The brains behind Power Practical, David Toledo and Paul Slusser, love camping and being outdoors. They also love music. What they don’t love is having the batteries die on their mp3 player while sitting around a campfire. Their solution; the Power Pot, a portable electric generator fueled by fire that doubles as a cooking pot.
More than 1,000 other people had the same problem David and Paul had -- that’s how many backers they had on their Kickstarter campaign to develop the Power Pot. The producers of Shark Tank liked the product so much they invited the Power Practical team to appear on the show. David, along with cofounder and VP of Sales Caleb Light, convinced Mark Cuban to give them $250,000 for 12 percent of the company. The team was off and running.
Power Practical has now raised more than $1.5 million through six Kickstarter Campaigns -- one campaign for each product they have developed. The founders have created a highly successful vehicle for getting customers involved in the development of the business. They seek input on products, solicit suggestions for improvements, make needed changes and keep supporters informed of completion and delivery dates.
This effort to include customers in the business has produced tremendous payoff. The company now has 24,000 supporters who love what they do. Approximately 30 percent of the backers on a given campaign provide valuable input on products, improvements and processes. These backers are extremely loyal and feel like the company -- in some small way -- is their own company. This is what I call “Level 4” customer service.
During my 20 years as a business consultant, I have seen hundreds of companies develop and implement customer service strategies. Here are four basic levels of service I have observed in various organizations:
Level 1: Tolerate customers.
I actually had the manager of a business tell me, “This would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the customers.” In other words, customers are pests that get in the way of other more important things. These businesses only get a very small tip of the customer pyramid. No one goes to these companies unless there is nowhere else to get the product or service.
Level 2: Meet customer expectations.
Nearly all customers approach companies with preconceived notions of how they should be treated. If their expectations are not met, they are dissatisfied. They complain, tell all their friends, and never return to that business. If their expectations are met, things are OK. The problem is that satisfied customers are not always loyal customers; they patronize competitors’ businesses as well. So being satisfied is the same as being neutral.
Level 3: Exceed customer expectations.
Giving people more than they expect to receive produces raving customers and long-term loyalty. When customers receive service beyond their imagination, they rave about it, tell all their friends, come back again and again, become advocates for the company and even feel guilty if they visit a competitor’s business. Overshooting customer expectations is a critical step in building a community of raving fans. It gives you a large piece of the customer pyramid.
Level 4: Engage customers in business.
The ultimate way to build a community of loyal followers is to include customers in the actual development of your business whenever possible, just as the founders of Power Practical have done. When you collaborate with customers in a way that meets both their needs and your business needs, it binds you together in a meaningful long-term relationship. When this happens, your customers become ambassadors for your company and only come to you for the products and services you offer.
So elevate your level of customer service to increase the success of your business. Look for ways to exceed customer expectations (Level 3) and include customers in the development and improvement of your products and services whenever possible (Level 4). The payoff for your efforts will be tremendous.