Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Strategy

Do some customers deserve better service?

illustration by http://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/
illustration by http://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/

Which customer would you rather deal with: the one who tells you what’s wrong or the one who buys faithfully and then leaves without prior warning? While you might not see the warning signs of the customer who’s unhappy immediately, it’s important to identify when your customers give you extremely positive or negative signals. Some of these customers (especially at the beginning) warrant and deserve extra service from your team, even if maintaining that service for the long term doesn’t scale.

Some customers do deserve better service. They are the customers who need you to explain the process to them. They are the customers who wonder why your product or service works the way it does. And they are the customers who make sure that when something happens that doesn’t work for them that you know about it. They are your best customers because they are giving you the feedback that you need to hear. One way that you’ll know these customers is when they give you high NPS (promoter) and low NPS scores (detractors.) Another way you’ll know them is to read every response you get from customers and respond.

When you think about your customers, you might (and should) evaluate them in different ways. Who is easy to engage? Who challenges you to think differently? Who is a high value customer by dollar amount? And who is a high value customer by virtue of the questions that they ask and the way they use your product? You won’t know this at the beginning of your business, and you can use your past experience to help guide the way.

Getting to a Customer Success process that works

In my experience, there are a few things you can do right now to make sure that your best customers (and the ones you don’t know are your best customers yet) can get the help they need.

When you define customer segments and identify the most likely people to need help, you take a giant step towards solving the same problem for the all of the people who don’t ask for help. For example, if your product requires a small business owner to understand how email servers work for the purpose of connecting your product to their email, you’re likely to be disappointed by the email knowledge of many small business owners.  On the other hand, if you identify that many small business owners use Google Apps and you create an integration to Google Apps Mail, you’ve removed a barrier to adoption for that customer.

When you take that customer segment and make it part of your service process, you can then make sure that the persona (Small Business Owners, in this case) has a consistent experience during the time you handle their issue. You can then create a clear escalation path that this customer segment understands and know how many of your cases are in a state of escalation.

Future You will Thank You for Identifying Challenging Customers

Designating an individual customer as part of a segment may not be good enough, so one additional thing you can do is either to dedicate an individual Customer Success Agent or Team to that customer or to add a flag or field to your customer relationship management system that indicates whether a person needs “white glove service.” What white glove means to your organization is up to you – it usually indicates that the person requires extra reassurance and politeness when they call.

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

Agile, Customer Development, Innovation, Product Thoughts

Keep the Marketing Simple, Stupid

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikemcilveen/

This is the 10th in a series of posts on Agile Marketing – the working definition of which is to “Create, communicate and deliver unique value to an always-changing consumer (or business) in an always-changing market with an always-changing product.” (see the original post here.) If you survey a group of people about the most obvious and beneficial traits of Agile, one of the primary answers you’d hear is: “simplicity.” Why build a complicated mousetrap when a simple one will get you most of the way there?

During the Agile process – and especially if you are using marketing sprints to get work done – it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. An idea can blossom into lots and lots of work when you consider the different channels, customers, and approaches you could take. If you aim for an “up-and-stumbling” model in your marketing, you’ll make mistakes and you’ll get your ideas out in the marketplace faster. It helps to keep the overall idea simple.

A simple idea is not necessarily the answer (that is, your good idea might also be complex) but to be successful at the user level it needs to appear simple, intuitive and obvious. Consider this example: a CEO needs to learn how to send a form from a web site to result in an email to her inbox. She has never done this before, and she’s tech-savvy but not a programmer.

What is she more likely to do: spin up a trial account at Wufoo and make a form in 15 minutes using their sample application, or use a marketing automation system to  define an activation funnel, create triggers to action, and expose a form that needs to be deployed on a web site or integrated with an existing ecommerce system? Yep, she set up the account at Wufoo, because in a few minutes she was able to get most of the utility she was seeking from a simple solution. She (and her company) may outgrow this hack quickly and in the meanwhile, Wufoo has the opportunity to sell more complex ideas to her in the guise of her “simple” solution.

