As the co-founder of Stitch, I’m fortunate to get to meet fellow entrepreneurs trying to help make the lives of mature adults better via software and other new technology. Most of us are “underage” when it comes to the people we serve, which is ok! A lot of people service others. But I was asked a very funny question from a fellow startup director the other day…
“Do you get to talk to your customers often?”
This person was asking me, sincerely, for my advice. Do I talk to them, often? As if there is some sort of acceptance around not talking to them often? Perhaps others have answered, “Well, I set up a once per month town hall over the phone” or “I give a special phone call to our 10 highest paying customers”. Maybe that’s the sort of answer he was expecting from me as Co-founder. Anyway, back to the question. I looked at the man asking me the question and said,
“I talk to my customers every day. All day. Don’t you?”
The answer was of course, “no”. Most tech teams of young people in startups do not talk to their customers on a regular, ongoing basis unless they are in a specific customer support role. Granted, their teams are bigger than our team of 7, but it still amazes me that this isn’t something they want to prioritize.
Andrew, my co-founder and our CEO, still gives out his cell phone to customers and regularly takes support cases. He’s got a to-do list the length of the Nile River (and did I mention 3 kids?) but he and I both know, without our hands on the pulse of our membership, Stitch will be built based upon assumptions, generalizations and our own intuitions. How can we really know if we’re not divorced or widowed adults over 50? We can’t.
It means that not one of us is able to make assumptions from a user perspective. There are no quick decisions based on individual perspectives. We have to talk to them, constantly and sincerely. We need to find out how they feel and measure that against the data patterns from our database so that we can constantly improve our service.
The best thing we ever did to open our lines of communication even wider was to launch the Stitch Discussion Forums. While the forums were originally built for Stitch members to chat with one another on topics ranging from widowhood to pet peeves to the current presidential election, they also can post topics around changes to our app and how it affects them.
Recently, we made a major change to Stitch offering how members view Profiles of one another. We made this change because we were trying to encourage more new members to use the pay-as-you go feature on Stitch. We made no changes to the current membership paid plans. However, our current members noticed, and were absolutely up in arms about what we had done.
They believed that something had been taken away and that their plans had been changed without notice. While this was not the goal of the change at all, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we made them feel one way when we meant do to the complete other.
We had NO idea this was coming!
A couple of support tickets came in, but not enough that we would have known that so many of our members were considering leaving because they thought their membership terms were changed without their permission. Thank goodness for the members posting on the forums because it made it easy for them to tell us they were discussing the changes privately and took big issue with it.
For several days I was spending hours going back and forth with members trying to explain what had happened. I felt horrible that we had upset so many people even though I stood behind the changes we made. In the end, the open and constant communication led to a resolution that made membership better for both our new and existing members. Most importantly? They forgave us.
They could see we weren’t trying to cheat them. We made a mistake. We are so grateful to the Stitch community and this open line of communication that connects us so deeply with our members.
While software is a beautiful thing and gives us the ability to reach people that we could never touch in person, it’s also a shield that far too many companies use to distance themselves from their customers. Without a real store front, you could avoid them forever really. But that’s not how we like to do things around here.
Recently I turned 31 and at several Stitch members wished me a happy birthday. They weren’t on my Facebook. I don’t know how they knew! But they found out, they took the time to send me e-cards, notes, and virtual hugs. I had tears. I couldn’t believe they cared so much about me but the truth is, I care about them even more.
So when people question how could I possibly afford to spend this much time on direct communication with customers, I have to ask, “How can you afford NOT to?”