3 ways to approach your customer service like a startup

Published December 17, 2014
Last modified December 17, 2014

In a recent talk at Slush 2014 in Helsinki, Zendesk CEO and founder Mikkel Svane hit the stage to discuss:

  • His new book Startupland
  • Three tips for entrepreneurs
  • The difference between sausage makers in Copenhagen and San Francisco

While all are interesting stories and well worth the 15 minutes it takes to watch the full talk, we thought we’d summarize the three tips for building a successful business, which also happen to be useful tips for approaching your customer service.

1. Screw the business plan
Maybe don’t use these exact words when explaining this approach to your CEO or CFO. But the idea is solid: Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the situation you’re in today or you risk missing the bigger opportunity for growth and change. Recognize that there’s a lot you don’t know—and there’s a lot more that you don’t even know you don’t know. Plan for the future and don’t limit yourself.

2. Users are people too
There’s been a lot of talk lately about Facebook’s switch from referring to their... well... users as “people” instead of “users.” And while it’s easy to poke fun, the point is well taken: No one likes to think of him or herself as a “user.”

Never assume that you can learn everything you need to know about the people who use your product or service by analyzing “user data.” And when you inevitably make a mistake and your “users” express their very human reactions by relentlessly calling and emailing you to complain, humbly apologize and make it right (as Zendesk did in 2010 in the example Mikkel gave in his talk).

3. Businesses are people too
It’s easy to forget that businesses are only as good as the people behind them. Even if you’re a business providing customer service to other businesses, there are probably a whole lot of humans involved on either end of the equation. No one wants to do business with a faceless monolith. If you want your business to be something your users… your customers… your people want to interact with, you’d better operate in a way that actual humans can relate to.

To hear more from one of the real people behind Zendesk, read the new book Startupland and watch Mikkel’s 15-minute talk from Slush 2014: