Sometimes, the best way for your small business to outgrow its own label as a small business is to focus on “unscalable,” personal interactions that turn your own customers into brand-promoting juggernauts.
Three years ago, customer service startup Groove found themselves in need of customers for their product. The catch? They didn’t have the budget to simply buy themselves a userbase and snowball to an easy victory.
While founder Alex Turnbull believed the product he and his team had created was exceptional, he was also experienced enough to know that the “build it and they will come” line of thinking had no place in the lexicon of a small business in a competitive market.
So how did they so quickly close the gap between scraping together initial customers and their current $250,000+ in monthly recurring revenue?
In short, they realized one of the secret sauce recipes of the business world: When you want to break out of your small scale, your small scale itself is one of your greatest assets.
A less cryptic explanation would be something like this:
When you have 78 customers instead of 32,000, you can offer a level of individual attention and personal outreach that your larger competitors just can’t. In the same way paying $8 per click on competitive search terms is out of the question for you, fostering meaningful, individual interactions with every single customer is out of the question for the Walmarts and Facebooks of your market.When you want to break out of your small scale, your small scale itself is one of your greatest assets. Click To Tweet
Groove sent personal emails to every customer, they reached out and painstakingly made relationships one by one. They made personal, unscalable interactions, designed to delight their customers, a key part of their growth strategy. And boy did that word of mouth marketing work out for them.
Not everyone has the patience or the work ethic to perform the one-on-one magic required to make your customers feel special and cared about, but if you’re up for taking advantage of one of the best assets in your current arsenal, read on…
Here are 13 unscalable things you can do that will make your customers love their interactions with you, and tell all of their friends all about it:
1) Immediately reach out to every single new person your brand interacts with
When a new customer signs up for your service or buys something from you, take a moment to connect with that individual personally, or at least give them an opportunity to have that interaction. For us, this means sending out an email when someone creates a Responster account that asks why they decided to use our service or if there’s any way we can help them reach their goals, before making it clear that if they respond to that email, yes, a real person will be reading and responding thoughtfully to their answer.
Let your customers/users know you appreciate them by giving them your attention, it’ll pay off in spades.Let your customers/users know you appreciate them by giving them your attention, it’ll pay off in spades. Click To Tweet
2) Make customers feel more at home
In the online world, it’s increasingly common that that person who just signed up for a free trial of your service or who bought something off of your website might be located halfway across the world; you can use this as a chance to be attentive to detail and score some extra points. Here’s a recent example:
We’re based in Sweden, but I recently found myself offering some support to a user in The Netherlands. In Swedish, a friendly letter might be signed off with “Mvh”, which stands for for “med vänliga hälsningar”, the equivalent of “sincerely” or “kind regards” in English.
Before shooting off a reply, I decided to see if there was a similar Dutch equivalent. Sure enough, “Met Vriendelijke Groeten” has the same meaning in Dutch, so I decided to end my email with “MVG,” before my signature, instead of the usual.
A gamechanger? Probably not, but there’s no harm in showing you care about the small things and making your customers feel like you actually put some effort into your interaction with them.
Tip: Don’t take this to the point of offending someone or looking silly. If someone from Argentina is writing you in perfectly understandable English, don’t stumble through a mangle Spanish reply supplement by Google Translate just because you took a semester 8 years ago in high school.There’s no harm in showing your customers that you care about them (a crazy amount). Click To Tweet
3) Handwrite a thank-you card
Remember when your mom used to make you write thank you cards for all of your holiday gifts? My conversations always went something like this:
Me: “But moooooooom, I already told grandma and grandpa thank you at the party!”
My mother: “It’s not the same, now write your f*#&cking thank you cards.”
Alright, she didn’t actually say it quite like that, but even if she had, she would have been right to do so: The value and utility we get out of an interaction is equal to what we put in, and taking the time to personally buy/make a card, put the pen to the paper, write something thoughtful, and send it away in the mail means more than a passing comment or an email.
If you’re the only company that someone buys from that takes the time to take that extra step, you’re going to stand out.
Recently, I posted on reddit asking for feedback on Responster, and promised to send a handwritten card to anyone who bothered to try us out and send me an email with their thoughts about where we could improve.
