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Successful startups always have really strong customer loyalty and super passionate brand advocates. These are customers who really love the brand, recommend the brand to their friends and will stand by the brand even when they screw up once and a while. How does a growing tech company foster this kind of enthusiasm for their business?


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Q: Successful startups always have really strong customer loyalty and super passionate brand advocates.  These are customers who really love the brand, recommend the brand to their friends and will stand by the brand even when they screw up once and a while.  How does a growing tech company foster this kind of enthusiasm for their business?

Well outside of making sure you have great product-market-fit and that you are developing a high quality offering, companies that have passionate brand advocates tend to focus on customer engagement and delivering differentiated value.

The key is doing something that creates a customer experience which is remarkable. Something customers will want to tell their friends about. Here at Linode for example, we have the luxury of being independent which means we can overinvest in things like customer support which in turn helps build enthusiastic brand loyalists. Customer support is notoriously bad at most companies because providing high quality, no tiered, 100% human support is often expensive and hard to implement.  Because Linode made it fundamental to its offering early on, our support experience is notably differentiated from other companies and consequently customers respond with accolades and loyalty.

One of my favorite venture capital leaders Mitch Greene, founding partner at Lead Edge Capital, gave me some great advice early on in my career, he said product dominance will always be hard to maintain, so try and find at least one or two things outside of your core product that you can deliver a best in class experience in.  Do you have an amazing training program, is your pricing model simpler and more accessible, does your documentation set the standard for your market? Customers want a great quality product, but they also want an experience with your brand that they can connect with.  Look across your customer touchpoints and wow them by delivering something unexpected and the loyalty will follow.

Q: So delivering a great customer experience makes sense as a way to influence word-of-mouth, but it seems like there is more to it than that when you are talking about truely die-hard loyalists.  What else do startup leaders need to do?

Hopefully, you have all watched the famous Simon Sinek TED Talk where he introduces the concept of “starting with the why”. He challenges us to rethink how we differentiate our brands externally and consequently align teams internally.  The idea is the “Why” “How” and “What” of your business.  The “What” of course is what you do, your product, the “How” is how your product is unique or its features, and the Why is answering the question, Why do you exist, what is your purpose, what do you believe. Typically we all start with the “what”, and then try our best to promote the How, those things that set us apart from our competition. But rarely do we start with the Why and more often than not, we never define our “why” to our customers or employees.  Simon preaches that people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.

To build deep brand loyalty you need to give customers something bigger to hold onto.  Something that is greater than themselves or your product that they can feel connected to.  Uber’s Why statement is “Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone” or Asana’s Why which is “to help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.”  If you can start with your Why, then you can find customers who not only need your product, but also believe in what you believe and consequently you now have a more powerful brand advocate then you could have fostered with just product features alone.

Q: When it comes to technology products and services, especially those that are SaaS or other subscription based offerings. Keeping customer enthusiasm over time can be hard.  What should companies do to counteract brand fatigue?  

It’s amazing how little thought is given to ongoing customer engagement by most startups.  I get it, there is so much to do just to make the product work and then effectively onboard and service customers, those additional efforts to engage customers over time can feel overwhelming and may be hard to justify on the surface.  But the fact that so many companies fail to engage their customers in meaningful ways post purchase, is one of the reasons why it’s so important to do it.

  1. Simply engage with your customers.  Leverage email, social and events to connect with your customers and let them know you care about them, that you appreciate and listen to their feedback and that you will keep them informed.
  2. Provide a customer loyalty and referral program.  Reward customers who engage with the brand and introduce your product to others.
  3. Research your customers, see what makes them tick and what they value from a relationship with your company.
  4. Share your product road map with customers.  As humans, we all want to know that the brands we work with are continuing to innovate and build upon what they have.  Share what is coming and even what you might be considering to build, your customers will feel rest assured that they picked the right partner, even if you can’t solve all their needs right now.
  5. Set up a customer advisory council.  I’ve built and run several of these over the years   and not only do you gain incredible product and market insights, but you build powerful brand advocates that will go above and beyond for you.

Remember, It’s always easier to keep and grow existing customers than acquire new ones. So invest in your customers, and the experience they have with you, and they’ll pay you back with the loyalty you need for long term success.

NOTES:

  • Do something remarkable
  • Experience matters.
  • Share your brand Why, or what you believe
  • Don’t forget to engage with your customers early and overtime.
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