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Listening to your customers, developing and improving your product

In the past, building product meant sitting with your team (or alone) in a remote place that none of your customers would ever visit until the product was perfect. When the founders believed that perfection had been acquired they would release the product into the wild and wait for the money to roll in. Or not roll in.

“Bootstrapping your idea” is a series of 6 articles by serial entrepreneur and LifeCheq client Nic Haralambous. Nic has to date started 8 separate businesses, including a social network, a campus newspaper, a retail fashion company and, at one point, a rock band. In this amusing and insightful series, written exclusively for LifeCheq, he shares the most important lessons he has taken away from both his successes and failures. A must-read for the aspirant entrepreneur, or anyone who wants to take their passion project to the next level.

In the past, building product meant sitting with your team (or alone) in a remote place that none of your customers would ever visit until the product was perfect. When the founders believed that perfection had been acquired they would release the product into the wild and wait for the money to roll in. Or not roll in.

Very often what would happen post-launch is that the money had dried up because of the long period of “stealth” building that had taken place. The customers who the founders thought they were targeting actually didn’t want the product or had moved on while they were waiting for this newly built perfection to launch and become useful.

A very smart guy called Eric Ries wrote a book that changed the way that startups built and launched products. That book is called The Lean Startup and it speaks about rapid development, launching the minimum viable product (MVP) that you can build and getting your vision out into the world. Launching is important because feedback is important. Feedback is difficult because founders have egos that they don’t want to bruise.

The faster you are able to launch the first version of your product or service into the market, the faster you can receive feedback from customers. This feedback can take many different turns from confirming your initial hypothesis about what to build or completely blowing up in your face when the market rejects your MVP. Either way, it’s good to know that you have some market feedback. The key when listening to the market is to keep your vision in mind while letting go of your ego and listening to their experience. You may have absolutely nailed the execution of the first version of your billion dollar idea but I doubt that. The chances are you have some things right and a lot of things that need to be tweaked. Your customers are your most valued asset (second to your team, obviously).

Optimise For Feedback

How often have you received an invoice or newsletter or any communication from a company with a “no-reply@companyname.com” email address as the sender? I bet it happens a lot. If you don’t know what “no-reply” emails mean let me tell you; it means that the company has zero interest in hearing back from you.

You know what I see when I receive a no-reply email? I see a company that doesn’t give a damn about me and my opinion of them or their product. If you are optimising for feedback then you always want to be able to have your customer hit the Reply button and send you an email. Every email we’ve ever sent at NicHarry.com has been from my personal email or one that comes directly to my inbox if a customer replies. Don’t ignore feedback, optimise for it.

Actually Care

Don’t pay lip service. Don’t put up a big billboard advert on the side of a road telling people you care but then put them on hold for 40 minutes and drop the call. Don’t talk about caring, actually care.

This seems simple and stupid to say out loud but it’s stunning to me that very few businesses actually do care or put the customer front and center in their businesses. Most businesses optimise for profit or shareholder value and not for customer satisfaction. The ironic thing here is that if you optimise for customer satisfaction then you probably are going to increase shareholder value and profit. How do we know this? Let’s ask Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO at Amazon.com. You know Amazon, right? They account for about $0.49 of every dollar spent online in the USA. How did they achieve such massive scale and success? Bezos places the customer at the center of everything he does at Amazon.

“If there’s one reason we have done better than of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word-of-mouth is so very, very powerful.” says Bezos about his customers. I couldn’t agree more (and I’d be pretty dumb to disagree with Bezos here).

Your website

There are a few very practical things that you can do on your website to help your customers contact you and give you feedback.

Always have a contact form on your website. You should probably always host that form on a page called “Contact Us” because that’s what customers want to do. This contact form should invite feedback, ask for their name, phone number and email address.

Here’s a quick tip – if you receive a contact form from a very irate customer, call them back as soon as you possibly can. Don’t email them. Email allows the customer to express anger and frustration without the human experience which makes it easier to be pissed off. A phone call makes it much more difficult for the customer to continue their rage because most of the time, Internet anger is misplaced anger and once you get a customer on the phone you can solve their problem quickly and efficiently. In my experience, a phone call always leaves me with a happy customer.

Secondly, use a product called Intercom to engage with your customers in real time. Intercom provides a way to have a chatbot in the bottom corner of your website that feeds the customer conversation to your mobile device or a web portal. You can assign the queries to your team and give customers an immediate and smooth process of communication. At NicHarry.com we’ve seen this service actually increase sales. The faster we can reply, the more chance we have of making a sale!

Reviews

A very simple way to get product feedback from your customers is to ask them. Product and service reviews are simple but effective and can be done manually or through a service like Conversio.

The manual way is always the best to start with. Simply email your customers a couple of weeks after they have purchased your product and ask them how their experience was and what they think of your product. This is a double-win for you because customers love to be contacted by the owner/founder of a business, it shows how much you really care and they generally love to be heard.

The automated way to receive reviews is through a service like Conversio. Once you have installed their app or plugin onto your website you can create automated emails that send at specific intervals after a purchase to ask your customer for a written review and/or a star rating out of 5 stars. Once the customer clicks on a star from the email it’s automagically saved and displayed on your site. Their feedback they right is stored and available for you to review. Easy.

Social Media

The Customer Is Always (Sometimes) Right

There is an old but important saying that the customer is always right. This is a good mantra to live by when you are dealing with general customer complaints, feedback and issues they may have day to day.

However there is an important difference between a customer complaining and a customer giving you product feedback. Customer service requires that the customer always feel like they are in control and right. This generally leaves the customer satisfied that their issue was dealt with effectively.

When you are taking on product feedback from your customer you must remember that they are absolutely not always right. They do not represent every single customer on your platform, they do not understand the industry you are and the product, tool or service that you are building and they definitely do not know your business better than you do. They are simply making a suggestion for you to take on board, hear and potentially listen to down the line if it makes sense or is suggested over and over again by many different types of customers.

One customer, no matter how big, cannot possibly define your product roadmap or the features you choose to build.

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