Service-based businesses are the best, right?

You get to do something you love and you’re great at, and your clients get results in the form of financial returns, killer new websites, healthy new bodies, or various other solutions to their problems.

But in our rush to move away from 1-on-1 work and into things like courses, ebooks, and other products, we’re losing a very important component of our service-based businesses: the service.

The importance of service

Good service is the difference between “We’re never eating in this restaurant again!” and “Wow, they really took our concerns seriously.” It’s the difference between “we’ve decided to go with another provider” and “I’m now a lifelong customer.”

This is not a laundry list of complaints ahead (or a humblebrag about the cool things we do or have). You’ll see the pattern at the end.

The cats

While my husband and I were on a recent trip 7 hours away from home, our pet sitter called us in a panic. Her car had been towed and our house keys were in her car. Rather than offering her own solution to the problem, she asked if we could get my parents to drive from their home, 2 hours away, with the closest set of spare keys. When we asked why the pet sitting company’s office didn’t have the spare we provided, she said she had lost those as well. She did not apologize.

The cruise

We went on a Caribbean cruise this May and discovered, along with our dinner tablemates, that a lot of little things were going wrong. Little things that, independently, we might have overlooked, but altogether were creating a pattern. One example was night four or so, in which our assistant waitress mixed up our wine orders. We asked for the right glasses, the waitress got mad that we said she was doing her job wrong, and she pointedly ignored us for the rest of the service. When the manager came around and asked how the service had been, we mentioned the wine mix-up. He told us he didn’t care and he wanted to know how dinner was. We told him that it certainly impacted our dinner when she no longer served us. We received no apology from the manager or the waitress.

The cleaners

We have a cleaning service that comes in once a month to do a deep clean. So far they have dumped candle wax from a melter all over our rug (and left a note saying “sorry but I didn’t know what it was”) and have even forgotten to clean the entire downstairs of our house. Both times they have offered solutions (an account credit toward the cost of the rug and a day two inspection and cleaning of the downstairs), but they have not apologized that anything happened.

The restaurant

We went out to dinner with some friends recently at a restaurant whose latest Yelp review declared “needs friendlier waiters.” Our waiter gave us the wrong food and was put out when we asked for silverware. “We don’t have any clean right now, do you want plastic?” We didn’t know what to say. “That’s fine…we just need something to eat with.” We sat looking at our food for a few minutes before she came back angrily with plastic sets. “Sorry, but we just had a big rush so I can’t do anything.”

The pattern behind bad service

Are you picking up on the pattern yet?

I have plenty of other stories about the same types of mistakes. Food mix-ups happen, sometimes you run out of silverware, and yes, you do sometimes lose a house key.

But I barely remember those stories, because the mistakes were handled gracefully, and apologies were given. Oh, and the apologies were sincere.

Imagine getting into a fight with your significant other. You’re finally calming down, you are starting to see each other’s side, and your SO says:

“I’m sorry that you took what I said that way.”

Oh hellllll no! That’s not an apology, that’s putting it back on you.

And that’s what a lot of service providers are doing these days, especially online.

“I’m sorry that you took my Facebook ad about making 7 figures in my business to mean you could also make 7 figures in your business.” (because the ad says “Find out the exact steps to take to make 7 figures!”)

“I’m sorry that you thought your website copy would be done before Halloween.” (because the contract says the copy will be done by Halloween)

Let your apology be a true apology, and offer a solution. No “I’m sorry but…” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Take ownership of the problem, even if the client contributed to it. You can word it in a way that is still true to you, but is still all about making it right with your customer. If it’s no longer a good client fit, let them go!

These apologies and solutions get even harder to offer as we try to offer our services at scale.

Being of service as an entrepreneur

Service is hard to offer–or at least offer well–at scale. My husband and I kept reminding ourselves of this while on the cruise, because they were handling thousands of customers at once, presumably to the best of their ability.

This is part of the tech startup world’s problem as well. In their rush to bring in users, increase revenue, and satisfy investors, VC-backed entrepreneurs are myopic about getting to scale. Paul Graham wrote a great response to this that has taken off in the community, Do Things That Don’t Scale.

And while I am the queen of systems, automations, and other scalable business tactics, I’m on team “do things that don’t scale” for creative internet entrepreneurs as well.

I used B2C examples above because I don’t want to leave people guessing about which online service providers I’ve had problems with, but I’m sure you can relate when I say that the problem is rampant in the B2B online service world. Coaches not showing up, designs not being delivered, and people dropping off the face of the earth with your money.

Frankly? You should have the time for your customers.

You don’t have to bend over backwards, but the little things can really bring back that premium feeling to your business, preventing your clients from feeling like another cog in the wheel.

Here are things you can do to bring that personal touch back to your growing online business:

Respond to those audience emails yourself. Even people like Seth Godin make time each day to personally respond to fan emails. While my business is doing quite well, it’s not doing Seth Godin well, and I would rather outsource or automate things that don’t need my personal touch.

Have more 1-on-1 sales calls. Recently you may have also seen Russ Ruffino and a few other alleged internet millionaires outlining their very simple sales pipeline: Facebook ads to an automated webinar that offers a sales call at the end. Russ claims he did the first 100 or so calls by himself before hiring a sales team.

Be present in your group programs. Or membership sites or Facebook groups for an evergreen product or whatever it is. Bringing on guest experts or having trained coaches to help is smart and awesome, but people are still buying your brain and your perspective. That doesn’t mean 24/7 availability, but it means you should do something.

Stay on top of your team. Stop sending your VAs or designers or other contractors out into your business without following up or providing updated and ongoing guidance on your operating procedures. You’re still in control of the ship, and ultimately it’s your name (and business) on the line.

Apologize. I have a friend who worked at a tech startup who described her job as “apologizing for things to customers all day.” Does that mean allowing yourself to be walked all over? No, relax. But you are providing a service that someone has decided to hire you for, and you should provide the same level of support that you would expect from others. Sometimes, that means apologizing for a miscommunication or a straight-up mistake. Own it, deal with it, and move on.


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