We all know or have heard the saying that customers make or break you. This is even more applicable in today’s connected and digital word, where information is available at the tip of a finger, where customers can reach out to a brand publicly via social media channels, such as Facebook or Twitter, or platforms where the influencer status is based on the number of followers you have on social media (unfortunately…).
To put things into perspective, 52.7 million online shoppers use social media for customer service every month. Furthermore, this has been growing over 90% year on year. Additionally, the so-called social media care is cheaper than traditional customer care, such as via phone and email, which is good news for startups as well as multinationals. The day and age of customer call centres that don’t return your calls or let a problem remain unresolved for days or even weeks is now over. If you do not resolve a customer complaint proactively, you might as well put the key under the door.
Some of you might remember the backlash United Airlines underwent following the mistreatment of a passenger or Uber’s ex-CEO Travis being filmed insulting a driver. The former cost United Airlines, millions of dollars, and the later, Travis’s position.
How to involve Customers in New Product Development?
In a start-up, being nimble and agile is about survival in a competitive landscape and putting the customer experience at the heart of everything we do is critical. As a co-founder, up to this day, I still handle customer requests myself, as I always learn a lot from them which also permits me to get insightful data points.
In the end of 2014, when we first started ChefXChange we went live with an MVP offering one single service. To this day, I still remember that our site was down more often than not in the first couple months, as we were scrambling to fix bugs. But I also remember our very first customers, whom I thought in the early days would never use us again. Yet, they have become the most loyal and biggest brand ambassadors of ours. Today, two and a half years down the road, we have become the online destination for culinary experiences, ranging from private chef booking service, to cooking classes, catering, consultancy, and recently launched a home cooked meals weekly subscription service.
Our latest service -home-cooked meals weekly subscription service- was beta launched in Beirut and London less than two months ago. However, it has generated over 1,000 sign ups, showing a customer acquisition growth of over 45% month on month compared to our other services, currently standing north of 10%.
What made us launch it? Since inception, we have been focused on collecting data, including those coming from search queries and search volumes on Google Analytics and Adwords, Facebook insights, reviews customers leave on our chefs’ profiles after booking them, most read topics on our blog, requests customers put through the platform and our live chat, as well as some quarterly surveys we run.
However, more often than not, startup founders tend to overlook this data despite it being accessible easily. Let’s face it, data mining isn’t the sexiest task out there, but making it actionable is primordial to understand your current and potential customers.
5 tips to use to involve your Customers in Product Development
I want to share 5 tips with other entrepreneurs to help them achieve the same:
1. Be close to your customers
There is nothing more valuable than customers who experienced your services firsthand. If happy, they will become your ambassadors for life. If unhappy, you should make it your mission to understand what went wrong and improve accordingly. They might turn out to be your even greater ambassadors. Today, chat bots are a great way to engage with your users, and are easily customizable, so make use of them! In any case, show skin in the game and don’t lose touch with reality, we all know how easy it is to get stuck in your bubble.
2. Take a step back and analyze data you have gathered
Data mining is time-consuming and boring, but it is an invaluable source of information. Out team go through this data on a quarterly basis and use findings to shape our marketing strategy, tech improvements/functionalities, and also share some of the interesting findings on our blog. There are many free tools available to help you go through this analysis, including Google Keyword search volumes, Google Analytics, Facebook insights, and not forgetting your own back end and data collected on your platform.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
This applies both internally and externally. Keep open communication channels between your sales and development team. Yes, they wouldn’t always get along, the introvert techies with the extrovert sales, but one without the other will never work. Let your customers tell you what they want and have your sales team relay this to your developers who will then translate it into code and functionalities. Additionally, when these new features are developed on the back of customer feedback, share these success stories with them, make them feel part of your growth and success. Intrinsic rewards often go a longer way than extrinsic ones.
4. Don’t be afraid of pivoting
The biggest fear of entrepreneurs is to change their business model along the way, which they often mistaken for an admission of guilt- not getting it right the first time, looking bad in front of investors. Explore, get it wrong multiple times, as fast as possible, until you get it right. Once again, don’t listen to outsiders but listen to your own current or potential customers, and this again comes back to data.
5. Create useful content for your customers
Our blog has become one of our biggest traffic source to our main site. Providing ideas, original and interesting content has increased awareness, educated our target market and most importantly increased conversions. Hard work at the beginning will pay off big time down the road, when you realize you don’t need to bid anymore for certain keywords because you rank on top of Google Searches. When we first launched our services, for the keyword “Private Chef” we ranked on page 16 of Google Search, we now rank on the first page in our major cities.
This article was originally published on www.entrepreneur.com on November 26th 2017.