After the big business lovers are finished hurtling insults at startups who sell their product before it’s built, they’d be wise to consider exactly what it is that’s driving customers’ desire – it’s not just that fancy HTML5 landing page.
Startups are small businesses taken to the extremes; they’re micro-businesses, if you will, with small-time attitudes and big-time revenue models, who become mega-sellers. After all, better to build something simple and sell it to millions than to sell a million different bloated products which only one person buys. Therein lies the fundamental difference between small and large business, the difference which ensures quality over quantity. Even Apple is heading in the latter direction, recklessly diversifying instead of choosily simplifying their product offering.
But I’m generalizing to make it easy on myself. The fact is, some startups are built without quality in mind, and some big businesses don’t focus on more, more, more. Take, for instance, two experiences I had recently with two other app startups.
The first is truly saddening. I downloaded a new weather app on my iPhone. I didn’t need another one, but I’d seen it on Uncrate and the UI was incredible. I mean, all the thing did was tell me the temperature and if it was raining, but I loved it because it was beautiful. So I bought it and began to use it every day, until the day came when I decided to see how close its data was to the iPhone Weather app. Whoa. A 10-degree difference! I checked another couple of weather sources, and they confirmed that my new app was, indeed, incorrect. Well, crap. I can’t walk out the door thinking it’s 90 degrees, only to find out it’s a blazing 100 degrees! So I did what every good customer in my position would do: I wrote the developer. And waited. And waited. And got no response. Truly saddening.
Let me raise your spirits. I recently downloaded a new planner app for my iPhone and iPad. This app I needed, badly. It’s got a realistic UI, which, whatev, it works in this case. It’s about a 3.5 star app IMHO, but if it’s ever really polished it could easily be 4.5. (They’d need to add the *unicorn factor to it to make it 5, which I don’t see happening.) With that in mind, I downloaded the free version of the app, because I don’t pay for anything less than 4 stars, unless I must have it and it’s my only option. Again, I wrote the developer. What did I receive in return? A promo code to get the $15 app for free. Are your spirits raised as much as mine were?
So, rule number 1: To not create excellent PR, you should ignore your users. Customers are the only reason startups are alive. If you want your idea to perish along with all the hard work invested (most of which you may have done yourself), don’t reply to user requests, suggestions and complaints. You have no excuse to leave your users in the dust; either you only have a couple and can personally reply to them, or you have so many you (have the cash flow and) need to hire-out your tech support. Whichever the case, answer your emails / wall posts / tweets / what have you, or you’ll be reduced to dust.
Of course, a poorly-phrased reply can be worse than none at all. I receive mean/rude/crazy emails every single day, and sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to suck-up my pride and say, “I’m sorry, my bad.” You know what I’ve learned while running PaperDesk’s support? Not only is a computer screen more potent than any liquid courage you can find, most people don’t write as if they’re talking to an actual person. Big business has conditioned us to view a company as more of a punching bag than a group of people. When a user sends me an “Eat sh-dirt and die” email, they don’t think they’re sending it to me. They don’t think they’re going to get a reply from me. And they certainly don’t think they’re going to get helped by me. They think they’re egging a brick wall – they don’t even conceive that there is a me.
Rule number 2: To not create excellent PR, take it personal – make it personal. Assume the correspondence is directed at you as an individual, and in your reply, make them pay with your sassiness. /sarcasm. If a user is angry, their communication is rooted in frustration. Unless you’re the Dalai Lama, I think you can empathize. Just think back 20 minutes ago when you were agonizing over a first-world problem of your own. I have our most common responses prewritten, not only as a time-saver, but so I know I’m not adding any sass (even inadvertently) to my response. The more sassy I’m feeling, the more I stick to the script. Still, you must respond personably to someone who is peevish to you, and sometimes you’ll need to hold your ground. While I always use at least some of what I’ve prewritten, I personalize it so each user knows a real person read and acknowledged their frustrations. It’s the difference between saying, “We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” and, “I’m really sorry about this.”
No matter how your user is feeling, always open and close with appreciation. They want or have your product – you have reason to thank them! They communicated with you about your product – you have reason the thank them, again! Throughout your communication use words like “please” and “I’m sorry,” as well as honest praise. (Don’t just flatly tell them “You’re Awesome,” like many startups are doing these days.) Inhale some “thankful” essential oil and jump into your PR work for the day.
Finally, rule number 3: To not create excellent PR, forget your manners. You know how to be polite, so emphasize this side of yourself. Customers are like your guests – you invited them in when you sold them your product, now your obliged to make them comfortable. At the same time, don’t be sicky-sweet – it’s disgusting. Opting for the Paula Deen smile and laugh will only leave your customers wondering if you’re really pea-brained or just completely fake.
So, rephrase (or write, if you haven’t yet) conversational scripted responses to show you’re human. If you wouldn’t say it verbally, why write it? Follow the Golden Rule here and you might be surprised how many users actually thank you after their initial frustration is eased. Remember, your PR is your company’s UI – don’t neglect its design.
Stay tuned for the flip side, “How to be an Excellent Customer.”
*unicorn factor: the trait which sends you laughing and crying into the epiphany of “I ‘knew’ this didn’t exist, but I’ve been looking for it my entire life, and here it is!”