Perhaps the greatness challenge we face as entrepreneurs when we scale our business is how to scale ourselves. In the early days, you know each your customers by name. You know their likes, dislikes, price levels and tolerances. You may even know their birthdays and anniversaries. Of course, you do. You recruited each and every one of them. You remember the long, hard and arduous journey you had to walk before they committed to doing business with you. To you they are not just a customer: they are a friend, a mentor, a big break when you needed it.

They are the reason you exist.

So you treat them with kit-gloves. You meet them at awkward hours, answer their calls whilst in the bath, with bath foam hovering over your eyes and just then you discover the sting of bath foam as it gently but mercilessly chases towards your pupil. You even miss a family gathering convened by the elders to discuss amadlozi or shock, horror, you miss you sons’ school soccer tournament (much to your partner’s annoyance) because you have a “meeting with the client”

You are willing to go the most extreme lengths to ‘keep the client happy’.

What you are actually doing is delivering a personalised customer experience.

Your mantra? ‘My client won’t leave me, not because I am cheaper than others but because I am better than others”.

So you’re good. Better than most. Because you’re good, clients start spending more money with you. This is good. You begin to hire people into your business to help you deliver this amazing experience.

But there is one problem: the bigger the team gets, the further removed from the customer you become, the more sterile and standardized the customer experience. More and more, you begin to look like that big bad company you swore you’d never become.

Are all growth entrepreneurs doomed to suffer this fate?

Are we all fated to become iterations of these sterile sausage factories that lack personality and character?

I have been looking at answering this question for a really long time. When we grew, consistently brilliant customer experiences were non-negotiable for us. So we built an architecture of how to deliver great customer experiences, regardless of how large we became. Today, we deal with hundreds of customers, across six businesses, in four different continents and have teams in 3 countries. This model has served us well:

1. Be Responsive

Client experiences are fast moving, vast and varied. What is required is for you to build a ‘responsive customer management” culture into your teams.

Ask yourself the following questions:

a. Do we listen to our customers?

b. Do we listen with the intent to understand or to respond?

c. As we listen, where do collect and organise this information?

d. Do we have a plan to act on what we find, hear or understand?

Build a team that cares about the customers’ experience. You need an attitude of care. You can build the system to deliver experience later. Attitude is key.

2. Be Tailored

Most people listen simply to feel better about the fact that they are listening. They don’t actually convert that insight into action. What made you – the entrepreneur successful – in the beginning, was that you listened and acted. How do you get this culture of insights-driven-action into your team:

a. Monitor them by having regular feedback session on what they are doing and how that is linked to feedback from the customer

b. Reward them when they do something that this meaningful for the customer and impactful for the business

c. When you see or find someone doing something beyond their call of duty, scream about it. Stand on the mountain tops and proclaim it. Make that person the hero for that moment and what happens is more people look for opportunities to showcase their own initiative.

3. Be Predictable

Customers want a predictable experience. Inconsistency is the silent killer of return customer revenues. So document what the ideal customer journey should be. Then communicate it and make your people aspire to deliver on that journey. If there is certain music that you play at midday to liven up your shop, then make sure everyone in every shop knows that playing that music is non-negotiable. For the team at Vida e Cafe it’s chanting affirmations everytime they feel their energies dwindle. For Nandos in Picadilly (where I am a regular) it’s Miriam Makeba’s Phatha Phatha at 4pm everyday.

They have a predictable experience for the customer.

4. Be Reliable

If customers can’t trust that the experience will be of the same high standard each time, your efforts will be in vain. You must ensure that your team delivers a reliable level of experience everytime. Not most of the time. 100% of the time.

If your phone or computer crashes or freezes every other day then it doesn’t matter how amazing the user-interface is, or how great the hardware looks, you will be left feeling rather short-changed.

Similarly, being reliable is something you earn and have to continue earnings all the time.

5. Measure. Monitor. Improve.

Measure everything that moves and is meaningful in delivering a customer experience. Monitor the areas that need attention and improvement.

Work to improve the weaknesses so that you are not caught with the same deficiency twice.

Vusi Thembekwayo
Speaker. Investor. Disruptor