Always New Mistakes

March 13, 2008

6 rules to get customer support right

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 2:03 pm

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Every single person that works in a business has been taught that customers come first. Nevertheless this simple piece of advice is, in my opinion, the most neglected one in a wide range of enterprises. Why this happens escapes my understanding. I remember when I was studying Marketing (yes, I’m a marketing computer scientist) we got banged really hard with: users, users, users (alas “developers, developers, developers” from the Steve Ballmer’s speech) but it seems not many people were listening that day.

I talk about this because I continually see entrepreneurs neglect the “users come first” motto. Customer or users are the most important part of any business, including web applications. I’ve highlighted several key point I think are worth noting:

  • Never, ever, under NO circumstances be disrespectful with your customers. This first point seems fairly easy, but in my experience, it’s the most recurrent failure in many businesses. The lack of respect and education is really broad. Even if the customer is wrong, being disrespectful is a no-no. First of all, being wrong is a subjective notion, and we have to always try to understand the user’s perspective. But even if a customer is truly wrong, we have to treat them in an educated way and swallow the bad moment. You can reduce this notion to: “The customer is ALWAYS right“. This brings me to the next point.
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  • Do not confront a customer. That’s bad PR, bad Marketing, bad everything. In the end you won’t getinsolence.jpg nothing out of a confrontation as the customer is already angry and if he isn’t, a confrontation is probably going to piss him off. Under this point I want to share two stories. The first one happened to my blogger friend Tom Raftery. Blueface’s CEO confronted him in a really nasty way. This case is even worse, not only are you attacking a former customer, but a prominent blogger with media exposure and it’s the CEO the one that is attacking him. Please bear in mind that the CEO and founders of a company are an extension of the company’s brand. Their personal brand is as important or more than the company’s, so do not engage in a confrontation, but even if you do, don’t expose the CEO or founders. The second story happened very recently at one of the South by Southwest‘s panels. It was during the Mark Zuckerberg’s interview by Sarah Lacy. I won’t get into the gory details, you can read those around, but there was something that really made me jump. At one point of the interview she confronted the audience in a very cocky way and said: “Try and do what I do for a living, it isn’t as easy as it looks“. From all points of view, even if she had a reason to say that, confronting a bored audience of geeks and developers is a really stupid move. Not only she didn’t accomplish anything, she probably made things worse with that attitude. So remember, if you ever feel the urge to yell and attack a customer (we all have been in that situation), refrain yourself, tell yourself you wont get nothing positive out of it.
  • Be transparent with your users. This point is probably more of a strategy to build a great brand, but I wished more companies did it. Yesterday I went to an event where they talked about the importance of personal branding. For the speaker, a brand is all about relevance, reliability and notoriety. When you are transparent with your users you increase the reliability perception of your brand. People tend to mystify companies and as such they tend to think that they are evil and that they only do things to gain big money. Being transparent brakes that notion and sets a human face to the company. For example, if Sarah Lacy had disclose that the reason she did the interview with Mark Zuckerberg the way she did was because of restrictions imposed by the organizers, maybe the audience wouldn’t have had their expectations so high. Evidently, a company can’t disclose strategic plans, but most of the time the can and in my opinion, they should. I know a lot of people that would be really happy if Twitter explained what is going on every time they are down.geek.jpg
  • Know your users. When someone starts a business, one of the first things they do is to make some market study and see which market niches they are after. You normally get a profile of the kind of user you are targeting. Strikingly, when dealing with customers and users, a company forgets all about this and treats them in a way that doesn’t makes sense with their profile. Come one, lets try to be coherent. If your target niche are geeks and developers, please, bare that in mind when you talk with your users. Communications flow in a much nicer way when you are in synchrony with your users.
  • Treat your users as adults. One thing really gets on my nerves is when you call customer support and they treat you like if you were completely retarded. Why do I have to tolerate that? I can understand that most of the calls a company gets might be from people with no clue of what they are asking, but extending that notion to all your user base is very dangerous. Please, treat your customers as adults, give them the benefit of being well educated and respectful persons. If you treat them as dumb, they will react as such. If you treat them as adults, some of them will hopefully react as adults.
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  • Ask your users in a regular manner. I just added this last point just to remindfeedback1.jpg everyone that user feedback is the best tool start-ups and even fully grown companies have to understand and measure their brand awareness and quality of their products. Always introduce feedback capabilities into all stages of your products. This is even true at an internal level. Introduce feedback systems into you internal procedures to review and understand what is happening inside your company. And of course, act consequently. There is no use in processing feedback if you don’t do anything with it. Listen, process, act and most importantly COMMUNICATE the changes the company made based on the feedback. Feedback is a two way tool. This last point relates to the one about being transparent.

