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The Art (and Science) of Talking to Your Customers

We asked 14 startup execs to share how they communicate with and gather insights from their customers.

Not just because "talking to customers" is a buzz phrase. But because if you really do it, talking to your customers can give you insight into who they are, how they work, what blogs and newsletters they read, and what other products they use. And armed with this knowledge, you can fine-tune your approach to sales, marketing, product, and ultimately growing your business.

So from Mattermark to Mixpanel, here's what they had to say.

The Art (and Science) of Talking to Your Customers

  1. 1. In order to truly understand what your customers want, you need to hear their pain, and see their frustrations, challenges, and desires first hand.
  2. 2. That means talking to your customers. Not just digging through customer data, but actually having real interactions with real people.
  3. 3. So, what does that look like out in the real world? We asked 14 startup execs to share their secrets. Here’s what they told us …
  4. 4. NICK FRANCIS Co-founder & CEO, Help Scout “It’s really important that we leverage a mix of qualitative and quantitative feedback to make product decisions. We do surveys, user research and a lot of calls with current/ potential customers, which balances out all the feedback we get in the support inbox. Every time I travel, I put together a dinner with customers and just listen for a couple hours. A good mix of ‘all of the above’ is what we’re shooting for.”
  5. 5. BENJI HYAM Co-founder, Grow & Convert “We encourage a feedback loop in all communication channels. We continuously survey our audience via our email list about the challenges they face in their business, and offer suggestions and advice for dealing with those challenges. We also ask people to share results that they've achieved from advice in our content. Basically, we make it known to everyone that we'll respond if they take the time to reach out to us, which encourages people to communicate with us.”
  6. 6. CHASE GARBARINO Co-founder & CEO, VentureApp “Since VentureApp is a marketplace for startups to find solution providers, our business is based on fulfilling the very specific requests of unique startups. Ongoing communication is really critical. We kick off our relationships with startups with a consultation, learning as much about their business as possible so that we can tailor our recommendations and interactions with them accordingly. We also have a crew of business advisors that do a lot of handholding for the startup: asking qualifying questions about their needs, making personal recommendations and intros to solution providers, and checking in to see if they are happy with that connection.”
  7. 7. DANIELLE MORRILL Co-founder & CEO, Mattermark “Listening to our customers happens in both support and marketing channels, so there’s a constant flow of feedback about what problems we’re solving for. We have a vibrant and vocal community we’ve built through the Mattermark Daily, so we’re in constant conversation about what people want from our product, and our space at large.”
  8. 8. TIM TREFREN Co-founder, Mixpanel “We decided to do customer support at Mixpanel in a very different way: we actually teach our customer support team to code! It’s not unusual for a customer to send us source code and we'll install Xcode, run their source code, and debug the problem for them. Getting hands on and technical is a big hack for customer happiness!”
  9. 9. MITCHELL HARPER Startup Advisor & Investor / Co-founder, BigCommerce “I like to use both automated and manual approaches. You can't go wrong with NPS as a measure of business health, but I also just like to give my email address to customers. If they have something they feel is important enough to email to me personally then it's more than likely worth my time. Being a CEO in an ‘ivory tower’ never works, so I try to be as open and available as possible - both to my team and to customers.”
  10. 10. JASON QUEY Co-founder, Decibite “I'm in community groups where my target audience hangs out, particularly on Slack. This enables me to have a consistent pulse on their day-to-day events and challenges, even if not directly related to my startup.”
  11. 11. “Building and maintaining a personal relationship with my customers was the catalyst to my business success and I always try to find time every week to stay connected. Using social media and answering their questions on an open platform helps promote other customers to engage in our conversations. Listening and responding to their questions and comments really help turned my business into a success and I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for their support.” LISA CHU Creative Director, Black N Bianco
  12. 12. JOSEPH SCHWENDT Co-founder & CTO, ReferralMob “At ReferralMob we use a combination of in-app feedback, support email, website chat, polling our userbase, in- person events, actively reaching out to our most active users, focus groups, account managers, etc. We are big believers in learning from direct customer feedback. Any time anyone in the company hears any form of feedback, they post it in a Slack channel so everyone can see, regardless if it’s positive or negative.”
  13. 13. “I try to answer customer emails a few times a day and take a few customer calls each week. This enables me to understand what features our customers are really using and what difficulties they have with these features.” NATHAN RESNICK Co-founder, Sourcify
  14. 14. LANCE WALLEY Co-founder & CEO, Chargify “Not only do we use NPS surveys to keep in contact with customers, I personally follow up with our promoters (to say thanks) and people who gave lower scores to let them know the status of any features they requested (often we’re already working on adding the features). Recently, I also emailed everyone who converted to a paid user in a specific month to thank them for their business and ask if there were any additional features they would like to see in our product. The responses give valuable insight and help shape the product roadmap.”
  15. 15. “We collect customer feedback through NPS surveys and distribute a weekly report to the entire company. It's important that all of our team members maintain a customer-first mindset, so we route all NPS feedback to the appropriate internal teams on a weekly basis. The Senior Leadership Team carves out time in our weekly meetings to read through feedback, discuss trends, and propose action plans if necessary.” RANDY STOCKLIN Co-founder & CEO, One Click Ventures
  16. 16. DEREK STEER Co-founder & CEO, Mode “I listen to customers through a bunch of channels: our support, success, and sales teams chief among them. The rest of the Mode team helps me figure out which customers I should actually speak with, then I try to meet them in person if possible. What that won't work, I go for video or phone.”
  17. 17. “We stay close to our customers in multiple ways, but I want to share the one way that has led to some of the most meaningful insights: we visit our customers in their offices. This is obviously a huge investment of our resources each time we do it. But nothing else has helped us gain such a thorough understanding of how to better serve our ideal customers.” STELI EFTI CEO,
  18. 18. Thanks for reading! Click here to learn how Drift can help you talk to customers in the right place, with the right message, at exactly the right time.