(This post was originally published on Yahoo.com.)
One of the most inexcusable things you can do in business is treat your customers like dollar signs. Not only will this lead to poor service and a bad reputation, it will also mean you will miss out on all the great opportunities having a good customer relationship can provide.
Perhaps it is because we are part of the subscription economy, in which retention is king, but we’ve always seen the value of our customers. Happy and loyal customers are good for business today and even more valuable, tomorrow. Even more, if you treat them well enough and provide a killer service, they can become excellent brand ambassadors.
If I tell my son to do something, he looks at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. But if a friend asks him to do the exact same thing, it is done instantly. This phenomenon happens with your brand as well. You can tell people how great you are until you’re blue in the face and they’ll act deaf. But get a single kind word from a third party and suddenly their ears perk up.
This is powerful.
This is particularly important when you’re trying to break into an established space, like we were doing back in 2007. It’s not easy to get people to trust you with their DNS (just like many other products and services) when you’re starting out, so we needed people we could lean on for support to provide a good word for us.
That’s why we created our Customer Advisory Board (CAB), made up of a group of people who were chosen not only because of the great companies they represent, but also because of their personal support of our company’s evolution. They were a group of folks who believed in us enough to put their name on the line as they recommended us to other people in their industries. Simply put, this group is comprised of intelligent people whose opinions we trust.
Not everyone is going to create their own CAB, but there are simpler alternatives. Engaging with social media, taking advantage of touch points, like adding a customer satisfaction survey at the bottom of your newsletter, or just asking (while providing an incentive for a response — everyone loves free schwag) are great ways to maintain a pulse on what your ambassadors are thinking.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Remember though that a relationship has to be a two-way street. You’ve got to give your customers something in return. We wanted to ensure that we were giving them the best service for their problems today and tomorrow.
That’s why, even after we became a household name within the Internet Infrastructure industry, we decided to continue growing our CAB. Picking the brains of some of the smartest people within the tech space is a huge competitive advantage for us. Our CAB can tell us where they think we should go next and maybe even identify some issues or opportunities we hadn’t thought of yet. It’s a sounding board and launching pad.
We’ve actually changed our roadmap based on their feedback. By soliciting outside advice and insight, we get out of our comfort zone with real-world perspective from people that understand our space.
The lesson? Never be blinded by your own passion for your product. You may think it should be used one way, but your customers may have something else to say entirely — so ask for their opinion, even if you don’t like it.
Meet in the Flesh
The last thing to remember is that even though we live in the age of easy communication, the best relationships are still built in person. Take time to meet with your customers over dinner or drinks. Each year we fly the members of our CAB to our headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire so we can shake hands and look each other in the eye.
When you’re running a new business, you are so focused on signing up new customers that you easily forget to acknowledge the ones you already have. And when you run a tech company, it can be difficult sometimes to visualize your customer at all. This is when you fall into the trap of only thinking about money.
Put a face and name behind everything you do, and it’ll be a great reminder of why you’re working so hard every day.