Lo and behold, our first taker took us up on that offer this week, so I headed to the stationary store, picked out a decidedly Swedish greeting card, wrote a thoughtful message, and mailed it out!
And we’re far, far from the only ones taking this step as well. When I reached out to ask what other small businesses were doing to go above and beyond to leave a good impression on their customers, 4 of the 15 who responded explicitly told me that they wrote handwritten thank you cards to their customers. A couple even mentioned getting some excellent responses, such as customers sharing uploads of their cards on social media!
Steve Levine of Jampaper.com told me that they’d also used their thank you notes to deliver coupons, and since beginning the practice of mailing out personal notes to customers, the company had seen an 8% increase in repeat business from first time customers – nice!If you’re the only company that someone buys from that takes that extra step, you’re going to stand out. Click To Tweet
4) Make them a custom product
One of the responses I got when interviewing other businesses about their above and beyond techniques for customer care really intrigued me; it came from Scrubz Body, a natural skin care product business in New York, who told me they not only sell their products as they are, but will also make their customers a completely custom scent on the spot.
Here’s how it works: Someone brings in a piece of fabric, an empty bottle of perfume, a lotion, anything with a certain smell that they’d like to have in their skin care product.
Then, Body Scrubz will work with the ingredients they have to create a custom solution that mimics the scent the customer brought in.
Of course, this may not be feasible in every industry, but don’t write off making customizations and tweaks just because they’re time-consuming; you just might win over one of your biggest brand ambassadors.
Early on, your time is your stand-in for an ad budget. Just as you would dump big bucks into the paid ads generating the most return, don’t be afraid to put your time into making a customer really, really happy.
And guess what? I bet Scrubz Body’s customer retention rate is extremely high.When you're a small business, your *time* is your stand-in for an ad budget. Click To Tweet
5) Swap your mindset
The best decision you can probably make as a small business or startup trying to get initial traction is to make the leap from worrying about “how do I grow/convert more/increase margins/beat out the competition?” to “how can I create the most value and utility for my target audience?”
The people who’ve had runaway successes as entrepreneurs have been great at getting inside of a customer’s mindset and reverse engineering exactly what would make them loyal to and excited about a brand if they themselves were the customer.
And it makes sense: The brands and people who have gone out of their way and helped you the most or made the most positive impact in your life, those are the ones you’re most loyal to, that you tell your friends about, and that you spend money with: You don’t give a sh*t about their ROI, their margins, or their conversion rates!
When you begin to align your efforts with and worry about the things that your target customers worry about, you become a no-brainer choice for patrons of your industry. Consequently, those more traditional metrics you worry about will follow suit and head in the right direction as well.Put the customer first, and ROI will follow. Click To Tweet
6) Have the same person work with a customer every time
Did you have any mom and pop shops or restaurants you and your family went to growing up? Every time you went in, you’d probably chat it up with the owner(s) and the personal connection played a part in the overall experience of being there. “Hey,” you’d think, “this person knows my name! This person knows what I want when I order ‘the usual’!” and that felt good.
The goodwill and familiarity generated by such relationships is exactly why big advertising agencies assign “account managers” to each client and give them a known face, someone who knows their business inside and out, to interact with every time.
You can replicate this experience regardless of whether you are online or offline.
Let’s say a customer contacts you asking about your product and, after a few interactions decides to buy. Two months later, they have a couple of questions about using the product, and they submit a support ticket to your website.
You recognize the name, take the initiative to respond to their email, and are able to quickly answer their questions because you already have contextual information about that customer from previous interactions.
Isn’t that better than if another employee had fielded the email/call/tweet and had to get brought up to speed on things that customer had already explained to your brand once? You’re damn right it is!
There are plenty of support apps that allow you to keep track of customers throughout the lifecycle of their interactions with you, but, as a smaller operation you might not even need them.
It’s a basic principle of human nature that trust grows with repeated exposure and is reinforced by positive experiences, so help accelerate loyalty between individuals and your brand by making sure your customers are individually attended to by the same employee each time they interact with you.
7) Find out something about a customer’s interests, then act on it!
