Does Your Service Suck? Do Business with Yourself and Find Out

Last Updated Aug 11, 2010 7:53 PM EDT

How many of you put your own business through its paces, either as an actual customer or a spy? I'll bet not many, and for those who do, probably not often enough. It may seem like obvious, old-school stuff, but there's no better way to see how you really look to the world -- and to test the quality of your service and your people -- than to "do business with yourself." If you never look in from the outside, it's like being in a room with no mirrors: Your fly might be down, and everyone knows it but you.

There are many ways to test your own company. I urge you to do at least a few of the things below at least a few times a year. For these self-examinations to be effective, it is critical that you approach them without defensiveness, pride, ego, or company-think. Just be Joe Outsider, be honest with yourself (the odds provided below are based on brutal honesty), and be prepared to say, "Boy, we really stink at that."
  • Give yourself a call: Most automated customer service systems drive customers crazy. Typically the level of insanity is directly proportionate to company size, but even small companies have been known to serve up some telephonic hell. So ring yourself up and try to accomplish a few phone service goals. And above all, test how easy or difficult it is to get to a real person quickly.
    Odds you'll be OK with it, 59.5%. Odds you'll be thrilled, 19.4%
  • Pay yourself a visit: If your business involves walk-ins, well, walk in. Of course, in a small business where everyone knows everyone, this is a silly idea... unless you are really good with disguises. But if your company is larger or has multiple locations, and you can get away with it, do the age-old "secret shopper" test (or have a trusted friend or relative do it). See what it's like to be a visitor on your planet.
    Odds you'll be OK with it, 71.7%. Odds you'll be thrilled, 30.9%
  • Surf your site: If you have a website and you don't use it yourself, you are missing (or avoiding) one of the simplest and most important self-tests for any business. You must make the time, on an ongoing basis, to surf and test every nook, cranny, function, and feature of your site. I guarantee you will find things that need fixing.
    Odds you'll be OK with it, 79.1%. Odds you'll be thrilled, 20.8%
  • Buy yourself something: Whether by phone, online, in person, or even by mail (yes, there are people who still do that), complete a transaction with your company. Browse, get assistance, buy, and even return/exchange. Again, if you might be recognized, use a trusted shill. But one way or another, you absolutely must test the customer experience from start to finish.
    Odds you'll be OK with it, 72.1%. Odds you'll be thrilled, 26.9%
  • Sell yourself something: This is for advanced players. Most companies give "cold-callers" the runaround, and many treat them like dirt. Sometimes it's hard not to, when for every reasonable call there are many more unwelcome and often annoying solicitations. But people who sell you things are part of your business. And if your goal is to run a business with class, this is a challenging but necessary element of it... perhaps the ultimate test. Can you accommodate legit inquiries, while dispensing with pests efficiently yet as politely as possible?
    Odds you'll be OK with it, 38.8%. Odds you'll be thrilled, 9.6%
There are other tests as well: See what people are saying in online forums and social media, read your literature and your press, talk to customers, employees and suppliers. Create a detailed checklist of the things you want to test (phone courtesy, hold time, ease of online checkout, delivery, etc.) and grade yourself honestly.

One of my favorites: The "google suck-test." Go to a search engine and enter "[your company name] sucks." Hopefully nothing will pop up about your business. Plug in just about any major company or brand name and you're almost guaranteed to see plenty. Take it as a cautionary tale. I do it from time to time and am proud to say Skooba Design has gone its entire ten years without sucking. It's the only time I don't want search engine hits.

One way or another, find a way to see your company from as many outside perspectives as possible.

Do you test your own business? If not, stop reading this and start doing business with yourself. But if you do kick your own tires, I'd love to hear how you do it and what you've learned.
  • Michael Hess On Facebook»

    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.

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