Putting the Customer First

Hubert Liu
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February 2, 2018

Company culture always starts from the top and works its way down. Even though leadership will be pushing certain ideas, it’s important that everyone has buy-in and ownership of embracing the cause.

When thinking about developing a customer-first culture, don’t forget that it is actually about the customer. It won’t always be easy or straightforward for your team, but getting into the right mindset will be valuable in the long-run. Giving the customer a good experience, bringing them into the development process, and letting them know when things go wrong are some of the big ideas when I think “customer-first.”

Customer Experience

A good experience isn’t about perfect software. Ideally, if a customer can’t figure out how to do something, it should be painless for them to figure it out.

Things like in-line help, placeholder text, colors, and help bubbles are great ways to clarify simple questions. They can also guide the customer to the next logical step. For example, I like to color positive confirmation buttons green to indicate something good will happen, while a confirmation button that confirms something destructive, like a deletion, should be colored red.

Knowledge base articles with in-depth explanations, best practices, or tutorials can really help answer advanced, but common questions that a customer could have. Make sure to keep screenshots up-to-date, and important language or vocabulary should be consistent across articles.

If a customer has a unique question or problem, provide a quick and easy way to connect with support. While emailing support@yourcompany.com works for some people, it’s frustrating to break away from your current screen to write an email and wait for a response. I’ve found that in-app chat widgets like Intercom can lead to faster resolution times and friendlier, less formal, and more personalized conversation. It’s a better experience overall, because they can return to whatever they were doing after they’ve received help.

Customers In the Development Process

Developing a product with your head down (and in a vacuum) will get things out the door quickly, but a better way forward is to involve the customers in the development process. Talk to your current customers before you start writing product specifications. After you’ve iterated some internally, show that new specification back to the customer, and make sure they know what you’ll be delivering.

After you’re done with development, get some customers in your beta process to test it out. When customers are part of the process, they will more likely use your product (because it’s what they wanted). They’ll be more loyal, and stick around when renewals come up. Even though we’ve talked about embracing vocal customers, try to avoid recency bias by making sure to involve both new and old customers -- even those that you don’t have an on-going cadence with.

Bad News Is Important

When things are going well, everyone is all smiles. Customers and employees are equally happy. Sometimes, we’ll want to pretend things are going well, but it’s better to be transparent, even when things aren’t going the way you planned.


It’s better to be transparent

even when things aren’t going the way you planned.

To make sure employees are always thinking about the customer, I’ve seen a monthly email with the top-customers with their estimated happiness level and churn risk help. It keeps everyone in the loop on who might be churning and if there’s anything they can do to help save a deal. Maybe there’s an open bug or support ticket from that customer, or a previous string of unpleasant problems. To help mend the relationship, have engineering and support prioritize their tickets. Hiding churn from your employees will just ensure that those customers won’t get saved.

Proactively letting your customers know when service disruptions occur can help build a relationship of trust and transparency. Sending post-mortems with a root-cause analysis, and how you intend to adjust your process, gives confidence to your customers that it won’t happen again. Several times, instead of anger, customers have replied to service disruption notices to thank us for being proactive and letting them know. I’ve found that a public status page is a good, asynchronous communication tool that customers can see at any time, and help your support team do crowd control while your engineers are putting out large fires.

A customer-first mentality will help you retain happy customers and produce better, easier to use software. Make sure customers: can always get help where they need it, are involved in the development process, and know when things go wrong. Having your employees keep the customer top-of-mind, and aware of churn will keep the customer-happiness cycle going.

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