Customer Experience, Customer Success

It’s easy to think you know your customer

photo by
photo by

It starts with the purchase

When you get that endorphin rush from seeing a sale you may think you’ve won a customer. If everything’s gone right, you’re absolutely on the way to a relationship that might last years and will produce great things. More frequently the purchase is just the beginning of the process of moving from trial to loyal (and avid) customer.

Think of this example – if you had a lemonade stand and someone showed up once to purchase a refreshing drink, would you think of them as a regular customer or someone who showed up needing lemonade that day? Their needs for a cool drink could be related to the outside temperature, hydration after a long walk, or a need to try the most talked-about lemonade on the block. But the first day they show up at your lemonade stand, a buyer is not a customer.

Now think forward, and imagine that for several hot weekends in a row you’ve seen the same person. You know a bit about the time they show up, how many cups of lemonade they buy, and perhaps have made chit-chat and talked about something more than the weather. You could definitely call this person a customer, but not yet a loyal buyer. You don’t know when the lemonade stand around the corner will come calling.

When the same customer shows up on a rainy day, asks you why you haven’t opened the lemonade stand, and presents you with a few ideas for other things you could sell (“psst – Brownies go extraordinarily well with a cold glass of lemonade”), you’re well on your way to earning a Customer For Life.

It continues with dedicated service

Why did your customer come back? Undoubtedly you’re not the only lemonade stand in the neighborhood. And you might not even be the cheapest. But people are creatures of habit and want to know where they are going to make a purchase with someone who cares about them and what they think.

Learning more about your customer and the key drivers of their business is the single best thing you can do to build success. Not “success” in the traditional sense where you measure the sheer dollar amount of the contracts you bring in and the quotas you make. I’m talking about success as defined by the raw ability to understand why your customer is hiring your company and to translate that into the products and services you deliver for them.

Success might mean not selling to a customer today until their business has matured to the point where they really take advantage of your solution. Success might mean highlighting the single feature in your product that – no matter how they use it – will improve their business so that they talk to other people about you. Success might mean calling a customer up just because and saying “hello, I’m calling because I wanted to know more about how you’re doing and how I can help.”

Success Grows with Your Understanding of The Customer

It’s easy to think you know your customer. They bought something from you, after all. Isn’t that enough? But remember that their business is changing and developing at the same time yours does too.  The solution that worked for them months or years ago might not work as well for them now for the needs they have today. Or perhaps, the reason they bought your product hasn’t changed a bit.

The point is that their business – like yours – is not static. You need to keep on asking the customer what they think, why they continue buying, and what they need to really succeed. The capital S in Success stands for Solves Their Problem. Which problem did they hire you to solve?

Which Job do they want done? Learn more about that and then next time a customer asks you for your answer, you’ll be able to speak simply in the words of a customer just like them.

Customer Experience, Customer Service, Customer Strategy

How do you define Customer Service?

Photo by Reynermedia -
Photo by Reynermedia –

What is Customer Service? It doesn’t look like this any more.

I often get asked whether I’m in Customer Service, even though my company uses the term “Customer Success” to define our interactions with customers. Customer Success is Not Customer Service, though it often has responsibility for Customer Service. Think of Customer Success as active and customer service as reactive; or think of customer service as a small piece of what goes on in the customer’s experience.

photo by

Visualizing the customer’s journey may help: from the point that customer starts thinking they have a problem they might need to solve to the end point of on boarding as a customer, the customer is on a journey to investigate, educate, evaluate, and then decide on a solution that meets their needs.

So what is Customer Service, really? If you think of the raw definition of service you’ll probably think of words like “Help”, “Support”, “FAQs”, and “Answers”. You might have – depending upon how old you are – a mental picture of the ways in which you might get support, ranging from an in-person kiosk to a toll-free phone number to an email or web form queue to an instant response that you get from an SMS query. But key to all of these metaphors or methods for getting support is the idea that you have a finite need that can be served by a person or by a system (if you prefer self-service, which many do) and that at the end of that process you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether you received good service or not.