In a recent video in which social media hotshot Gary Vaynerchuk speaks to a room of Dior salespeople, he recalls a story in which taking the time to send a relevant gift to a customer ended up paying off bigtime for his family’s budding wine business.
Here’s the short version:
- A customer bought an inexpensive case of wine ($100 or so) from their company.
- The company found out through the customer’s twitter profile that he was a Chicago Bears fan.
- They went on ebay and bought him a signed Chicago Bears jersey for $300 and mailed it to him.
- They heard nothing from him.
- Yikes, right?
Well, two months later, a $4,800 order for high-end wine comes in with a note attached: “I heard about you because you sent my friend a Chicago Bears Jersey with his purchase. By the way, I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.”
The moral of the story: Do not underestimate the ROI of going above and beyond for your customers to give them an experience they can’t find anywhere else.
And you don’t have to be buying multi-hundred dollar sports memorabilia either, here are a couple of lower cost ideas for how you might leverage this same strategy:
- Find out a customer’s music tastes and send him or her a CD or vinyl from that artist.
- Refer back to something the customer shared about themselves in a previous interaction when sending a thank you email/card.
- Send them a business-building book or educational book related to their industry that they might enjoy.
8) Ask for feedback, then act on it!
It’s no secret that collecting customer feedback can be hugely beneficial to learning about your business and improving/growing (in fact, it’s a main selling point of our product), but it’s the followup to your feedback that matters in the eyes of your customers.
Collecting feedback is not about giving lip service and pretending you care about customer opinions, it’s a real chance to identify problem areas, high points, and to win over hearts in the process.
If I filled out a customer survey at the end of a shopping trip, and mentioned that it doesn’t make sense that bread is on one side of the supermarket and that butter is on the other, then came in a week later to find the loaves of bread had found a new home next to the butter and spreads refrigerator, that would, at the very least, make me think.
“Hey,” I might say, “these guys actually listened!”
That says a lot about the customer service dedication of the organization, and would skyrocket my loyalty when it came to my grocery shopping trips.
In the same way, make sure you never ask for a customer opinion without having the intention of actually acting on what you hear back. If you do, however, you’ll once again set yourself above and beyond your competitors.
Is it a lot of work to make changes based on customer feedback? Probably, but if that intimidates you, you probably shouldn’t be running a business in the first place.'Customer feedback is an opportunity to learn and grow, not ignore and give lip service.' Click To Tweet
9) Have a personality
When you have 300 employees and are segmented into 7 different departments, then you can worry about corporate tone-of-voice guidelines and etiquette rules. In the meantime, take advantage of the fact that you can have fun in your interactions while still remaining respectful to customers.
The fact is, if IBM started tweeting memes every day, people would be confused, largely because it’s not what they expect.
When your challenge is that nobody knows about your brand, however, treat the lack of expectations placed upon you as a blessing in disguise. It’s refreshing now for consumers to interact with brands more closely to how they’re used to interacting with their friends, family, and acquaintances.
Brand’s who are still sticking to rigid, boring, and minimal interactions with their customers and potential customers are dinosaurs who are going to go extinct as soon as someone in their market offers a comparable product but is more enjoyable and personable to do business with.Small business? Lack of brand expectations & guidelines can be a HUGE advantage. Click To Tweet
10) Meet up with local customers / users
There’s a reason politicians usually have an easy time winning votes in their home states/districts. It’s the same reason people still follow athletes that went to their college, even after they’ve been in the NFL playing for different teams for the past 8 years. It’s the same reason music artists blow up in their hometown long before they become a household name across the world.
People like supporting those they can identify with.
It’s astounding that more small businesses and startups don’t take advantage of local association, regardless of whether they have a physical location or not.
Maybe you’re a marketing consultancy based in Boston – why not host an event for small businesses in the city? Don’t just make it a sales pitch for your services, dig deeper.
Make it a networking mixer! Hell, just have a coffee and hash out the challenges of growing a business. Meet people! Make it personal, make a connection – noticing a theme in this blog post yet? Good.'People like supporting those they can identify with.' Click To Tweet
11) Respond to every single comment and mention of your company anywhere, always
If you’re depending on word of mouth and customer interactions as a way to grow your business, you should be doing everything you can to fan the flames of any conversation that starts up.
