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

backgroundNoise

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.

speechBubble

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.

lowerThird

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
http://bit.ly/ExplainerVideoContent – a Dropbox link to the raw files I used to create this video
http://bit.ly/MakeExplainerVideo – the script you can use to create your own Explainer Video.
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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 UXArchive.com
example onboarding, courtesy of UXArchive.com

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 https://www.flickr.com/photos/firechickenta99/3480408342
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 Development, Customer Experience, Startup

How to Hire an Awesome Community Manager for your Startup

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photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3152173431

Who will be successful as a community manager?

I love coming across new community managers who say, “I guess I’ve been doing this my whole life.” It’s a light bulb that goes off in them and they’re excited for the rest of their career to get started. -Jenn P.

Many brands are searching right now for a community manager and it’s hard to know what sort of person will be successful in the community role at your company. Job descriptions (and the environment and the customers) vary wildly, so it helps to know what’s involved in the role, what kinds of behaviors mark someone as a good candidate, and how to “know a great community manager when you see them.” Everyone wants a great community manager even though they are not quite sure what that role should be. Because interviewing people for the role of a community manager can be difficult, we decided to ask some of the smartest community types we knew for their opinions.

Why should you pay attention to us and to our opinions?

Both Thomas (@thomasknoll) and Greg (@grmeyer) have been hired in to community roles and hired others into community roles, so we wanted to share two different perspectives fromboth sides of the desk. We’ve thought a lot about this challenge and wanted to get your opinions too.

Here are some of the other people we asked:

This is not an exhaustive list, and any of the folks in this group have great perspectives on building and maintaining communities – you should talk to them to get even more nuanced feedback on these questions.

When is it time to hire someone to focus on community full-time?

The first question we wanted to ask was an obvious one: when it is it time to hire someone to focus on “community” and to do it full time? Many companies and startups by their nature ask a founder or an early employee to do this, and works! (For a while.) At some point the value of the community or the time demands on that employee make it pretty obvious that you either need to ask that person or someone else to run the community show all the time.
Here are some perspectives from the group:

Before you think you need a community manager, you’re going to need to find some awesome people to share your brand with the world. Think about what you want to present if you were able to “talk to the customer” without actually being there. If you have something to say, you need an amazing community advocate.” -Greg M.

Early on, the founding team should be involved in the process of building the community before hiring someone to take primary ownership. And, whenever possible, recruit from the community itself.” -Thomas K.

“Ligaya Tichy would say it should be the 5th hire. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here but all I know is once you have customers, you have an opportunity to start building a community that will improve their experience with your brand and product. You can be learning from your community from day 1 in order to improve your product. If you don’t have a community minded founder on the team already, finding someone to focus on your customers should be a priority.” -David S

What’s your favorite community question or hack?

Sometimes the most obvious and simple answer is the best one – that attitude and technique matter to the community manager.

It sounds completely like a no-brainer given the career path, but enthusiasm is one of the greatest things a person can present when going for a community manager role. -James M

Who do you think our audience is, and what do you think is important to them? (Follow up: Assuming you got the job, how would you go about discovering these answers, and how would they factor into or drive your overall strategy? -Rachael K.

What’s the difference between customer engagment, customer success, support and community management? Which one are you? -T.A. M.

Determine the last time they helped someone independent from work – are they naturally empathetic and action-oriented? -Laura G.

How does a great community manager behave?

When I say ‘Enthusiasm’ – I’m not just talking, walk into the job interview smiling, laughing and using the words ‘I’m really passionate’ an excessive number of times. I’m talking SHOW the interview you’re enthusiastic about the role. An relativity easy task is to take a look at the companies website. From your point of view, does it harbour community as it stands? If not. Print off a screenshot and DRAW all over the damned thing! Don’t just “Tell” the interviewer how you’d help develop their platforms, physically SHOW them. A good CM would look around their competitors and other community eco-systems, pick up on where the company is lacking a little ‘something’ extra, and show the interviewers your plans and YOUR ideas. I did just that and fought off people with tons more experience than myself to land here at Sumo today 🙂 -James M.

Community management is one of those skills that’s difficult to teach. Given the right attitude and checklists, almost anyone who engages socially can be a *good* community manager. Great community managers – like unicorns – are remarkable because they do things that good community managers don’t do in their position. What behaviors do these great community managers demonstrate? The ability to think big, think small, and to make every customer feel like a rock star.

These community managers also know how to deliver negative news in the best way possible.

Here are some more thoughts from the group:
Find people who are already engaging as community managers and talk to them (online or offline). Learn more about what makes them tick. Imagine the person in the role and see if you can imagine trusting them with the responsibility to communicate your vision and mission to the world. Every day.

It helps if they’ve done the job before. If they haven’t done the job before, look for evidence that they know how to write, how to express their ideas, how to speak in front of people without freaking out, and that they have *fun*.