Except the very idea of how to define excellent small-c customer small-s service is difficult to nail down. Is it the nature of being precise – the ability to zero in on the question you were trying to solve and to make sure you know how to ask the right question? Is the key attribute of service promptness – getting you the information you need as fast as possible and making every interaction as fast as possible? Is a key attribute of service accuracy – ensuring that you get the right answer to the question you asked? Is politeness the most important thing your service should strive to deliver? Or is it there a holistic overall description that combines these attributes so that you “know great service when you see it?”

Clearly we all have our definitions for when we have a great customer service experience — whether as a one time event or as a characteristic of a brand like Apple or Disney or American Express — and living up to that definition withconsistency and lacking in variability even when multiple team members are involved might be the clearest hallmark of great customer service. Clear policy and understandable procedure are at the core of any service team that really knows what they are doing, along with the ability to bypass the system for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? It kind of depends on the customer and the moment.

photo by

I believe that great Customer Service (now thinking of a broader definition) is a system of ensuring a great customer experience so that any service interactions are accurate, consistent, empathetic, precise, and friendly.
In this context:

  • Accurate means the organization understands what question or questions you are asking;
  • Consistent means you get a like experience even if you ask the question to different people or through different means of contact;
  • Empathetic means the organization and the people interacting with you effectively mirror your feelings and understand or communicate how you feel in a potentially difficult situation;
  • Precise means that you get an answer that is actionable and confined to the problem you asked, unless the problem you asked requires a broader, wider answer;
  • Friendly means that when asked, you would likely recommend this organization to friends or family members who needed this service.

Note that there are some things missing in this definition. I don’t believe customer service needs to be always available – there are some businesses for which you would make a distinction and say yes, the business absolutely needs to be available (financial services and telecommunications and utilities in general), but for the most part the key item you need to communicate is when a real human is available, how to reach that human, and what other ways you might have to solve your problem during the hours no human is available.

Customer Service is the art of delivering a consistent experience to your customer so that when they ask for help that they feel you have done the best job possible in anticipating their question, understanding how to solve it, responding in a friendly and correct way with the information you need, and generally building an environment where they feel comfortable asking you the questions they need to get answered. And when things don’t go right or feel adversarial, the best Customer Service departments and companies will Do The Right Thing and act with the customer’s best interest in mind.

Except when they can’t. Because sometimes customers do not want to listen, read the policy, or admit that the deal they agreed to is different than the deal that they want right now. And in that moment Customer Service becomes a “just-the-facts-Ma’am” dialog (in the parlance of the 1950s crime drama Dragnet) where the most important aspect of serving the customer becomes sharing the facts, educating the customer on the policy, and managing to do the right thing by being empathetic to the human on the other end of the communication.

You won’t always get it right. In fact, there are some situations where you can’t get Customer Service right. But you can get it right most of the time for most of the people. And the very best organizations do an amazing job at this while helping the customer and the company to do the right thing.

Customer Strategy, Customer Success

How to Build a Great Customer Success Team

image courtesy of Gainsight
image courtesy of Gainsight

When you are building a great business (particularly a Saas business), you need to devote extra time to taking care of your customers so that they not only are satisfied at the sale, but also on an ongoing basis. A customer may join you because of clever marketing, a consultative selling process, excellent product, or empathetic service – or a combination of all of these factors. They may also want to leave for many reasons that are (at least temporarily) out of your control. Keeping the customer, understanding their needs, and communicating those ideas to the product and engineering team is the job of the Customer Success team.

So what is Customer Success, really? I believe Customer Success is a hybrid of traditional ideas for support, account management, customer on-boarding, and sales. The best Success teams work hand-in-hand with dedicated Sales, Support, and Marketing teams to guide the customer from initial awareness through consideration to trial, buying decision, on-boarding and implementation, and ongoing success.

Why call it “Customer Success” instead of Account Management, Support, or Customer Service?