So, anywhere and everywhere you are mentioned, respondg in the most appreciative, understanding, and helpful manner you can. Even if you’re simply thanking someone for leaving a comment on your blog, or retweeting something someone said about their experience with you, you should be taking the time to interact.
This behavior sets a positive precedent, in which people are more likely to reach out publicly to you because they know that you have a reputation of getting back to people.
Tip: It’s best if conversations about your brand are earned, not instigated. In other words, don’t spam your brand or ‘casually’ mention it everywhere you interact with others who might be in your target market. Instead, focus on creating experiences with your brand that are worth talking about, so that your job is simply responding to what’s already been said about you.It's best if conversations about your brand are *earned,* not forced. Click To Tweet
12) Tweet/Publicly thank them
Especially in the B2B world, your customers are likely looking for exposure for their brands just as hard as you are! If someone orders something from you, signs on to use your service, etc., give them a public shoutout on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
“Welcome to the family, @TimsBurgerShack! Glad to have you onboard!” not only helps to foster that friendly, personal brand-to-customer interaction goal we’ve been hammering home, but it also gives your new customer some exposure to your own social following – something especially valuable to customers if you operate in the B2B space.
Tip: Keep the sensitivity of your industry in mind and use discretion here – I do not recommend tweeting out that “Henry from Connecticut” just signed up for your male enhancement newsletter, for example.
13) Connect with them via insights into your internal process
Our last blog post was about using the (ridiculously fast growing) Snapchat social media platform. While we won’t get into it here, Snapchat’s runaway success is largely due to the fact that it fosters the exact kind of behind-the-scenes glimpses and direct interactions that make your brand more personable.
You don’t have to use Snapchat, but you should take to heart the motivating factors behind why brands are doing so well with it.
Here are a few ideas for inviting customers into your process and making them feel like a connected ‘insider’ with your brand:
- Share unscripted, day-to-day operations film clips and images on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. There’s no telling how far being a good visual storyteller can take you when it comes to social media – and it doesn’t cost you anything.
- For brick and mortar businesses, run a contest in which a local customer can come get a tour or, better yet, run your shop for a day. I bet you’d be able to get local press coverage as well if you let a customer “run” your bakery for a day, etc.
- Using Periscope or Facebook Moments to livestream an event happening at your business. Heck, in an interesting enough market, you might just let people “look through the eyes of an XYZ professional” for a couple of hours. When Periscope competitor Meerkat was making a real run of things last year, one of the most popular streams here in Stockholm was a pizza parlor who simply live-streamed from their kitchen all day. Usually, at least a couple hundred people were watching as chefs tossed pizzas, worked the ovens, and sprinkled toppings. Go figure.
Bonus: Pass your savings along instead of pocketing them for yourself!
I’d just about finished writing this post when BAM! – a pretty nifty email hit my inbox. In response to my email blast asking for ‘above and beyond’ examples, Baltic Door Energy Conservation Products president Mark Tyrol wrote that, in order to garner goodwill with customers, the business was refunding any unforeseen savings straight to their customers.
As an example, if a customer ordered 2-day shipping, but then the company found out that the package would still arrive in two days with standard ground shipping, they would ship the package via ground and refund the difference to the customer. That’s pretty cool, and if I found out a company I was doing business with paid attention close enough to do the same thing, I’d be inclined to tell a friend or two.
13 (+1 bonus) Ways To Make Your Customers Love You (And Tell Everyone About Your Brand) Click To Tweet
Key takeaways to apply to your business:
If you don’t yet have the revenue or budget to buy your way into the market, you biggest and most valuable asset is your time and your hustle. Equally as important are how likely your customers are to give you a glowing recommendation to their friends, to tweet about you, to make you their go-to brand for life. Switching your mindset to factor this earned loyalty into every interaction you have with customers or potential customers might just end up being the rocket fuel that makes your small business not so small anymore.
What do you do to go above and beyond for your customers? Let us know in the comments – we’ll be sharing out our favorites on social media!
Brandon Landis is the community manager & customer success wizard for Responster, the nifty survey creator you’ve never used.