Also, look for a person who exhibits “lazy programmer” characteristics – meaning that they go out of their way to automate a problem that annoys them so that they can spend more time being “lazy” and thinking about the next problem to solve. -Greg M

There is certainly a significant level of strategic knowledge that only comes through experince. But most community building tactics can be taught. What is nearly impossible to teach is empathy and supurb communication skills. So, I make that a primary filter for the process.One of my favorite interview questions is to explain the interest in throwing a party and what the group will be like, and have the candidate talk through the process of determining the best venue, music, food, activities, invites, and how they would manage and host the party during the event itself. There isn’t really a right answer, but the types of questions they ask, and the way that describe their decision process will give a lot of insight into how they would think through gathering the members of your community, making them feel welcome, and “managing” the experience. -Thomas K.

Where do you find your next community manager?

We’ve talked about how to know that you might need a community manager and how to identify them by the behaviors they demonstrate. But where do you find the real people? An obvious answer might be: “engage in a community and you’ll find the community manager.” And it’s a bit more than that. You need to find people who are already doing community work – and they might not be in the tech field – and to engage with the people who best match the style of your brand and your customers.

Look in the most unexpected places. Look for people who don’t know they’ve been a community manager all along. Someone who’s a natural event planner, someone with a personality that people flock to, and someone that’s entrepreneurial and starts groups based on hobbies or interests. -Jenn P.

If you find one good community advocate, you’ll find more. Look for the places where they talk to each other – this could be a local meetup, a conversation on Twitter, or in a piece that they publish online. Finding a great community type is a bit like a unicorn – you might not know where to look immediately, and you know one when you see them (or talk to them) – so it might require a bit of unconventional thinking. Or you might find them in the usual places – engaging with customers. – Greg M.
Even though the number of community professionals continues to grow, there are not many people who have been doing this job for 15 or even 5 years. But, there are a lot of great professions to recruit people from. Teachers, social workers, therapists, event planners, and people from top-tier-service organizations tend to be amazing at transitioning into community management. -Thomas K.

This may be counter-intuitive, and these are definitely generalizations, but there are several roles that tend to be very difficult to transition from. People from support can jump too quickly to solving everyone’s problems, rather than helping the community support each other. People from marketing can treat the conversations and relationships a little too transactionally. Social Media Rock Stars and Social Media Ninjas can have a little too much trouble stepping out of the spotlight, to let the community and its members shine themselves. -Thomas K.
Depends if you need them to create the strategy, or just execute the strategy. You’ll need someone with experience to really put together a thorough strategy. You can either hire them full time or bring them in as a consultant to put the pieces in place. The day to day execution can be done by someone entry level. A great first place to look for this is in your own community. Who has naturally established themselves as a leader? Hire them. -David S.

What questions should you ask to evaluate a Community Manager?

Community management positions are hard to hire. Behavioral questions that help the CM to tell a story are a great place to start. When you ask the candidate to convince you as if you are a member of their community, you’re seeing them do similar things as they would when actually in the job. So be skeptical – to a point – and let them charm you. The best ones will.
Some great questions to consider asking:
  1. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever facilitated?
  2. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever see someone else deliver?
  3. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you fixed it anyway.
  4. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you couldn’t fix it.
  5. What do you like to read or do when you’re not talking to customers?h
  6. What are some of the best communities you participated in?
  7. Which artist do you think has the best community?
  8. How would you plan a party for 60 of our cusotmers who have ________? (see above)
  9. Ugh, users are so dumb… am I right?!

How is community management different in a B2B or B2C world?

When you’re looking for a great community manager, you’ll want to make sure that the person has experience driving a community that uses a similar business model as the one you’re engaging in. Many community managers can handle both the “business to business” mindset and the “business to consumer” mindset, and some have a preference for one model over another. The basics of community management are the same in both worlds, and the implementation can be different by night and day.
b2b = businesses who want you to be able to hit their problems with an “Easy Stick”. They want you to give them solutions they can use over and over again and implement with little effort. They may place less importance on building an emotional relationship and more emphasis on building a pragmatic, business driven solution.
b2c = wants you to save the day. The customer would also like you to make the process as easy as possible and is not crazy typically about doing work to get you there – though many customers will help. The b2c customer would love to trumpet you to the skies when you deliver a WOW experience to them. -Greg M.
at their core all communities are exactly the same. Yes, they are going to play out differently for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely have different goals and KPIs and metrics for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely want to adopt different strategies for b2b vs b2c. But, ultimately all businesses are h2h: human to human. And the characteristics of community are the same: shared purpose, sense of belonging, an appreciation for dialog and the pursuit of shared truth. -Thomas K.

What now?

Now that you’ve learned a little more about our perspective, you should go ask the people on this list for the best community types that they know. You should engage online with the communities most similar to yours. And you should pay attention to the people who respond to you online – they just might be your next community manager.
Customer Development, Innovation, Product Thoughts

Why I wish Jelly were more like whiteboarding

Jelly Collage, (photo by Mashable)
Jelly Collage, (photo by Mashable)

You may have heard of the new app Jelly – it’s a simple idea, really – that people would rather share questions with each other through pictures and then use those pictures to elicit discussion. Find answer to important things, the pictures say, and help your friends solve their problems and answer their difficult questions. (Or perhaps their more juvenile ones. But I digress).