These department names and functions are well-known and often misunderstood. Customer Success implies the support and service offered by traditional Customer Service teams and the speed and flexibility of Account Management and Sales. “Success” in this model does not mean that the Customer is successful all of the time – it means that we are successful in finding an amicable (and hopefully awesome) solution whenever someone needs help. It’s not just the transactional “help” of “how do I find this feature that I’m looking for” but also the consultative relationship you forge with a great salesperson and account rep who can always seem to get you what you need.

How do you build a great Customer Success Team?

It starts with a lead who has done this sort of work before. It’s often possible for a Sales Leader to move into this role if she’s had past experience supporting clients, or a Customer Service Leader to add account management to his skill set. But the best head of a Success Team is someone who has been on the front lines bridging the gap between sales and service for a while, in a variety of industries, for a variety of account sizes.

The team that Customer Success Leader builds should have Account Management and Customer Service functions – that doesn’t always mean that the person will need dedicated teams for those functions. Jason Lemkin suggests that “most SaaS companies use a rough metric of 1 Client Success Manager for every $2m in ARR.” For a smaller average deal size you might need a few more people to keep things going and it’s a good metric to use to measure team performance.

What team do you need?

Think about Lemkin’s model of client success and consider using it to plan a “Team effort” for each $1m in ARR. For your first $1m in ARR, you will probably need only two people: one who focuses on Customer Service and content for new customers, and one person who manages the on boarding and engagement of new and existing customers. As your customer base grows, use the metric of about 50-100 interactions/daily for Customer Service and 100-500 Accounts for account management to size your team.

Equip your team with tools

You’re going to need a combination of management and nurturing tools to deliver service and account management. As your service volume goes up, you’ll want either a lower-end tool like Zendesk or or a higher-end solution like Salesforce to manage your service interactions. For automatic and real-time engagement, I love Intercom – it’s a great hybrid of programmatic marketing tools and the quick touch transactional tools found in service desks.

Your goal should be “no customer left behind”

When thinking about how you manage that Customer Success team and make them a great team, consider how it feels when you get great service and know exactly who to call: it feels great. Whatever approach you use to engage customers and whatever policies you have to govern your customer interactions, the customer should be at the core of that experience. If you need to measure results (and you do), keep your eye on Net Churn. The results of keeping more people even while the top line customer growth increases really helps the team accelerate.

What results should you expect? Great customer teams are accretive to a great sales and marketing team. By keeping more customers and by helping the sales team with the critical task of expansion revenue and retention, great Customer Success teams deliver results.

Customer Experience

Infinite scroll must go

A great design for endless browsing

There’s a signature design that I am sure you’ve seen more than once today. It’s a river of information; it’s endless serotonin; it’s sort of pleasing to the eye; and then it never ends.

“Infinite scroll” as a user experience style expects that you will be spending hours in the app or web site. More importantly even if you have (almost) endless time, the UX doesn’t give you many visual clues to know “you’re done … you can start a different mode of browsing now … perhaps even blink a few times.”  

It feels awesome the first time you use Infinite Scroll. And then you start wondering: when will the page ever end? Am I missing something important at the bottom of the page? What was I doing when I started browsing? 

What might work better?

There’s another pattern you should consider using, popularized originally by Twitter. Pull-to-Refresh prompts you to “pull” the screen down to trigger a data refresh and limits the amount of information returned in any one action. “Pull-to-refresh” is a much better design pattern than infinite scroll because it does many of the same things that Infinite Scroll does well:

  • Shows you a lot of content in each “page” of views
  • Gives you access to rich cards of data 
  • Is almost-instant given a good network connection

And Pull-to-refresh as a UI pattern does a few things better, particularly:

  1. It fails gracefully with low network: it shows you that it is trying to pull your request with a visible spinner at the top of the user interface
  2. It lets you rest: no more FOMO (fear of missing out) when you’re not sure that you’ve reached the bottom of the available page
  3. Friendlier to new customers: older consumers in particular may find the concept of an unending river of information disorienting

So what? An interface is an interface.

