Before the launch of his company, Will Shu was working as a deliveryman. Previously an investment banker, to the outside world it would have appeared that the 34 year old had hit upon hard times. That was 2013. Now in 2018, Deliveroo is the biggest delivery service in Europe, worth £1.3bn. You see, Shu wasn’t delivering Pizza because he was out of a job but because he wanted to know every detail of the industry he was about to launch into.
The narrative around success stories tends to follow this script, a determined entrepreneur who rises out of nothing. However what is common to almost all success stories is that the founders, whether it’s Will Shu’s, or the bigger names like Steve Job’s, have an affinity with their brand and have started as ground zero for their company. Being your own test subject in a business shouldn’t just be contained to these initial stages either. In fact being your own customer, no matter how big your business, is one of the keys to success.
See things from ground level
Ultimately being your own customer helps you to keep a grasp on how your business fits into the market. It gives you a bearing on how you are performing in practical terms and what might improve the service. It’s so often the case that as companies grow, the CEO and executives lose their perspective. The disastrous release of the Ford Edsel, is a classic example of decisions being made by out-of-touch creative directors. The car lost $350m in just three years and would never have been released if there had been any public census.
To give an anecdotal example of how this idea works in practice, one of the most successful innovations from rental marketplace Fat Lama, was the result of the Fat Lama team themselves listing their items on the website. When deciding what would be the most popular items to list, they took a look through the archived search data from the website, when the thought occurred: why not make this a public feature? The Live Search feature even displays search queries as they happen!
Reconnect with your customers
Customer service is an impossibly delicate balance to get right. You need to be able to implement a set system, without it seeming impersonal. To be honest, most companies get customer service wrong and reason could be as easy as easy as execs forgetting what it’s like to be on hold for twenty minutes. As your company grows, it’s easy to start seeing customers as a number on a screen. It’s probably the only interaction you have with them. So it’s important to try and get back into the customer’s frame of mind and experience first-hand how your company deals with queries or complaints.
If you’ve ever been a waiter, you’ll always tip generously in a restaurant. This is a good way to model your approach to customer service, to really know how to help someone; you need to be able to empathise with their situation. Not only will this help customer service but it will improve your customer relations more generally. You will be able to build a service for the customer, by the customer.
A good example would be that of the media empire Buzzfeed. Founder, Jonah Peretti spent a year simply building search bots that tracked the viewing patterns and trends in content before he officially launched Buzzfeed. The reason being that he knew exactly what his customers wanted before he’d invested a dime.
From Executives to Interns
Most of what has been discussed here has been aimed at the top echelons of a business, however arguably this advice is most relevant to the mid-level employees. It is your middle management that are at the front line of product advancement and are running the company on a daily basis. Therefore the more they can get into the customer frame of mind the smoother your business will run.
It also will improve the office atmosphere. Getting your employees involved in the company, personally as well as professionally, will ultimately lead to a more driven, more enthusiastic workforce. If you’re sceptical, then just look at Airbnb. They are committed to involving all of their staff in the company’s ‘vision’, to the point where every conference room is modelled after the living rooms of their most popular rental flats!
Ultimately you should be your customer because it shows you just how far you’ve come. You have built the company either from scratch, or helped it on its way so take a bit of pride in what you’ve done and have a go yourself.