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Work for Yourself? You Work for Your Customers.

This was a guest post I wrote for Grasshopper’s blog

A few key takeaways:

  • Know who your customers are.
  • Engage with your customers and learn from them.
  • Use the information you learn to achieve “Customer ESP.”

Entrepreneurs often talk about their motivations behind starting a company and highlight their desire to work for themselves. Many entrepreneurs talk about their need to build something. At Apptentive, we feel a strong desire to create and to control our destiny. We enjoy what we do, we believe in what we’re doing, we’re building a great team and we absolutely LOVE our customers.

Do you?

Most entrepreneurs require customers in order to make ends meet. If you’re in the small group of folks who don’t require customers, well, you must not be reading this during market hours. :)

The rest of us are always in search of customers. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been an entrepreneur for a long while, you know the ecstasy and agony of winning and losing customers.

Your business NEEDS customers in order to exist.

Needing customers is not the same as being needy

It’s tempting to build a business based upon attracting whoever will pay you. However, in our experience, every customer is not created equal. There are customers you want to work with and customers you absolutely understand and respect. There are also those customers who do not “pay for themselves”. We believe that our business will more be more successful when we are focused on winning the RIGHT customers. (It’s not only OK to politely say no to customers who are jerks, we encourage it.)

Avoiding customer neediness requires deep thinking about a few things that get to the heart of how well you truly understand your customers:

  • What your customer’s daily life is like,
  • What your customers really need, and
  • Who you truly want to work with.

Better products and happier customers through deep understanding of your customers is essential to move from being needy to being needed.

Don’t know who your customers really are? Dig in and find out.

In our experience, many people don’t really know who their customers are. We see this a lot with our customers. The amazing thing about today’s app marketplaces is that an app can get millions of downloads without the developer knowing anything about who’s downloading the app and why. That’s why developers use Apptentive to get better ratings and in-app feedback directly from their customers.

Learning about your customers is a constant process. If you haven’t started, we urge you to begin today. Learn more about the people you work for: your customers.

Ask yourself 2 key questions today:

  • Do you have a direct method of engaging with your customers?
  • Do your customers have a way of directly contacting you?

If the answer to either of these questions is, “Yes”, great news: you’ve got the most important tool at your disposal. With a direct channel between you and your customers you can ask simple questions about who your customers are, how they found out about you, what they truly value and their opinion on what it’s like to work with you. You can listen to them and respond, furthering your relationships while learning how to build a more successful organization

We see the benefits of these straightforward approaches often because app developers use us to directly engage with their app customers. They are regularly impressed by the insights they get from their users. Suggestions, praise and areas for improvement all assist in the development of better apps.

Grow with your customers. Love them. Serve them. Listen to them

We believe that our customers will constantly be growing and changing. As a result, we try to stay close to them in order to effectively understand their needs. It can be tempting to view customer research and interaction as a periodic endeavor. However, this is a mistake.

In today’s incredibly connected world the companies that win are the ones who are nimble and excellent at listening. As such, it’s important to think about how to constantly engage with your customers and learn from them. The customer’s life doesn’t stop, why should your listening, learning and communication capabilities?

The beauty of being thoughtful about the customers that you want to serve is that it should be enjoyable to stay in contact with your customers. Asking genuine and meaningful questions about their business should be interesting to you. Are you in love with solving their problems and making their lives better?

The more you communicate effectively with your customers and excel at listening, the better the relationship will grow over time.

Get deep with your customers, get smarter about their business, understand it and add value to it.

Personalized experiences win. Always.

The difference between leaders and followers in markets is that the true leaders actually uncover the real customer needs faster and more regularly. Leaders create solutions that feel personalized because they are in-line with customer behavior and needs. The better you understand your customer, the more you’ll be able to provide solutions to their problems before they even have to ask you to solve it.

What happens when you get closer to your customers and really embrace the fact that you work for them is that you’ll achieve “Customer ESP”. The better you understand and satisfy consumer needs, the more magical your product or service will appear to a consumer. Reading their minds is a lot easier when you’re just listening to what they’re saying ;-) .

What have you found?

I’d like to learn about your business and customer stories. Here are a few starter questions for you:

  • Have you gotten close to your customers and reaped rewards?
  • Have you gotten into trouble with customers you shouldn’t have taken on?
  • Do you disagree with the idea that you work for your customers?
Robi Ganguly
Updated: November 12th, 2012 11:25 am