Design is integral to the choices we make every day. The more work we do to limit cognitive load and decision making, the easier it will be to use information-rich panels in more areas of our lives.

If you disagree, go read this post on choice closure to understand the psychological importance of finishing a unit of work. Done > Perfect, even when it comes to scrolling a page.

Customer Development, Customer Strategy, Life Hacks, Marketing Strategy, Startup

How to Make Your Own Explainer Videos (for under $149)

Creating an Effective Explainer Video

A prospective customer may have only 30 to 60 seconds to understand your Unique Selling Proposition. When you’re not right there with the customer, one of the best ways to share the benefit of your product is a brief and effective “Explainer Video”. You’ve seen them – they are the 2-4 minute video clips that accompany almost any product these days. Depending upon your budget, the time available, and your level of effort, it’s easy to spend lots of money building an explainer video and not end up with much in return. The goal is to create a “good-enough” explainer video for a minimum amount of money that won’t embarrass you or your company and will give you a good template for future action.

Creating an effective piece of content requires some time and effort, but it’s not that hard to start. I created an explainer video for creating explainer videos (how meta) to demonstrate the process and have eight tips to get you ready for “lights, camera, ACTION!”

Tip 1: Write a Script.

It’s easy to come up with words on the fly, and they sound even better when you took a few minutes to write them down. To get the right level of detail, think of your script either as talking points or as a word-for-word reading that you can record and re-record until you get it right. The basics that you’ll want to follow are as follows:

  • What will happen in the videowhat’s the big idea that you’re trying to convey? Usually this is a bite-sized concept that someone can understand in two to five minutes.
  • What you will say – what idea are you trying to convey right now? Demonstrating a portion of the screen or an easy-to-use idea makes more sense if you don’t just read your script or your slide.
  • What you will demonstrateshow, don’t tell to get the maximum impact.You may need to show something more than once to get the viewer’s attention and to communicate what you mean. As a teacher friend of mine says, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, and then Tell them what you told them.” It’s a good model for planning your teaching approach.

Practice each of these until you have a relatively smooth delivery. Some explainer sections may come together in a single take, while others require a bit of editing to get right.

Tip 2: Create a Motion Graphic Intro or Exit.

Video walkthroughs always look more professional when they have a snappy introduction and exit. Perhaps this is because we are all conditioned on 15- and 30-second commercials, and it remains that the intro is a worthwhile investment of your time. You can use iMovie or ScreenFlow (as I did in the overview above) or you can use a service like GetMoovd to build a 5-10 second introduction. The key here is to end up with something that looks and sounds professional – that look and feel lends credibility.

Note: if you’re not good at this part, this is an excellent item to outsource. Whether you use oDesk, 99Designs, or some other source, getting a freelancer to create an intro clip is much cheaper than hiring a designer to build the entire explainer video for you.

Tip 3: Buy a Decent Microphone.

bluesnowballThe first thing that many people recognize about a video (paradoxically, it seems) is how it sounds. The better a piece sounds, the higher the quality bar to the listener. You may not be a professional sound engineer, and there are a few things to do and make an immediate impact on the results.

First, use a real microphone, not just your iPhone earbuds. I recommend the Blue Snowball – it’s a USB mic and works well to eliminate a lot of the typical background noise you might here (clicks, etc). I also found that investing in a $5 microphone shield made it easier for me to avoid some of the vocal “pops” I’ve heard before when I try to record.

The Snowball has a standard microphone mount so it will also fit on a stand if you’d like to go “professional”. If you don’t want to spend $50 on a microphone, you can probably get away with a $25 headset that has a noise canceling boom microphone.

The Blue Snowball is a great choice for getting started however, and also makes you feel just a little bit like a newscaster or a Rock Star while you’re laying down your lines.



Tip 4: Spend $99 on Screen Capture Software

screenflowImageOnce your audio sounds good, you’ll also need to make some improvements on the video side. Creating videos with solid, consistent transitions and unobtrusive titles is also a great investment toward the goal of winning customer trust and time.

