Leap of faith Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Mike Faith describes himself as “an obsessive-compulsive kind of person.” So when he says he’s passionate about customer service, you’d better believe it.

Faith started San Francisco-based Headsets.com in 1998 with $40,000. By 2005, the 60-employee company had $31 million in revenue.

Headsets.com’s service philosophy is “Customer Love,” and Faith says it takes a CEO’s commitment to successfully implement a customer service policy. “If you don’t really believe in it yourself, it’s not going to happen,” says Faith, the company’s founder, president and CEO. Smart Business spoke with Faith about how customer service became his No. 1 priority.

How did you become a self-proclaimed customer service fanatic?
I used to run other businesses with call centers, and one of the most frustrating things I found was I couldn’t buy good headsets at fair prices with good service. I saw a huge opportunity to deliver all three as a package.

Customer service is about service. It’s about serving. It’s about acquiescing yourself to the other party. It’s always been something I believed in, but it really started to manifest itself with the headset business.

In the early days, I kind of let customer service slip and paid the price. The customers I’d spent so much money cultivating weren’t coming back, and they weren’t providing a good return on my investment. I took a long, hard look at the company and myself and appraised where I was delivering on the three principles that started the business.

I found I was competing in a race for the bottom of the price pack, which was reflected in the products I was delivering and the levels of service that came along with them. I realized I was making the same mistakes as the vendors who used to supply me, so I just stopped it.

I improved the products, the service and how we did everything, and maintained fair and reasonable prices, not bargain basement, cutthroat deals. I really turned up the service thermostat all the way. If I get into something, I tend to do it in extremes, and as we did it, I really pushed as far as I could.

How did you establish these changes?
First came the realization that the customer’s not always right. I don’t buy that one, but I do buy that the customer always deserves our respect. We can’t function without loyal customers, and they need to be treated just like that.

I simply don’t allow or condone any disrespect to a customer any time, on or off the phone. If a customer service rep rolls his or her eyes after taking a 50-minute phone call from a customer and it doesn’t end in a sale, the CSR would be disciplined or maybe even terminated for rolling their eyes.

When you do that, people get it, that ‘Wow, this really counts around here.’ It’s not negotiable. If you can’t act respectfully toward all our customers all the time, you don’t work at Headsets.com.

Secondly, I know it’s an overused phrase, but we overdeliver on every standard we set. We say we’ll respond to an e-mail in two hours; we currently have a standard of one hour. We promise three-day delivery, and we actually send everything two-day delivery. It’s a pattern that’s repeated over and over in our business: Promise high, and then overdeliver.

We make some very overt promises to our customers called our ‘Seven Promises’; we live by them on every transaction every day. They go on every mail piece and on the Web site.

One of the promises is management accountability. We make available the phone number and e-mail address of the customer service manager, the shipping manager and myself.

With 220,000 customers, if you start messing up, then those three numbers get a lot of noise pretty quickly. We don’t hide behind three layers of escalated system.

If there’s something wrong — or something right — we want to know about it. If a problem is going on somewhere, it won’t take weeks to get to me; I’ll actually hear about it first.

How do you get employee buy-in to your ‘Customer Love’ philosophy?
Customer love means loving your customers, believing they’re everything to you and showing that in every aspect of what you do. When we interview customer service reps, if they’re not comfortable with the phrase ‘customer love,’ then we don’t select them to work for us.

There’s a dictionary definition of love which fits quite well: ‘A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude.’ If you can’t think that about your customers, then you don’t deserve to have them.

HOW TO REACH: Headsets.com, (800) 432-3738 or www.headsets.com