When Guitar Hero’s Charles Huang began reviewing customer service emails for his new product, Dance Dance Revolution, he saw something he didn’t expect. Dance Dance Revolution’s users were so intelligent, their suggestions about how to fix their dance pads were directly usable. Huang gathered up the suggestions, flew to China, and used the suggestions to create newer, better dance pads.
A new business spends years refining its product, often listening carefully to feedback in the earliest days. However, as a business grows, it can be easy to forget the value a company’s customer base can bring. Whether you’re reviewing emails or pulling reports from your customer support call center, you should always stay in touch with the customers who are interacting with your product. They’ll be the best indicators that you’re on the right course.
Today, Eventbrite has more than 400 employees (called “britelings”) and more than a billion dollars in sales, but at one time it was still a small, growing company. Founders Kevin and Julia Hartz have always seen their customers as their peers, which led to them taking customer feedback more seriously than if they thought of them just as customers.
“We had this small early adopter user base that basically I immediately went to and said, ‘Tell me everything you need and all of your pain points,’” Julia Hartz recalls. “I think in the beginning, it was a lot about just connecting with our customers, who happen to be our peers, so it was sort of beautiful that way.”
Even for businesses with customers who aren’t their direct peers, as Eventbrite’s were, thinking of customers as working alongside them can make a big difference for founders. Soliciting their feedback and taking it seriously will help foster brand loyalty, which will likely lead them to recommend your company to peers.
When people hear the word “pivot” in a business context, they often imagine a major reimagining of the idea that permanently changes the direction of the company. But ZenDesk’s Mikkel Svane discovered a founder actually does little pivots in the product on an ongoing basis, especially in the early days.
But as an organization grows, Svane believes it’s important to regularly revisit the concept and come up with new ways to do things. ZenDesk is now an engineering organization with several hundred people, but as the organization has aged, technology has changed. It’s important to consistently revamp a product to make sure it’s relevant to today’s customer demands.
As you describe your business, what story do you tell? Has that story changed over time? Many entrepreneurs are advised to constantly perfect their one-sentence pitch, but Steve Case, founder of Startup America, notes that pitches tend to change as a business continues to get feedback from those around it.
“It’s oftentimes our ability to describe this idea, to tweak the magic,” Case says. “You get feedback, sometimes actively and passively, around it and then you’re making these adjustments. So if you’re really good at it, you’re constantly making these adjustments to your story, and that’s what’s telling you to keep going in a direction or not.”
As a founder works hard to grow a concept into a strong business, it can be easily to begin to operate in a bubble. It’s important that founders look to objective outside parties to consistently refine, even once the company is successful. Customers are the perfect sources for this feedback, since they’re the ones actively using the product and noting its weaknesses. Consider setting up a mechanism to collect customer feedback and use it for reporting purposes on a regular basis.
Special thanks to Startup Grind for the inspirational video.
Image source: linguistics.ohio.edu