What can you learn from your simple idea? You can learn the answers to many questions: where does the customer spend her time? Is she successful in completing an activity that we think she should be able to complete? Does she want to complete it? When she asks for help upon hitting a road block, how does she phrase the question(s)? By analyzing these questions you can meet the customer where they’re at, not just deliver the results of your latest development or marketing sprint and hope that they don’t “use it wrong.”

Keeping the marketing simple is not always easy in an Agile environment. Product features are delivered fast and furiously and if you’re a new customer you probably don’t know why you need the latest and greatest. Like the CEO who has 15 minutes to solve a problem, you simply want to connect point a to point b in the simplest way possible. So your marketing should be calibrated for the feature-benefit combination that makes it easy for  a busy CEO to understand: what do you do, why do you want to do it, what do you get, and how do you know when you get there? Keep it simple, and you’ll have an easier time explaining why they should try your product (even if the idea under the simple question is quite complex.)

Customer Development, Customer Service, Customer Strategy, Innovation, Product Thoughts, Productivity

How can you be a better beta tester (and not get frustrated in the process)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gre…

I like to try new apps, processes, and things. Perhaps it’s the kid in me who always wanted to join a club, and I love being a beta tester (usually.) Yet even the most thoughtful beta tester misses a few key points and is blinded by their biases. On the occasion of being noticed as a helpful Quora tester (thanks Stormy Shippy for mentioning me in the What is the combined answer length for the most active Quora answerers?) or at least a verbose one, I thought it would be interesting to think about some methods to become a better beta tester.

When you become a beta tester, you are trying an uncertain product pointed at an uncertain customer occupying an uncertain market with an uncertain likelihood of success. Beta customers feel special (you are – trust me) and companies feel free to stretch the tolerance of these users constantly by changing policies, user interface elements, or the basic functionality and process of the app or service (“the way things work”) in one fell swoop.

It’s pretty cool though. For the price of my time (it’s stated as *free* but there is a substantial investment that any serious tester must make in terms of their own time) you get to see a laboratory where changes are being made in (near) real time and gain the ability to influence and learn from the people who are making a brand new thing. I’m appreciative of the opportunity to share with and learn from some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. So how can you help the company (or companies) for whom you’re doing this beta testing?

You can help by being a “more certain” customer
Beta testing challenges you to articulate what you’re doing (or trying to do), to be able to explain it to others, and sometimes to realize that you’re an edge case and to stop wasting your time and the time of others.

Practicing this set of skills is the real reason I love being a beta tester (that, and the free t-shirts), and I try to do the following when I’m giving feedback to a team or an individual:

  • determine what it is I’m trying to do – if I’m not sure how I’m using the product, it’s going to be pretty hard for me to explain it to someone else;
  • explain what I’m doing in terms the “person on the street” could understand – it’s really easy to drop into jargon, and so I try to use the same terms throughout the feedback and detail my steps in clear language (and try to use the instructions myself to complete the steps);
  • be honest with myself when I’m bored and no longer want to test an app or service – it’s very easy to keep YAASA – Yet Another Social Account Alive. And much more kind to yourself and to the team building the app if you just bow out. (And let them know why you’re leaving.)

Learn new things, meet new people, and stretch your brain a little. What’s not to like? It’s true that trying new applications and services can sometimes clutter your experience or distract you from the things you ought to be doing today. Or maybe, practicing the skills of being a beta tester (and making it easier for teams to understand and learn from your feedback) gives you the exact set of skills you need to better beta test yourself.

Post on Quora

Lean, Product Thoughts, Startup

If you don’t launch the product, the kitten gets it!


Office kitten

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

Sometimes, the world of the lean startup feels like the world as experienced by a kitten — everything’s exciting, we make big movements and try to catch every shiny thing that comes our way. And other days, we just have to take a nap.

Having just been through a couple of hectic sprints, I had the chance today to take a breather and think about the last couple of weeks: some big launches, exciting days, long nights, and great teamwork. The key factor in all of this? The ability to maintain the excitement that our one-day office kitten showed when he sat on my keyboard (all of my emails that day looked like erhi;wr;ehpi4t43tp) and the discipline to make sure that the product still got done and shipped.

So, the idea for the day? Keep the kittenish wonder; pounce on some stuff even if you’re not sure you can make the leap, and make sure to catch the mouse.