It’s Friday Night. Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

customer service

It’s about 10 p.m. on a Friday night and we have a magic window so we can see what three different businesses are doing about customer service.

Yes, Friday night. It’s a big world. There are customers out there who are already in Saturday morning, and others are still working on Friday afternoon. And some customers want help on Friday nights.

I’m a business founder and business owner and I’ve been there. Have you?

Scene 1: Founder Customer Service

We look through the window and there’s our business founder, pretending to watch a movie with her family but jumping often from her mobile phone to her laptop, answering some customer questions on a Friday night.

She’s got the product up and running, but it’s new, and although things are going extremely well she’s anxious for news, feedback, and how customers are relating to her product. She’s starting to realize success is possible. And she checks her phone for feedback constantly and jumps onto a laptop. She has half a dozen employees now and things look good, but volatile.

If you are a successful founder you’ve probably done this, and if you’re a successful business owner, maybe years have gone by and you’ve forgotten. I promise, I’ve seen this up close and personal several times, and I mean not just me but several other founders.

During those high growth years, it’s hard to stop. You fall in love with answering customer questions.

Scene 2: Emerging Growth Customer Problems

Look into this window on Friday night and you see a CEO at a different stage. She’s got three dozen employees now and she’s achieved traction and raised a few million of venture money.  Her business has critical mass now but it’s also under pressure to grow its valuation fast, too, growing users and traction to keep investors happy so she can get another round soon.

This time she is actually watching the movie with family, exhausted after a week of meetings with key customers, channel gatekeepers and her investors. She’s purposely leaving the smartphone out of reach because it’s Friday night.

However, trouble is brewing. An important European organization needs customer service immediately, and it’s Friday night, so nobody is watching. By Monday morning our CEO is going to be frustrated and disappointed that none of her lieutenants did anything on Friday night and Saturday.

Scene 3: Teams, Platoons, and Schedules

In this window on Friday night a third CEO is watching a movie with her family while a customer problem is flaring up on the Web. She doesn’t know about it but she has a schedule and routine now, so one of her trusted team members is on call and watching. That team member will catch the problem and answer the customer because it’s his turn to watch.

Customer service doesn’t disappear on weekends, but no one person does weekends. They take turns. Each of the key people is “on call” (like the doctors call it) on specific weekends. They know about it and schedule it in advance. Which also means that, when they are not on call, they can relax.

This CEO joins in the on-call schedule with the others, so she still has weekends that she has to watch her phone and watch for emergencies. Furthermore, her lieutenants have a good sense for when to escalate up to her for a special problem that needs her special attention.

Conclusion: Great Customer Service Takes Planning and Organization

I’ve seen so many cases. Great customer service starts with the founder, early on, obsessed with customers and customer feedback and getting to the next inflection point.

In successful high-growth start-ups, the driven or obsessed founder is the rule, not the exception. But when a business grows, obsession isn’t sustainable. It takes planning and organization. It takes a team.

The hard part is the transition. If you look at the well-known brands that have managed customer service, they end up with systems of teams of full-time customer service and schedules and shifts so even Friday night is part of somebody’s regular routine.

During transitions, escalation is important and not easy to organize and systematize. It takes good judgment and good people to understand when a weekend problem needs to go straight up to the leaders of the company, and when not. And it takes a long time for a leader of a company to not want to know the big problems within instants.

I think you’ll find this true for all real leaders: Good news can wait but they want the bad news instantly.

Empty Store Photo via Shutterstock

Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.