If there’s anything I’ve learned from working at Campaign Monitor, it’s that talking to your customers is the best way to grow your business.
Nobody can tell you the things your customers can.
The way they use your product, the problem it solves for them, and why they chose you over your competitors are secrets only your customers know.
But how do you learn about your customers when you have a million other things to do?
This is where email automation comes in. We don’t want to automate the conversation since that’s the most important part, but automation can save you time in reaching out to hundreds or thousands of customers.
Why you need to know your customers
Product creator and marketer Justin Jackson told a story on his blog once about a fruit stand. It’s a perfect example of the kind of trap you can fall into when you don’t know your customers well.
The fruit vendor watches the traffic drive by his stand and wishes they’d stop to buy some fruit. All he wants is some customers to buy fruit.
Of course, the drivers in all those cars aren’t thinking about the vendor at all. Most of them probably don’t even see the fruit stand. They’re all wrapped up in the intricacies of their own lives.
And here’s the point of Justin’s story: The only reason a driver pulls over to buy fruit is if they’re hungry.
The driver comes to the fruit vendor to solve their problem: that they’re hungry. They don’t come to solve the vendors problem of not making enough sales today. In fact, they don’t even realise the vendor has a problem.
As Justin says, too many businesses make this mistake:
I see a lot of businesses behaving like fruit vendors: just waiting on the internet for traffic, hoping that customers come and solve their problems.
This is why it’s so important to understand your customers. Your business is designed to solve their problems, not yours. And how can you solve those problems unless you understand them?
When you don’t talk to your customers you can fall into all kinds of traps: building the wrong product, marketing your product to the wrong audience, or even misunderstanding why your products or services are valuable.
You’re also running the risk of overlooking areas for improvement. A survey from Lee Resources International found that from every 26 customers who aren’t happy with your products or services, only one of those customers will approach you with a complaint. If you’re not reaching out to your customers, you could be missing valuable feedback.
How to use email automation to get to know your customers
So how do you solicit that feedback? There are almost as many ways to connect with your customers as there are customers, but one of the most simple and efficient ways is setting up automated emails.
Just like it sounds, an automated email is an email that is sent out automatically to a particular subscriber based on a trigger event occurring (such as joining a list, a particular date occurring, etc).
They differ from traditional campaigns in that instead of creating the email and sending it to an entire list of people in one go, you set them up once and they continue to go out to individual subscribers when they meet the trigger conditions you’ve defined (such as joining a list, reaching a particular date, etc).
So how you can you use automated emails to get to know your customers? Here’s a step by step rundown:
Step 1: Get your customers into your email list
First up, you’ll need to add each customer to your email list.
You can do this manually by uploading a spreadsheet or entering their email address, but considering their details likely live in another system (like your eCommerce platform or CRM tool) your best bet is to integrate.
Zapier is a great tool for integrating your business apps together. By setting up some ‘zaps’, you can automatically add new subscribers to your list based on events that happen in your other systems, such as a new sale on your online store, a new attendee for your event, or a new customer added to your CRM software.
Step 2: Set up an automated email to go out to customers
The next step is to set up an automated email to go out to your customers to ask them for their feedback.
This can be done easily using our new Automation feature. With this, you can set up an automated email to go out when:
- Someone joins your list
- A certain amount of time after someone joins your list
- On a particular date
- In the days or hours leading up to a particular date
- In the days or hours after a particular date
- Plus many more options
Depending on how you set up your list and your feedback goals, you could:
- Email them as soon as they signup for your product – By selecting the ‘when someone joins your list’ workflow option, your email can be sent as soon as someone signs up for your product and becomes a customer.
- Email them a few days or weeks after they become a customer – By selecting the ‘When someone joins a list’ workflow option and then adding a delay, your email can be sent a few days or weeks after they’ve become a customer. This gives them time to use your product before asking for feedback.
- Email them a few weeks or months before renewal – By passing in their renewal date, selecting the ‘A date’ workflow option and then setting up the timings of the individual emails , your email can be sent a few weeks or months before renewal to help find out more about how the customer is progressing and what can be done to increase the chance of renewal.
Step 3: Setup a time to talk
There are many ways for you to actually collect the feedback your customers give you. You can ask for a reply email or use a survey tool like GetFeedback to capture and analyse the information.
Although it involves a lot of your time, the one approach that will get you the most in-depth responses is asking each customer to have a real-time chat with you. This might be a phone call, a Skype conversation or even an in-person meeting if they’re local.
Alex Turnbull is the CEO of Groove, a helpdesk software business and Campaign Monitor customer. In 2014, Alex attempted to talk directly to every single Groove customer. He wanted to find out how he could improve his product and keep his customers happy.
The ask in Alex’s email was very clear:
My goal is to have a conversation — via phone or Skype — with every single Groove customer.