I think the folks at Jelly are on to something interesting, and I wish they had extended their idea to include the kind of sustained noodling one does at a whiteboard. Let it be said that I love whiteboarding. There is maybe nothing more interesting than standing up at a whiteboard and working through the confines of an idea visually, perhaps drawing and redrawing an idea until it becomes reality. When you’re done with a whiteboard session you can literally see the ideas falling off of the wall, made whole by a process of drawing, erasing, and ideating. So I wish Jelly worked more like a whiteboard.

What do I mean when I suggest that a question interaction be more fluid? For starters, I love the ability that Jelly promotes to draw on a photo using a stylus. This is nifty and allows for a lot of creativity. It’s also really hard to draw with your fingertips on a phone screen with any kind of fidelity. What if you could pinch zoom the photo and start drawing in a higher fidelity. What if you could string some of these Jelly “tiles” together into a kind of mosaic? And what if you could lead people in a “choose your own adventure”-style conversation through multiple tiles? You can start doing some of this today, but there isn’t really a narrative yet in a single question and answer format.

It’s clear that the folks behind Jelly didn’t make the medium for storytelling, or really for serious conversation (yet). The idea of long-form storytelling, or even the art of asking a good question that requires some exposition to solve, demands a bit more resolution. What if there were a place to share bigger images that acted more like a whiteboard and gave people the opportunity to make mini-canvases. I’d certainly like to see the whiteboarded solutions to many problems in the style and colors people would use if they were having an animated conversation and interaction in the same room.

Yes, you say, there’s no real need for this – we’ve got web conferencing, and we all know how engaging that can be sometimes (ew). But I think there’s something more here. Jelly points at a need for human storytelling, and I think that the combination of this idea with a tablet, smartboard, or another kind of stylus will soon make it easier to collaborate on remote whiteboard drawings at the same time and not have it feel laggy or dumb. At the end of the day it’s just drawing pictures.

Customer Development, Customer Experience, Food

Donuts make everything better

photo by @grmeyer
Yes, they are #nom.

A couple of years ago, my wife started a donut business. Her purpose was simple: make delicious vegan and gluten-free food that people liked for a reasonable price. She test marketed batches of donuts, did some product-market fit work by selling in batches to friends, and then opened a market stall in a farmer’s market with her business partner. The business did well – they got repeat customers, sold lots of donuts, and became known at several farmer’s markets around Seattle. Yet the business wasn’t making money.

Donuts, it turns, out, are expensive when you don’t mass-produce them (and even then, you have to price them to match the expectations of the market). The component ingredients – fair trade cocoa, non-GMO soybean oil, organic sugar – and the permit fees and daily costs made the business more expensive to run than people wanted to pay for the end product. We still enjoy the donuts when my wife chooses to make them (like today). But she decided to end the business because running a business wasn’t the reason she got started making donuts, and the choices that she had to make to sell more product required changing the business so much it wasn’t recognizable.

Successful businesses deliver delight to their customers while managing to adapt to the changing business itself. When you look at the example of producing specialty donuts, you have a challenging environment (special ingredients, limited product life, and specialized demand from a certain kind of customer). If you focus on the variables you can control – how to cap the costs of the special ingredients, what to do to extend the product life, and how to market the product to a wider audience and get mass appeal – you can make that business bigger.

The business of producing frozen donuts in a mass-produced model didn’t match the original vision of delivering delicious food in person to a clientele that didn’t have a place to get tasty treats. My wife wanted to look the customer in the eye and hear their stories in person – and they were great stories! But you can only eat so many donuts. Donuts do make everything better, but you can’t eat them every day.

If the original model had looked more like a frozen food business, it might have been more successful as a business, but wouldn’t have been anything like the experience of hand crafting food delights to an underserved customer that really appreciated that product (and told you so in person). Adapting to the changing business is the real challenge – maintaining the spirit of the idea while scaling the delight.

Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Service, On Writing

Have you sent a thank you note lately?

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photo by dryicons.com
When was the last time you sent a physical thank you note? And how about the last time you received one of these notes? Taking the time to write a note by hand is really worth it, even if you don’t know how it’s worth it yet.

Sending a note is a sign that you care. When you take the moment to reach out to customers you start building their trust and give them a touch point to reach a real person. Being able to call you really matters.

Another way you can get closer to your customers is to use your product as much as possible. Product managers and devs may jokingly call this activity “eat your own dog food” or “drink your own champagne”. It means putting yourself in the place of the customer and feeling how delighted they are (or frustrated) to use the solution your team built.

And then when things don’t go right those customers need an easy way to contact you. You might provide off-hours support by email, pager, or smoke signal. But the best way (still) is a plain old phone number, staffed by a real person who takes interest in the customer. When you listen, pay attention, and call back, good things happen – even when there may have been problems with the service delivery.

So spend more time talking to, and thanking your customers. Use your own product and make sure you know where it shines and where it has warts. And staff a phone line with a real person who cares to make the process better when things don’t work out or when they’re just confusing.
  
You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

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.