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Do ALL of your Departments Treat Customers Equally?

This is part of a two-month series on the importance of company culture. Find more posts about culture here.

Recently I read the kind of story that makes a customer care professional’s blood run cold. From Adrian Swinscoe’s blog (emphasis added …

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Eating Our Own (Delicious) Dog Food

As part of our series on the importance of company culture, we’re highlighting our company values here at UserVoice. Find more posts about culture here.

Working at UserVoice is a little like being in the movie Inception. We’re expected to use our own …

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Tacos & Discouraging Company Culture

This is part of a two-month series on the importance of company culture. Find more posts about culture here.

As I discussed in my post on mapping out company values, your culture isn’t and can’t be what just one person thinks …

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Defining Your Company Values

This is part of a two-month series on the importance of company culture. Find more posts about culture here.

One of Zappos values, as displayed in their HQ

The other day I briefly touched on the importance writing out your company …

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Not Being a Dick is Key to Being Empathetic

As part of our series on the importance of company culture, we’re highlighting our company values here at UserVoice. Find more posts about culture here.

To start off our series of blog posts about our values, I’m going to begin …

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Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day!

We think community management is a crucial part of making a user-centric organization. We’ve written about the discipline a lot. We’ve created coding classes for community managers. We think community management has a big, big future.

Today is the annual Community …

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Introducing New Hires to the Company Culture

This is part of a two-month series on the importance of company culture. Find more posts about culture here.

So you’ve hired someone who is a good cultural fit. That means they’re predisposed to follow your cultural values, but it’s not …

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Company Culture: Warning Signs

This is part of a two-month series on the importance of company culture. Find more posts about culture here.

So your employees are sending anthrax to customers and putting heads on sticks in front of your office. Maybe something is wrong …

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How Dinosaurs Got Wufoo’s Investors a 29,561% Return

Kevin Hale’s talk at UserConf 2012 was both one of the standout talks and one of the most (seemingly) out of place. While other speakers held the titles like “Customer Support Manager” or “Customer Experience Manager”, Kevin is a founder and a …

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It Doesn’t Matter if you’re a Startup or a Business: Customer Service is Key

service entranceOne of the smartest entrepreneurial writers out there, Jonathan Fields, recently wrote about the difference between building a startup or a business. One can lead to another, he says, but they’re very different. One focuses on hustle, innovation, something-from-nothing, and doing everything from scratch. The other involves tweaking, perfecting, and building processes. They both product similar but different results, and most people love one or another.

It’s a good distinction for those thinking of starting a company to make. However, I want to call out something I think is important: whether you’re building a startup or a business, customer service is key.

If you’re building a startup, it’s about moving quickly and trying to attract customers any way you can. You’re trying to sell people on the concept more than a finished product. Your product is probably half-baked and buggy. That’s just the way it’s going to be if you’re moving that fast…which is why you have to make sure to listen to & serve those customers. This doesn’t mean fixing everything: you don’t have time for that! But if your app breaks left and right, you at least need to awknowlege that you hear your customers' complaints. If they’re telling you that they need feature X, you need to hear them so you can iterate and keep them using your product. Alienate the few customers you have and you’ll never get off the ground.

If you're building a business, you probably have a far more stable product. It looks good, it works consistently. You are not starving for users. Who cares if you don’t answer their emails right away? Well, actually, they care. They care a lot. Along with this more stable product and bigger audience comes a level of expectation. You need to respond to and act on issues quickly, or your name will be plastered all over Twitter with the hashtag #fail. You may not need to innovate as quickly as a startup, but you need to provide service twice as fast.

Fields ends his article with this suggestion:

“As you think about your entrepreneurial future, especially if you’re in the early stages or about to dive in, take the time to reflect on what part of the process lights you up. What empties you out.”

If you’re not “lit up” by serving customers, find someone who is. Find them early. Let them plan to scale your customer service as you grow. Give them to freedom to delight your customers and you’ll succeed, whether you’re a business or a startup.

Photo courtesy of scrappy.

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How 35 Cents Made me a Return Customer (and Got Me to Write This Blog Post)

lollipop and sandwichThe other day I stopped by Ike’s Lair for lunch. Someone recommend it and figured I’d give it a go. I’m pretty picky since Oakland has some great food, so I entered the shop with skepticism.

It’s a cute place…they have bright colors, retro lunchboxes on the wall, and the sandwiches have clever names like “Spiffy Tiffy”.

I ordered my sandwich (actually, they were out of the first one I requested) and then waited. A while. It was 2, but somehow it was packed.

Finally, they called my name and I went to pick up my sandwich. The cashier smiled, bagged my sandwich, and put in a lollipop. “Have a great day!”

These were the lollipops I grew up with – the sour apple-flavored ones covered in caramel. The ones I coveted as a kid. (They also had a box of more old-fashioned pops…maybe they give these to baby boomers?)

I don’t really eat lollipops these days, and if I wanted to I could go to the corner store and buy one for 35 cents.

