Christian Nelleman, founder of XLN Telecom

Founded in 2002 to offer an alternative telecoms service for small businesses, XLN Telecom’s growth has been phenomenal, advancing 800 per cent in the first year and continuing in the same vein. Smallbusiness.co.uk asked serial entrepreneur Christian Nelleman, founder and chief executive of XLN Telecom, to share his experience and top tips.

‘At the start, everything moved very fast and we had to set up the infrastructure that would allow us to grow. There was finance, billing, online development, marketing, lots of things to consider, but most important of all was trying to figure out how to get customers in the first place,’ says Nelleman.

Testing times

He advises ‘rigorously testing your product or service before formally launching.’ This can help to hook customers from the start and will avoid any major hiccups that could irrevocably harm your business. If your product or service isn’t ready, it simply won’t stand up to an increasingly demanding public.

Moreover, says Nelleman, ‘you need to ensure that your billing system properly works before launching any new service.’ If you don’t have the systems in place to cope with payment, you may find it difficult to cope initially, especially if you are lucky enough to experience high demand.

You need to think carefully about how you want your payment facilities to work. Do you want to give customer service people the latitude to immediately refund customers over the phone when an obvious error has occurred? This kind of forward thinking could save you from losing customers early on, when things are at their most hectic.

Keep a close eye
‘I’m not a big fan of outsourcing because it can be costly, but at the beginning we had no choice but to outsource a lot of back-end processes, mainly non-customer-facing parts of the business,’ he says.

‘Offshore outsourcing can also be particularly risky. These people are the face of your company, your representatives, yet they are far removed. If you use a call centre in India, for example, callers can easily identify that the calls are outsourced – there might be reduced line quality or misunderstanding due to limited English – and this creates a perception of a service that just isn’t as good. So, it’s worth investing in good customer service people, as well as the systems to help them do their job.’

Nelleman adds that ‘there are benefits to outsourcing, of course. Rather than having a lot of idle personnel sitting twiddling their thumbs for part of the day, you can make a provision for peak-call periods. But keep a tight control on the selling tactics of your sales people or if you outsource, that of third-party sales people acting on your company’s behalf.’

Making changes
Once you are up and running, you are bound to make a few changes here and there – nobody gets it right first time. ‘XLN is a small company with strong management,’ says Nelleman, ‘but we still have to fine-tune it every day.’

He advises that you ‘carefully plan any product or system upgrade and, where necessary, keep your clients properly informed.’ Surprises or sudden changes to your service may be unwelcome and, even though they may be designed to do the opposite, could lose you custom in the short term.

Appreciate your customers
Lastly, Nelleman advises that you always ‘remember your customers are human, not just sales units, so treat them as humans.’ Closely monitoring all customer complaints – not just the serious ones – will show that you appreciate this fact, help you to monitor your customer service and make it more likely that you will retain customers and generate repeat business.

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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