Customer Success, Marketing Strategy

Why should an Influencer Care About Your Brand?

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How do you define influence? Simply put, it’s the ability to ask for something from others and have them follow through on your behalf. Following through could mean completing a specific action – like “share this article” or “buy this product” or “try my product” or something more subtle, like “recommend this to your friends”. Or it could mean something a bit more complex, like “make sure that people whom you know will think of our [brand] or [idea] when they consider others in the same type of product or brand”.

Influence is not just the ability to ask – we do that all the time – but also the forecast that you will be able to count on people to take action on your behalf. It is a tremendous force that needs to be used judiciously (as Stan Lee said, with great power comes great responsibility), and it can disappear quickly with the wrong ask.

What are influencers?

Influencers are individuals who persuade people to take action (including purchase decisions) through their authority, facts, charisma, or relationship.

Influencers have the power to get others to do what you ask just because you ask. –@meshfire

If you don’t know what this feels like, try advocating for a brand or a service or an organization that you respect and use. Try pitching their goods or services to a friend, and see what the reaction is like. You might find that you do this every day, or it might be unfamiliar. Sharing a recommendation is a powerful way to help others. When that recommendation is a good one, it’s wonderful positive feedback. When that recommendation is not acted upon or when the person says, “not for me” it’s also great feedback that you need to refine your pitch or pick the person more carefully.

Influencers may also be brand advocates (highly satisfied customers) and are more credible to consumers when they are knowledgeable consumers and wield influence.

People engage in these activities because they feel intrinsic motivation (satisfaction from just the action of helping someone out) or extrinsic motivation (sharing content that is popular can make you more popular, or a trusted resource, or a linchpin for a process). Finding the key that makes people respond due to intrinsic motivation leads to a stronger bond.

What are some of the reasons someone might be an influencer?

Influencers engage typically because they share an affinity group (perhaps an alumni group from a university); a place (geography); an activity (athletic or otherwise); or an interest (may overlap with activity or be distinct – a combination of one of the other types).

Influencers share information to help their communities; to gain influence themselves; and to be a source of knowledge and information.

What can you do to help them understand what you do?

Start by putting yourself in their shoes. WIFM (What’s In It For Me) is a good acronym that helps you think about why they would want to take action on your behalf:

What are you asking them to do? Do they know how to do it, is the goal attainable, and will they want to do it?

When do you need them to do it? Have you given the person enough time to consider what you’re asking them to do and have you made it very easy for them to comply? Have you asked them to do anything else recently?

Why should they do it? Does your action present an obligation for them and are they putting their reputation on the line by completing your task, or are you simply asking them to share information?

Then, THANK them for taking action on your behalf – and do it in a way that matches the communications you’ve had before. Not everyone likes being thanked publicly. You might send an email, a card, or pick up the phone. You might send a tweet. And you might say hello in person and buy that person a cup of coffee. The point is to display gratitude – to let that person know that their action mattered – and to help them stay motivated to help you in the future.

Customer Strategy

How do community managers build community?

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courtesy of

Talking to customers. Understanding their needs. Brokering disputes. Learning what’s best for the community as stated by the members of the community. And communicating that to others. These are some of the things that the best community managers do (online and offline) to build a great community. But what do they do, really? Community is a messy thing and not well understood – primarily because participants in a community perceive that community differently based on their life experience and their goals for participating in community.

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Customer Service, Marketing Strategy

Small Companies Care More About Customers


Quick, name the last time you dealt with a big company and had a great experience.

For most of us, it’s hard to think of a time when that happened.

Now, think of a neighborhood business or a shop or a small business and remember the last time you had a really great experience. That’s not hard at all – it’s something that they do every day.

Small companies care about customers because they have to care. Any one customer interaction can make the difference between finding a lifetime advocate and disappointing someone who tried out your product or service and found it wanting.

One of the biggest challenges for any big company is to seem more human. The other day when I went into the AT&T store on 4th avenue in Seattle, I was ready to have an awful experience. And I was pleasantly surprised. Both Caleb and Martin were patient, pleasant, competent, did more than asked, and solved a set of complex problems in under an hour.

Why doesn’t this usually happen?

  • It’s difficult to script – many of the non-standard issues that happen in customer service are edge cases – and you must rely on the best judgement of your people
  • You can’t teach empathy easily – companies focus on tools and processes which are necessary and not always sufficient for a good customer outcome
  • My interaction happened in person – some interactions are more high bandwidth than others (think text message vs in-store experience)

What should big companies do to solve this problem?

Kaizen, or “good change”, is a great tool to find the next biggest problem you can solve. Used in a business sense, Kaizen is a philosophy of improvement that enables change in very small increments.

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. – Dale Carnegie

Enabling line workers to contribute changes with Kaizen helps the individual customer and the larger group of all customers.

What should small companies do to avoid becoming complacent?

Whenever you hear a complaint from a customer or identify a win, add it to a list where you can better count how often it happens. The most recent customer complaint may be a brilliant example of a long-standing problem, or it may be a single customer’s opinion.

Customer Service

The customer is mostly right

Understanding what it takes to provide great service starts with the famous adage about customers: that they are always right. The next step is to acknowledge that the adage must not always be true when you learn about the customer’s story. Yes, the customer deserves to be upset when they bad things happen, and customers often feel that situations did not unfold in the way that they wanted.

