Andrew Youderian posted a thought-provoking piece to the Shopify blog yesterday about why Ecommerce entrepreneurs should be passionate chiefly about building their business rather than passionate primarily about their products.
A good point – but wait a minute. As Andrew mentions at the end of the post, passion is essential to overcoming the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. So what should your passion be when you found a business? We propose that for any business to be successful (and for you to wake up every morning excited by it), the customer must be the passion.
Taking Mark Cuban in a slightly different direction, Tony Hsieh said the following about founding Zappo’s:
“We asked ourselves what we wanted this company to stand for. We didn’t want to just sell shoes. I wasn’t even into shoes – but I was passionate about customer service.”
If you are passionate about providing tremendous happiness and value to your customer, you will have the passion to take all the steps necessary to build a complete business.
In this blog post, we offer three ways for keeping your passion focused on the customer. Building a successful business isn’t an overnight process – and reaching the top of the mountain will require finding a fundamental passion that you look to every day for motivation.
Three Ways for Building a Customer-centric Passion
- Talk to your Customers. Unlike traditional stores, Ecommerce store owners don’t ever meet their physical customers; however, this doesn’t mean that you can’t build relationships with your customers. Whether it’s calling your best customers, emailing a subset of new customers with a personal email asking if they were happy with your service, or just calling any customer to say thank you, personal interactions help remind you that behind every purchase is a human being who’s life is made better by your hard work.
- See your Customers. Too many companies today have dashboards showing #’s of customers, $’s sold, # of website visits that they focus on for inspiration. These dashboards are great – but if you supplement it with an active view of people (and ideally pictures of them and places they are visiting from) you can actually see the people who are interacting with you. (more on this in our past post: Building a Better Customer Dashboard)
- Develop a Customer Profile. What does your best customer look like? Where do they live? What do they do with their free time? What gets them excited? It’s impossible to know these answers for all of your customers, but creating a detailed mental picture of that average “best” customer lets you keep your decision-making personal – how do you think her or his life would be affected by the decisions your making? Many of the world’s largest retailers go so far as to name their customer profiles (Savvy Suzanne, Trendy Tina, etc) and to even have a picture of this hypothetical customer.
Business is Up and Down. Passion must be Constant.
When I first saw “Rocky”, it wasn’t the end that made the strongest impression – it was of Rocky training – after months of working out, running to the top of the steps and throwing his arms in the air.
To achieve something great, we need the passion that can motivate us amidst our down times, because every day will not go great and setbacks will happen. We just need a north star to keep us going – all of the people out there who will be our customers.
We’ve been spending time lately thinking about our user onboarding flows, and in the process we’ve come across some good Quora resources with onboarding examples (We’re certainly fans of the Dropbox flow mentioned). While most resources we find give strong examples of onboarding flows people like, they don’t do much to address the question of how you build a great onboarding flow and then iterate on it over time. After all, what makes a great onboarding flow? And how do you know as soon as possible whether onboarding is working (before customers disappear and churn)?
As we’ve thought about this question, we believe there’s a key part of the conversation missing: what data should companies be using to evaluate their onboarding flow and any iterations they make? Waiting to see differing churn rates may take too long, and be too difficult to read without a ton of data. So what do you do in the meantime?
As a start, we propose three metrics as crucial starting points (and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on what you’ve found to be effective):
- How much time passes before setup is completed? Is it measured in hours? In days? For several startups I’ve talked to, there seems to be a clear point by which if a user hasn’t setup the application, they probably aren’t going to. Keeping track of the gap between sign-up and setup completion can be invaluable for planning outreach to customers who are nearing that dangerous
- How frequently do new users login? Are users actually logging in? Do successful users login once a week? What’s their ramp-up curve? This answer surely differs for each site, but your goal is to know what makes a successful user, and then to provide the support and outreach to make sure your users get there. If you see a user with too few logins, they may be a great candidate for outreach – or it be a sign that you are missing something in your onboarding flow.
- What key features are hit by successful users? Are your best users those who hit certain features? Say you are Facebook – is it crucial that new users post a photo album? Or is it really their first status item that makes them loyal? Knowing the answer to questions like this helps you both better design your flow, but also to better understand how particular users are doing in the onboarding process.
In short, we propose tracking (at a minimum) the following metrics by user:
- When setup was completed (and the length of time since sign-up)
- Logins and when they happened (not just last login)
- Which key features are used
Once you have this data, you’ll be able to much more easily see how onboarding is going, but you’ll also be able to assess the impact of any changes you’ve made to your onboarding flow (via a basic cohort analysis, which we’ll make sure to cover in a future post). At the end of the day, if your onboarding flow isn’t leading to more usage, more retention, and more value for your users – it probably doesn’t matter how perfect you think it is.
Many of my best experiences as a customer are those that are appropriately personal. From having the bartender at a neighborhood haunt recognize me to having my favorite restaurant give me a bottle of wine when they found out I was moving to a new city, there’s something really satisfying when there’s a shift from a faceless customer engaging in an impersonal financial transaction to it feeling like an interaction between two real people.
Having worked at numerous software companies, users too often tend to fall in the faceless bucket. Thinking about this we started to wonder: what would happen if you took 30 minutes a day and personally emailed your 20 newest or best customers? What results would you see? What would you learn?
How To Do It
10,000 emails a year seems daunting, but 25 per day (say 20 new emails and 5 replies) seems a lot more manageable.
A few comments on how we’re doing this:
- Use a customer dashboard to see new sign-ups or people who are particularly active, then make it a point to drop them an email when you have the chance.
- If you don’t have a real-time customer feed, run a standard query at the end of each day that identifies the 20 folks you want to reach out to.
- We personally use Yesware to template part of the emails, but then spend 30 seconds personalizing each one.
- Make emails personal. Ask for feedback. And don’t worry too much about making them perfect – the goal isn’t a finely crafted marketing message, but instead just a one on one interaction with a human being.
The key thing is establishing a disciplined process of outreach, as well as for the responses that come back. The more you do this, the quicker it all goes.
How You Measure It
The benefits from doing this are likely to show up on two potential fronts:
- Greater customer happiness: This is difficult to measure, but the basic idea is that giving users a better experience makes them more likely to stick around longer, be advocates for you, etc.
- Actionable knowledge: The second, less quantifiable, benefit is that your greater customer interactions give you significant opportunities to learn more about your business overall, whether that’s marketing (what messages resonated with the new user and led them to your site) to product (which parts of onboarding did they find confusing).
The beauty of the web is that you can easily test the impact of these emails via cohort analysis. Pick a few weeks and give this a shot, then, watch the performance of people in those weeks compared to other cohorts to see if you see improvements in frequency of logging in, depth of usage, and active time on site. Likewise, call a random set of customers and ask them about their onboarding process to get direct thoughts. Assessing the knowledge side of this is more difficult, but it can be a major benefit and at the end of the day you’ll have to make a call.
So – give it a shot. We are. We’d love to hear more about your results. Follow us on Twitter or comment below if you’ve given this a try.