Be damn good at customer service.
Any great leader will tell you that their secret had nothing to do with themselves. Instead, their success was built on the backs of the teams they assembled. The businesses that are going to do well in the long run are the ones that filled with customer oriented people at every level of the business.
Take a look at companies that are absolutely crushing it right now:
You may have heard of Zappos!
They're the leading online shoe retailer in the world, but their primary focus isn't selling shoes. They are a customer service company. The shoes are almost a secondary focus (they aren't really...but you get the point). Zappos is probably one of the best retailers you'll ever deal with. I buy as many of my shoes as I can through them, and it isn't because of the price. Actually, they often are not the cheapest!
However, I know I'm going to be happy with my experience (not necessarily my purchase). First of all, the shipping is free no matter what you buy. And once you become a regular customer, you get even faster shipping. When the shoes show up, you might hate them. No problem! Slap the free shipping label back on the box and send them back. Zappos even pays for that shipping. And don't worry about having to ship it back within 14 days. You've got a YEAR to change your mind.
As if that weren't cool enough, you should try calling them on the phone. I was speechless when an actual human being answered the phone. They'll help you out with whatever you need. I was buying a sneaker that they regularly carry, however they just so happened to be out of my size at the moment. On the site, I couldn't figure out if they carried the half-size I wanted even when they are in stock.
Turns out, they don't carry the half sizes for that shoe, but the manufacturer does make them. The woman on the phone actually did a search and found them on Sports Authority's website. She then emailed me the link...to the competitor's website.
In the case of Zappos, they didn't let a huge committee of shoe or retail experts come in and tell them how they should run their business. There was a great idea: great customer service. The next step (and every step afterward) focused 100% on achieving that goal.
Fitbit is another interesting company
I've had my eye on them for a while. Fitbit is a snazzy little pedometer that wirelessly uploads activity data about you up to a suite of free online fitness tools. The device is like a little clip that you wear on your waistband all day and on a wristband when you go to sleep. It tracks how much you walk, exercise, etc. Then it charts out all of your activities as a motivational tool for keeping fit. That's a very brief overview of it...you should check it out.
Anyway, I bring it up because I just got mine in the mail less than a week ago. My unit was ordered last spring and just got here. The company is a brand new startup that launched at TechCrunch50 two years ago. They had some production delays. Instead of keeping it secret, the CEO started the Fitbit blog to keep all of their excited pre-order customers in the loop about everything having to do with the manufacture of the Fitbit. I found myself checking it regularly and feeling like I was part of the adventure.
Back to this week... My Fibit finally came! Sadly, there must have been a slight defect with mine because it had issues fitting on the charger. It may have been damaged in shipping. However, I had purchased a second one for my wife as well. Her's is in perfect shape.
So I posted a note in the Fitbit community forum about how my unit does not fit tight enough on the charger. Honestly, I was looking for advice from other Fitbit owners to see if this was just an issue I was having.
Within 20 minutes of posting, the CEO of Fitbit responded and said to send him an email about the issue. He said he would send me a new Fitbit via Fedex immediately. No other questions asked! In a couple days, my replacement Fitbit will be here. What else could I possibly ask for?
And you better believe that I'm now going to be telling everyone I know about how cool my Fitbit is and how great the customer service is. I have no doubt that Fitbit will sell a couple extra units because of my recommendation, and I'm happy to give it.
And then there's the Grand Poobah
The Grand Poobah of customer service, @garyvee. Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library already gets a ton of web press about his amazing online business prowess, so I will not exhaust you with all his details. Here's just the highlights...
Gary's WineLibary.com is now a $70 million a year business. He now brings down major bank as a major brand consultant and public speaker. He's been on every network talkshow and business show on television. He's creeping up on 1 million Twitter followers. He just released his first book (Crush It) which is part of a multi-book deal with is publisher. Oh, and he still manages to do a 20-30 minute video blog...daily.
The guy is busy.
Yet, he manages to reply to almost every email he receives, answers hundreds of direct tweets a day, and is a Facebook animal. His philosophy banks on the rule that if a customer took the time to write him, he had better find the time to respond. It doesn't matter if it is a compliment, complaint, or the same wine pairing question he's already answered 300 times this week.
It doesn't matter what you're "product" actually is. Maybe it is a blog you write, an item you manufacture, or a service you provide. You're ability to care and respond to your customers/haters/readers/evangelists/strangers/etc that makes the difference.
The bottom line is this: care about people first and the dollars will follow.