In September 2011, after twelve grueling months of software development, my team and I felt the biggest rush an entrepreneur can feel: we opened our proverbial doors and started charging customers for Hello Scheduling – our online employee scheduling tool. We had reached launch day, the culmination of late night coding sessions, countless discussions with early beta customers, and lots of redesigns.
At this point our product was perfect, right?
Not even close. When we finally launched, our product was still rough – like 20 grit sandpaper rough. We knew we needed to make improvements quickly, so that we wouldn’t lose our early customers. We needed to buy time. Despite developing a new-age product, we found old fashioned techniques of offering 1-on-1 customer service built strong relationships with early customers. These relationships gave us the time we desperately needed to improve.
A Thank You Note Goes a Long Way
In the early days of Hello Scheduling I wrote a personal thank you note, which included my email and cell number, to every single customer who subscribed. After writing over 200 thank you notes, I’ve learned that a hand written note helped build relationships and open up communication channels. Those customers who received the note were the most likely to provide us with great feedback about the product. They were also the most patient when we were making improvements. It’s easy to become cynical and think, “Why should I bother writing thank you notes? Businesses send me mail every day, and I just throw it out.” That’s true. But when someone takes the time to genuinely understand their customers, write a thoughtful note, and send it via snail mail, it really helps you to stand apart from the rest.
Surprise Customers When They Go Above And Beyond
While a large portion of our customer base was providing feedback (some good… some not so good…), there was always a small group of customers who were not only passionate about the product, but consistently provided excellent feedback. Nurture those relationships – these customers are invaluable. Excellent feedback from 1 customer is better than good feedback from 20 customers.
When one of these customers would email with feedback – not only would we act on the feedback – but I would also send them a $20 Starbucks gift card. I would not tell them that the gift was coming – the surprise was half of the fun. Again, it’s easy to be cynical, but these customers genuinely appreciated the gesture.
Pick Up the Phone
In this day and age, with Facebook, Twitter, email, instant message, and other forms of online communication readily available, it’s easy to communicate with someone without ever actually talking to them. One of the best ways we built customer loyalty was by actually talking with our customers. Like on the phone. Time and time again, we’ve learned that we’re good at creating solutions – but only when we understand the underlying customer’s business and problem. On the phone it’s much easier to ask the necessary probing questions in order to get below the surface and really understand the need. Customers will have lots of suggestions – but it’s your job to understand what they really mean.
Building Loyalty is Not Hard…
…but it is very time consuming. What we’ve learned is that the most effective way to create a loyal customer base, the kind that sticks with you when your product isn’t quite ready, or who recommends your product to others, is to make customers love your product and love your business. The effort you put into building relationships by using these three tips – while time consuming -- will really give your business the extra push that can make all the difference.
This post was written by Jon Byrum. Jon is the president and co-founder of Hello Scheduling, a provider of employee scheduling and time clock software for small businesses.