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by • January 5, 2017 • Listening, Talking about your startupComments (0)3

Scaling customer learning is NOT about talking to more people

From the mailbag: “Related to your book, quick question.. what tools do you recommend (if any) to effectively talk to your customers and get feedback from customers once launched and scaling up (vs. the more personal versions you can afford to do early on)?”

Every growing team has this question. The main mistake is thinking of “scale” in terms or reaching more customers. Instead, you should think of scale in terms of spreading the learning to your whole team. A small sample of your customers will be representative of the whole and is completely harmless, whereas half your team working blind is a Very Bad Thing.

The normal way this mistake plays out is a move from low-scale, high-bandwidth learning activities (like talking to people in person) and move to high-scale, low-bandwidth activities (like surveys). Your learning loses all its depth, and thus its usefulness, and then everyone ignores it and you may as well not bother. The easy-to-spot symptom is a search for tools, as in the question above.

So the correct phrasing of the challenge is: “As our team grows, how do we ensure everyone on the team still understands what our customers care about?” It’s about the organisation, not the tools.

Songkick used a combo of hiring their users and running parties for their super-users from which they pulled people aside for user tests & interviews. Resin.io has their developers do customer support and follow up with extra learning questions to dig into the details and implications of the problems that come up. Pact sends their executive team out on coffee deliveries to connect them to both the customers and lower-level employees. Personally, I just go to the pub and drink lots of beers with my potential customers to learn about their lives. Again, you don’t need to talk to every customer, but everyone on the team does need access to some of them.

While I’m skeptical of all the “at scale” tools like surveys, stuff that allows a conversation to happen where there wouldn’t have been one is great — for example, intercom.io to chat to frustrated shoppers, staying responsive to complaints on Twitter/FB, having empowered people doing customer support, etc.

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