ScreenFlow is the best screen recorder you will find for the Mac. I’ve used Camtasia, Premiere, iMovie, and Flash. This one makes it really easy to record the screen (even allowing you to record the ScreenFlow software itself or record output on an iPad or iPhone.

Adding transitions, editing sound, and fitting things together is really easy. When you’re ready to publish, ScreenFlow also connects directly to popular video hosting sites like YouTube or Wistia. In short, this is money well spent and the investment (a small one, really) is worth your time and money.


Tip 5: Take the time to Smooth the Vocals


Now that you’ve invested in a microphone and the screen recording software, make sure you invest a little time in making the audio sound better as well. You can use software like Audacity or GarageBand if you want to do some serious processing, and I’d recommend just using the tools in ScreenFlow. Simply lower the background audio, smooth the volume levels, add a small amount of vocal effect, and remove background hiss and the vocals will sound much better.

A note of caution – it sounds like a great idea to filter the vocals with a fancy filter. It never comes out sounding like you want, so just a touch of filter is probably a better idea.

Your goal is to bring the vocals out of the background and make sure that they sound consistent – not to have the listener be surprised by an overloaded vocal.


Tip 6: Add Callouts to your Video

Professional explainer videos help you to know where to look in each segment of the video. This might take the form of a low-key “lower-third” caption on the screen, an animated callout to accompany a multi-step procedure, or other styles of getting the customer’s attention.


Good callouts are:

  1. Not necessarily a repetition of an audio track
  2. Limited in the number of words – they are not a book – and help to bridge gaps in audio or video
  3. Linked to the “Big Idea”

Bad callouts have these characteristics:

  1. Take too long to read
  2. Distract the viewer
  3. Leave more questions than answers

Building callouts is easier said than done. One good method of determining whether you have the right level of instruction is to show the video to testers when it’s partway finished and ask them for feedback. If they ask for callouts, it’s a good sign that the script needs to be refined or that callouts are needed.

Tip 7: Create Standard Transitions

In addition to callouts, you’ll need standard transitions between sections to help the viewer know what’s happening next. These provide a visual and mental break for the viewer. You might think of using a “Lower Third” technique, e.g.


A simple treatment catches your eye. Use Bold to set off parts of your text or italic to emphasize a point. And try not to do too much. Transitions should show up gracefully, add meaningful value, and then disappear. If they become the focal point, you said too much with the graphic.

Tip 8: Add some background music

Last and certainly not least, the tone of the background music sets the mood for the video. Consider adding a backing track to your video at a very low volume level, in addition to whatever main music you will be adding. Whether you create a simple loop that adds a sound texture or do something more elaborate, building sound layers will make your explainer video sound more professional and interesting.

While these tips give you the fundamentals for creating a great explainer video, they are hardly the last tips out there. If you’d like to read more about the topic, check out The Greatest Explainer Videos or read the book The Art of Explanation.

Want to do this yourself?

Find these resources at – a Dropbox link to the raw files I used to create this video – the script you can use to create your own Explainer Video.
Customer Development, Customer Strategy, Customer Success

Your customer wants to be entertained

Meghan Trainor at the Neptune Theater, Feb 14, 2015, Seattle, WA
Meghan Trainor at the Neptune Theater, Feb 14, 2015, Seattle, WA

We are all very busy. When someone asks for our attention, we want a show. Not just a “dog and pony” show, but a real experience with a tight structure, strong production values, and a Big Finish that we can record for posterity. Pop Stars have it down – they know that a customer’s experience with a single song has to translate into a customer experience that reinforces the brand. The key insight is that we don’t want to have our time wasted and we want the time we invest in an experience or a product to have value that extends beyond that experience itself.

What’s the first experience customers have with your product?