But that little act, that 35c cost, brought me happiness. Why? Because I got a prize. I got a bonus. I got a nice gesture, where normally I get a bunch of plastic utensils I don’t need.

You know what? I don’t entirely remember how good the sandwich tasted. It was pretty good. And the lollipop wasn’t really all that tasty. What I do remember is how I was treated. I’ll be back to try more of their sandwiches.

Sometimes, delighting your customers can be cheap and easy. How can you spend 35c to create a return customer?

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Your top-performing ad? Your loyal fans.

string instrument class at CazaderoThis weekend I went to the Cazadero family camp in the Russian River Valley. It’s a pretty fantastic place. Families spend a week at this camp. There are many music, arts, dance, and theatre classes. Kids can take one class while their parents take another, so everybody gets what they want. At the end of the week various classes perform for a packed amphitheater. People are fanatical about it. My girlfriend’s family has been coming for 30 years.

Between a couple of group performances on Saturday, the woman running the camp polled the audience: “How many of you attended because you saw our posters? Our website? Our ads on Google or Facebook?”

About 5 people raised their hands. (There probably a hundred people in the amphitheater.)

“That’s very telling,” she said. “Thank you.”

Where did these other 95 people come from? Recommendations. Friends telling them to go. Family telling them to go. Teachers telling them to go. The fancy ads and website that “consultants” told them to build? Not performing.

It’s not surprising. Camps are expensive and inconvenient (a whole week off) and really unpleasant if they turn out to be bad. Why would anyone decide to go to a camp based on a Facebook ad and a website?

Seth Godin's circlesOn the other hand, referrals are incredibly powerful. If someone you trust says “it’s great, I’ve been going for 30 years”, you’re going to seriously consider going. An ad can claim “it’s worth the money” all day and nobody will believe it. If a friend who makes a similar living to you says it’s worth the money, you’re inclined to think it'll be worth it for you too.

Cazadero also happens to do a fantastic job inciting these recommendations. They don’t just provide great classes: they make these true fans feel special. They have campfires and huge performances. Everyone sleeps in the same tent cabins (including the staff). The woman in charge says hello and goodbye to every single person, and remembers them all (even me, and I was only a 2-day guest). They take a group photo at the end of the week and post it to Facebook. They go the extra mile to find the owners of items lost at camp. They put their heart and soul into it, and they have a packed camp every year.

Are your ads and website really the strongest tool at your disposal? Your loyal fans may be far more effective.


Want more? Check out the article we tweeted yesterday. And sign up for UserConf – our conference about keeping your customers happy.

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The future of Customer Service: build emotional connections, make more money

Much of our series on scaling customer support was focused on setting up tools, processes, and staff. But once your organization is humming along, successfully answering all your tickets within an hour, what do you do? Sit back and relax? Retire?

You certainly could. But there’s an opportunity to retain even more of the customers you talk to, making your company even more money (and making you and your team invaluable). How? By building emotional connections with your customers.

amazon boxes huggingWhy does an emotional connection matter?

Because people are more likely to spend money when they make an emotional connection. In one of my favorite books, Made to Stick, a study (pg. 165) shows this in action. They gave a group of people (Group A) a charity-request letter listing out a number of stats about the many problems that children in Africa face. Group B got a charity-request letter which focused on a single African girl’s situation. Group B, who made this emotional connection, donated twice as much. Apply that to customers making an emotional connection with a support staff member vs simply getting a bill in the mail. Which do you think would be more likely to remain a customer?

Proof is in the data

As we’ve previously mentioned, Argyle Social (the fantastic social media software we use) allows us to see which posts of ours someone read before they ended up signing up for our service. And what do we see? Photos of our team (game nights, halloween costumes, our CEO wearing a Thor helmet, etc) end up contributing to huge amounts of sales.

Let’s be clear: these posts aren’t the only reason people are signing up – people do love our product – but the data certainly suggests that these posts are helping push people over the line to purchasing. And it makes sense, right? If you were choosing between two very similar pieces of software, wouldn’t you choose the one with this photo on their Facebook page?

argyle value

How do I build these emotional connections?

The UserVoice example above was done through outbound publishing, but you can also accomplish this through 1-to-1 conversations between customers and support staff.

Zappos recently wrote about how they try to create a PEC (“Personal Emotional Connection”) in every call. First, they’re trained to listen for any personal details they can build upon. A dog barking might lead to a conversation about breeds, the purchase of hiking boots might lead to a conversation about the best hike they’ve taken, or a death in the family might lead to a bouquet of flowers. In recent months they’ve even taken technical steps to encourage this sort of communication, such as automatically routing calls from specific states to support reps who used to live there.


UserConfAirbnb is in the midst of building these sort of interactions deeply into their processes, and seeing great success. Want to hear exactly how they’re managing to do this while their bookings grow 500% a year? Join us at UserConf, the conference about keeping your customers happy, where they’ll be speaking about this very subject!

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