how many large companies either do live chat and social media poorly or choose to avoid them altogether, doing these things well can help endear your brand to your customers and build a loyal fan base at an early stage in your company’s development.

While the tactics listed above will help you enhance your customer experience, ultimately the main difference between exemplary and satisfactory service is culture. Is everyone in your company committed to making your customers happy or does that responsibility rest with a small and siloed team? Do you define customer-service success as a lack of support tickets or by an abundance of brand advocates? How you answer these questions will determine whether customer service is just another business function or whether it’s a foundational part of your corporate DNA. 

Related: 10 Stories of Unforgettable Customer Service

Copyright © 2013, Inc.


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