Think about the encounter with your product as a show. At Disney Parks, management refers to the customers as guests and the employees as on stage talent to help everyone know that the experience is a magical (and also fragile) construct where the guests want to be entertained and the employees do their part to make sure everything seems right. This is the exchange customers make for their time: show me something of value and I will commit my time, energy, and effort into seeking and finding that value.

The first time a customer uses your product, they need an easy task that demonstrates immediate value so that they will want to come back. A common way to accomplish this is to use the customer’s own information (connect your Twitter handle, enter the name of your web domain, or even the most basic tell me the preferred name you wish to be called) because it’s more likely you will get that information right. Get the first customer interaction right, and the customer will come back. Give them garbage, and you lost the chance to be considered in the future.

How do you set the stage?

In a rock show, there are roadies and advance personnel that ensure that the stage is set “just so” and that the experience in-theater (or stadium or venue) is similar to the way the talent practiced. There are rituals (the opening act, the lights, the backing music) that help prime the audience for an experience. And there are built-in mechanisms for checking audience participation (the welcome “HELLO CLEVELAND” to indicate a special experience in your town, the encore for making sure that you know the singer appreciates you). All of these actions set the stage for a great customer experience.

Setting the stage for a product involves setting the stage, suggesting a clear and immediate benefit, and then showing the way with the minimum of gates to take customer through the sign-up funnel.

The best sign up pages have a Sell (“try my product”), a Benefit (“When you try my product you’ll get this immediate benefit”) and an Action (“Get the benefit by signing up Now”). Here’s an example of a few pages from the Pinterest mobile UI that do this well.

example onboarding, courtesy of
example onboarding, courtesy of

Not everyone has as clear of a benefit as offering beautiful pictures in a free product (and therefore has quite a low barrier to entry) but the principles for any business should be crystal clear. Show (don’t tell) the customer the benefit; Demonstrate the easy steps to get started; and Ask the customer to participate.

Add an Easy Button if You Don’t Have One


photo by
An Easy Button.

Customers – as we’ve said before – are really busy. That means your product needs to be dead simple to start, even if the insights you deliver and the value you aspire to is less than dead simple. Start by listing the reasons the customer should try your product today, and keep them simple. One, two, or three benefits are probably as many as people can handle in one go (model your pitching on the idea of short-term memory – we can hold only 5-7 items in that memory and a few of them are probably already busy right now).

What’s next?

Make the first win easy, and then start sharing all of the insight and benefit your product gives in an easy to use format. For many people this is still email. Email wins because it is asynchronous, can be opened in many clients, and is reasonably easy to produce. Email loses because people have too much of it and they just don’t like to read.

Remember, customers are busy. Their time matters. Provide more value in less time and create a great experience that inspires them to share and they’ll come back to see more.

Customer Experience, Customer Service

Noreply@ Emails Are Dumb

photo by
photo by

Imagine if you had a store and on the front door you placed a sign stating, “We’re not open for business.” You wouldn’t expect many people to come to your door, much less people to come back and see you again. Yet that’s exactly what your company does when you place a “noreply@” email address in an email that you send to customers. You’re missing an opportunity to communicate with people who could tell you valuable things about your business.

“” tells me that you don’t really care about customers. That email address tells me that you don’t read your email. And it tells me that replies to that email are going into silent oblivion. Yes, you say – it’s hard to answer all of those pesky emails – I agree. It’s a lot of potential responses. But most people never think to let you know what they are feeling when you put up a virtual Do Not Enter sign.

Here’s another thought. Why not start by having a “PleaseTalkToUs@” email alias tied to your emails that you send? Or “WeLoveToHearFromYou@” or “YourThoughtsMatter@”? It’s just an alias – you can keep the “noreply@” hidden somewhere if there is someone grumpy at your company who just doesn’t want to read email.

But consider the value of having the first time someone hears from your company be a personal touch, like “love@” or “WeLoveCustomers@” and see how the emails change from “Get Me Off Of This List” to “I’d love to tell you something important about your product, and I just need someone to listen.” It all starts with being mindful about the face you show to customers. Start with a smile and see what happens.