But what does it mean to know whether the customer is actually right? And does it matter? I believe that one of the tenets of providing great service is to presume the customer is the most valuable actor in the customer relationship. Then, when you work back from what actually happens when things go wrong, you learn valuable insights about the process, the customer, and the situation. The customer might be right. Your goal should be to demonstrate empathy to the customer while also solving the problem.

Ask yourself: given perfect information, what would you want to know to fix a situation gone south? And what was the actual information? What should have happened at each point in the process, and what actually happened?

When an error happens, solving it involves understanding what happened, when it happened, where it happened, who was involved, and the impact of the error. Whether you apply the 5 Whys technique or another method of getting to the bottom of the problem, an error is an excellent time to examine the holes in your leaky process bucket and make sure they don’t happen again.

The next time you find an error and the customer wants to tell you what it takes to make it right, listen! They are the best arbiters of what they believe will solve a problem. But they are also often blind to the larger context (what is a just solution or a good solution may not look the same for every customer). Start with the tenet of “do what’s right for the customer”, and the question of whether the customer is actually right will sort itself out in the end.

Customer Experience, Customer Service, Startup

You are competing for attention

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The average person can hold between five to seven items in working memory. You are probably using a couple of those items already. The takeaway – especially when you’re asking customers to do something for you – is for you to ask them to do as few steps as possible.

The first step to getting consumer attention is to state very clearly why they need your product or service. The “throw it up against the wall and see what sticks” method is one way to start – refining along the way – and another is to pick the narrowest focus possible. For great examples, think of Uber (press a magic button, and a car arrives within minutes to take you where you want to go), Amazon (buy anything you want on your schedule), and Dropbox (store files that you can read from anywhere).

The second step for getting consumer attention is to realize that you are not at the stage (yet) of offering all things to all market segments. So for the target market, what problem are you solving right now? (If the answer is “not sure” perhaps you should ask your current customers and find out what they feel you’re doing to solve their problems). An example of a problem to solve right now is one that you know the customer has (because a real customer told you or asked for that service).

Getting attention is great – and guarantees that you will get one shot to make a first impression. These opportunities are also a good time to find out (sometimes abruptly) what’s not working. In the best case scenario, you gain the customer’s attention, solve their problem, and deliver a meaningful and repeatable excellent experience. And it doesn’t always work that way (no surprise).

Your best response is service to the customer. You’ve got their attention, have identified some portion of their problem, and have delivered a service or product that solved their need. Now, make sure they know you care. This sounds eminently corny and sentimental, and is the way you will find out whether you still have the customer’s attention. If they care, you have a shot at making a bad experience tolerable or a good experience great. Think of service as the peanut butter that sticks the process together. It may feel temporary but means the world to the customer when you deliver a personal solution.


Today, I met a customer face to face

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Websites are inherently anonymous. I don’t mean unknowable in the absolute sense of the word, but rather that when your first interaction with a customer is through email you can lose sight of that person’s humanity. When you talk to them on the phone things become a bit more real. And when you meet with them in person, you see them both as a customer and as a person. 

In the words of Paul Graham, we need to do things that don’t scale. It doesn’t make any sense to talk to a single customer at scale. Except that the lessons you learn from any conversation do scale, and can be applied to your business. When things are starting, almost any customer is the most precious resource in the world. You can’t learn about their frustration, their success, and their failures until you talk to them and see the ways in which they react.

Today I met with a customer and we shared time over coffee. He learned a little bit more about the business I’m building and I learned more about his business. We both became a bit more human and continued building a relationship that started when I tried to fix a problem that happened with his order. I thought I knew a lot about his problem, and I learned new things about the solution and the problem when I spoke with him today.

Meeting a customer totally changed my day today. I left our meeting with great new ideas and a renewed sense that helping people can really matter. Whether the effort is small or large, think about the person on the other end of the conversation. When you’re sending an email, thinking about a feature, or just wondering: “what would make the customer have a good day?” you can use that experience as a guide for your next face to face customer meeting.

Life Hacks, On Writing

Measure your day. It might surprise you.

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Which daily tasks are important?

We all have a routine. Whether it is checking email, talking to office mates over morning coffee, or going to the gym, we organize our lives into a series of rituals to make sense of things. And which of these things are not very important?

I talk to customers frequently and would love more feedback in whether they find our conversations useful. Yet many of the most satisfied customers never tell us.

Try Something New.

The easiest way to find out whether something is important is to stop doing it and see if you (or anyone else) notices. If you get into the habit of asking yourself to evaluate your everyday routine and picking one thing every week to change or stop, you’ll have 52 chances every year to effect change.

In the case of customer contacts, it’s hard to know whether building a habit with any single customer is effective because they don’t contact you that often. Looking at the results across a cohort of customers will give you a better view into whether a habit – like calling the customer after every first interaction – drives results against bottom line metrics like The overall customer satisfaction rate.

Change isn’t only stopping things, of course. You can also start doing things. This one’s often a bit trickier to measure, because you don’t know whether you are starting a recurring habit or just doing a one-time task. So take a quick swag: how will you know when the task is done, and what’s the output you are hoping to achieve? If it works, do it again. Eventually, it will become a habit.

Finding other people who care about customers and talking to them is an important habit for me. Please reach out and say hello!

You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.