Many of us have heard the apocryphal story of how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously leaves what is known internally as “the empty chair” in some of his meetings. The story goes that that chair represents the Amazon customer, and that anything that is discussed or decided in the meeting should keep the customer (the most important person in the room) at the heart of it all. One has to have been living under a rock, if one has not had any interaction with Amazon, and its famously customer-centric support team. While that is good, Amazon is also a behemoth with operations in about 14 countries and a massive technology backbone.

How does customer obsession look like in a (much) smaller startup like Wakefit?

The very first point in the “Who is a Wakefitter?” slide that is drummed into every single new joiner is “Committed to customer delight”. We don’t aim to merely service customers, nor do we wish to be available only when they seek us to find help in resolving a query or problem. The bar we have set for ourselves is to truly delight them with our focus on them. That is a constantly moving target and a problem statement that will keep us busy for a while. We are just four years into our journey and we are learning every day. Here is a list of things that have become part of our DNA from day 1 that hopefully will make us an even more customer obsessed company that it is today.

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1. Starting with the customer

The empty chair equivalent at our company is to constantly ask and listen to what customers want. New product launches, product iterations,┬ápricing decisions, website changes, customer process changes – are all discussed first and foremost from the customer lens. The feasibility, the effort required, the team to do it, all come up much later. If something fails the customer test, it does not move forward.

So how do we do it? We speak to a ton of customers every day. We have formal and informal channels of communication to feed back into product development, marketing and technology functions, to ensure that the voice of the customer is not lost out.

2. What is said + What is unsaid

We try not only to listen to the words they say, but also to the unsaid fears and concerns that they may have. When a customer is worried about a 100 day trial, it may be because he/she is traveling on work for 3 months and fears that the remaining 10 days of the trial may not be enough to get a good sense of the product. The unsaid fear is that they may be stuck with the wrong product for the next few years. How can we understand this and alleviate it?

This is not easy, and this may be prone to error. But it is better to err on the side of caution and attribute a concern and solve it, than to ignore it and let it fester in the customer’s mind.

3. Being human

The customer is ALWAYS a human with a name, job, problem, partner/spouse, children, parents and a real life. The customer is NEVER an order number or a phone number. As you start servicing thousands of orders per day, it is very easy to shorten your internal communication with order numbers or phone numbers rather than the customer name.

Our customers are those that have moved into a new town and are looking for mattress delivery, those that have gifted our product to their aged parents as a show of love, those that have moved into a new home with a family and awaiting the delivery, those that have ordered our product in the hope that their neck and back pain will subside, those that have taken permission from work to stay at home and receive the product. These are real people with real lives, just like us. We never forget that.

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4. Top down focus

Every pained Wakefit customer causes distress to us – Ankit, me and the core team. Every customer whose promise we did not meet pains us. This is truly something we lose sleep about. Every single escalation is chased down to the root cause, problem identified and then worked upon. In a company that ships out lakhs of products every month this can be a herculean task. But starting from us as founders, we have found ways to retain this unwavering focus on each problem statement and work on it till we are able to make our customers’ lives better.

5. Being authentic

Despite everything we do, escalations do happen. It is a fact of life that we find hard to come to terms with. There may be a technical glitch, a partner messing up or even things completely out of our control. We do a few things when we encounter these situations –

acknowledge the mistake that has happened,

explain why it happened,

don’t make false promises to get out of the tough situation, and

finally, sincerely apologise from the heart

You will be amazed at how often customers are willing to forgive us if we show them we are learning and will continue to do our best. This is not something to be taken for granted, but a privilege that is given to us for that instance. We truly work to learn from that and rectify it for the future.