Concluding, I think that most of the tips I wrote about are pretty straightforward. Nevertheless I can’t decide if companies choose to ignore them because they don’t think they are paramount or because they couldn’t care less. Anyway, if you are an entrepreneur and you are bootstrapping your start-up (as I am) include these best practices as soon as possible as it will pay off on the long run. As I love to eat my own dog food, I encourage everyone to leave a comment with their thoughts on the matter.

    March 3, 2008

    The important people myth debunked

    Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 12:56 pm

    There is something that I never quite understood. Why do people are so afraid of famous people? There is like an innate fear of important people that most of the times scratches in paranoia. I would like to analyze this myth andyoursign.jpg try to debunk it because I feel it’s one of the most wide spread problems with many people. First of all, there are many definitions for “important, and worst of all it’s that this definition varies depending on who you talk with. For me, someone important is someone that has an incredible track record and that has demonstrated many times that he’s truly incredible. I would like to stress the importance of “many times” because I think it’s a key concept in my definition. Someone that got lucky once and got fame and money isn’t as important to me as someone that has proven many times his/her skills or knowledge. The problem to me is that not many people share this definition. For most of them, someone important is someone that has been exposed to the media in some way or another. That means, someone that has been written about in a nationwide newspaper, magazine or A-list blog, someone that has been a TV guest in some television program or someone that has been interviewed in a radio program, turns out to be, for a great chunk of the population, someone famous.

    Sometimes, and only sometimes, there is a relation between media exposure and important people, but most of the time it’s just the result of the marketing and PR guys. And don’t get me wrong, exposing someone to the media is quite tough, specially now that everyone is competing for attention. The problem is that there isn’t a correlation between both, and most people don’t know this or won’t acknowledge this.

    Now what I hear most of the time is “hey are you crazy? Are you going to email X? He won’t even answer you, he’s famous!” and I must say that when I listen to this, there is something that kicks inside me. I always answer the same thing: “and? why isn’t he going to answer back?”. After all, famous people are human beings with the same google.jpgdefects and virtues as the rest of us, sometimes even more. They are also, most of the time, educated persons that will answer you back, even if it’s to decline the offer. I understand, because I’ve experienced it, that when you are a very social active person you don’t have time for everything you would like, and when you have to decline and invitation, collaboration or similar you feel really bad about it because you wished you could have more time. Sadly enough, until someone discovers a folding time device, there is a limited time window these people have and so they have to limit, often based on priorities, with whom they spend it, which I understand and share 100%.

    Nevertheless, not sending emails, or calling famous or important people out of fear is just plain stupid. As Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”. You’ll always find rude people, but those are a minority. In my experience, every single time I’ve emailed someone that is considered by society as famous or important I’ve got an answer (ok, granted that it wasn’t always the answer I was looking for, but I still got an answer).

    Another problem is that we tend to empower famous people with somehow ridiculous powers. If you’ve ever been in a place where everyone thinks you are a god, you might have experience this. It’s pretty hilarious what people talk about you, it’s like if you were a mystical creature with superpowers that can bend the laws of physics just with your sight. This is a natural byproduct of worshiping, but people should be realistic, famous people are normal people that have achieved incredible things. But that doesn’t means that they are superheroes that don’t speak your language or that don’t have enough education to answer an email.

    The above sometimes reminds me of when you are looking for a relationship and you see/meet an incredible woman/man. Most people freak out and say things like: “oh look he’s/she’s so cute he/she won’t even speak with me”. Truth is that handsome people are quite lonely because of this and most of the times they have no partner and they stay like that for a long time because nobody has the guts to go an speak with them.cajal-mi.jpg

    Anyhow, what I want to say is that we shouldn’t be afraid of talking with important or famous people, because after all they are human and respond like humans. You might admire someone, as I do with many persons, but that shouldn’t stop you from talking with them because, after all, you can’t possible know what they are going to say. Limiting yourself because of your own thoughts is something we should avoid, let others put the limits, not ourselves.

    As an experiment I’m going to forward this post to some A list bloggers and see how many of them leave a comment to prove my point (please don’t let me down with this hehe).

    And as always, what are your experiences with this myth? Have you ever been there? Are you famous and have experienced this “fame isolation“? I would love to read everybody’s insight on this matter.

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