It pinches a nerve to hear early stage companies lashing out at customers when they issue a complaint. At the same time it’s unnerving to watch those companies completely ignore the audience they have managed to gain.
I get that it can be pretty painful to hear some of the things you’ll hear, but it’s not a valid excuse. Sometimes you’ll have to bite the bullet and accept that things didn’t go according to plan. Simply acknowledging, not ignoring, people can mean everything. The people using your product have expectations, and rightly so. They expect to get the product you advertised.
Having a loyal customer base can mean so much to the longevity of your business. Those customers, who were there at the beginning, help shape who you will become. Their feedback, insight, and problems will help to morph your company into something much greater than it is today.
If you don’t take care of your customers someone else will. In the early days you should treat every single customer as a partner within the company you’re trying to build. Yes, it’s that serious. Squeeze them for all of the feedback that you can possibly get out of them, analyze what is valid and worthy of pursuit, and then keep them engaged. These early adopters will almost certainly appreciate your will to listen. Nobody likes to be ignored, which companies do far too often today.
To keep things in perspective. Imagine that you run a local cafe and you interact with customers in person on a daily basis. Does it make sense to ignore a person because they tell you that their sandwich wasn’t prepared well, even if they happen to speak with a stern voice? Would you ignore the 3 people had the courage to tell you that the bathroom at your establishment needs to be cleaned?
You want people on your side as you begin building a brand around what you’re doing. Lets look at a few things you can pay attention to in order to build a loyal customer base.
This should go without saying, but there are a lot of developers and founders who could use some interpersonal training. You may roll your eyes when your company requires stuff like this, but they’re doing it for a very valid reason. A lot of people have a hard time seeing outside of their bubble, let alone imagining what the other side is feeling.
When you’re feeling particularly heated about a comment just send a simple acknowledgement and back off for a while. For all that you know it could have been a simple misunderstanding, however you’ll never get to that conclusion if you start off by ignoring or lashing back.
So treat your customers with respect and listen to them. Be thankful that they even gave your product a shot and that they’re willing to spend their time to even send feedback.
Do something special
Early on in your product lifecycle you may find yourself fighting for every single customer you get. Do everything humanly possible to treat them with kindness. The hope is that the gesture will lead to a very happy customer who will be much more likely to refer your product to a friend.
As an example, I’m planning to write a hand-written note to every single person who purchases my next product. I share this insight as a practical example that I plan to enforce. Most likely, given how early this blog is, nobody will recall that I left this note here so it’ll likely delight the heck out of folks.
In my mind that’s pretty special! The inspiration comes from Bill Snyder, the head football coach at Kansas State University. I’m absolutely blown away when I see one of his hand-written letters show up on Twitter. He acknowledges the greatness in his opponents whether or not his team wins.
The last thing you want to do is go into hiding. Engage your customers. Say hello once and a while. Give them a call. Don’t just go behind the scenes to only reappear 6 months later with a surprise. The worst case scenario is that they completely forget about you and your product and instantly remove themselves from any list they may have been on.
Don’t forget them when you grow
At some point you may grow and fail to be able to keep up with the communication. At that point I would have to think bringing on a customer service representative would be extremely useful. That doesn’t mean you should go back behind the shadows. You should make an effort to interact with your customers as often as you can.
Know when to fire a customer
This is certainly not an easy thing to do, but it’s a valid option that has to be considered. Just as you’d fire a client or employee if they were not meeting expectations, the same goes in the customer support realm. If an individual cannot be reasoned with do whatever you can to cut ties. Simply saying “I’ve done everything I could possibly do to assist you with this situation. Please feel free to try x, y and z. Thank’s again for trying our product and I do apologize I wasn’t able to help.”
Even though you may want to throw out a much different set of words with a much clearer tone this gives you an opportunity to regain the persons trust in the future if that is a possibility. If you burn the bridge, the individual, and their network, is permanently gone.
Take care of your customers.
If this all sounds like common sense, great! The problem is I still find too many founders neglecting this. You don’t have the luxury of losing customers. Treat each one with respect while finding ways to treat them like no company has before. Doing so will earn you a loyal follower who would likely do anything to help you in the future. It should be every companies goal to acquire such a customer.
Do you have any customer happiness stories? How have you delighted your customers? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.