If you are willing to give me 10–15 minutes of your time, it would mean a lot to me.
If you’re interested, just reply to this message, and I’ll send you instructions for setting up our call.
So many customers replied that Alex ended up speaking to 500 customers in four weeks.
With this many customers to talk to, Alex needed a way to schedule all these calls. He used a tool called Doodle to let customers choose from the times Alex was available.
Doodle lets you select the dates and times you’re available and share a link with your customers so they can choose from your available slots.
What to ask your customers
Once you’ve setup your automated emails and have some calls with customers scheduled, it’s time to turn your attention towards the conversation you’re going to have with them. What should you ask to get valuable insights that can grow your business?
The answer to this question varies largely on your business, your product and the unique challenges you and your team face.
However to give you a few ideas, I’ve included a few questions below that I’ve asked in previous customer interviews which I’ve found really helpful:
Briefly describe your business, including size, primary expertise, location, etc.
This helps provide context to your conversations with customers, and can help you segment the responses you get from the later questions and find trends that matter to your business (I.e. The people using your product or service in smaller organisations are different than those in larger organisations, and have different roles and goals).
What is your role within the organization? What department does that fall in? How many people are in your team?
This gives you some good insight into who the people using your product or service are and the environment they work in. It can help you identify the key target markets your product or service appeals to and who you should be going after with your sales & marketing efforts.
What are your main goals and KPI’s?
This gives you some insight into what the main things the people who use your product care about and what they are tasked with achieving in their organisation. Knowing this can help you align your messaging with their goals & KPI’s so that you are presenting the benefits of your product or service in the context of things they care about.
What are the main frustrations and pain points in your role?
This question gives you some insight into the biggest frustrations and pain points people experience in their role. As mentioned earlier people buy products to help them solve their pain points, and knowing these can help you align your messaging with the pain points people want solved in their lives.
What do you use our product or service to achieve?
While you may think you know the answer to this question, you might find that asking it a few times gets you some surprise answers you hadn’t thought of. When Alex at Groove asked this question to several hundred of his customers, he found a whole heap of use cases for his customer service app that he hadn’t considered (such as IT departments using it to provide support to employees), and it opened up new markets for them to expand into.
Please briefly describe how you were achieving this before you found our product or service?
Regardless of what your product or service does, people were always using something else to achieve what your product helps them do. As a result of this, there are switching costs when moving from their existing solution to yours, and these can be barriers to purchase. By knowing what people were using before adopting your product, you can grow your business by providing documentation, importing tools, etc, that help make it easier for people to make the switch.
What are the main benefits you get from using our product?
This question will give you a lot of insight into why people are using your product and what benefits it brings them. You can then use this information to refine the messaging and positioning around your product or service to help it appeal to more people and attract more customers.
Where do you primarily get work-related information and knowledge from? What blogs, magazines, tradeshows or social media influencers do you rely on?
Asking this question to a number of your customers gives you a good understanding of where your target market are hanging out and who the influential bloggers, journalists and events are. With this knowledge, you can revise your marketing and advertising activities to make sure you are being seen in the places your target market are looking for information.
How to interpret customer feedback
Now that you’ve had a number of conversations and have some feedback from customers, it’s time to analyse it and work out your action plan.
However, before you going running off to implement everything you’ve heard from your customers, it’s worth outlining a few mistakes people make when applying customer feedback to their business.
Don’t take feedback at face value
An easy mistake to make when you receive feedback from a customer is to take it on face value. The thing you need to remember is that customers think they know what they want, but they don’t know what they don’t know.
Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom, wrote a great blog post that illustrates this point. Des uses an example of a product that includes a form for adding events to a calendar. Although several customers complain about the complexity of the form, the underlying issue is actually how much time users were spending filling out the form. So while the obvious answer, based on user’s feedback, might have been to simplify the form, with a little digging the product creators realised that allowing users to create recurring calendar events was a much better solution to the actual problem user’s faced.
Customers have a tendency to focus their feedback on what features your product needs, but the features they come up with are often very reflective of their individual design skills, technical knowledge and understanding of their own pain point. By not taking this feedback on face value and focusing on getting to the root of their pain point (by using the 5 why’s method for instance), you can really understand the problem and create a solution that blows them away.
Don’t listen to the vocal minority
Another easy mistake Des pointed out in his blog post is listening to the vocal minority. When a couple of customers both request the same feature, it’s easy to assume that lots of customers want it as well.
But remember: just because a customer is loud, doesn’t mean they represent the majority.
Des recommends using a vocal minority’s requests as a hypothesis. When several customers mention the same feedback, turn that into a hypothesis of what might be a common pain point or feature request among the majority of your customers.
Then, take the hypothesis and test it at scale by surveying your wider customer base.
By using qualitative interviews to get insights and create hypotheses, and then validating them at scale across a larger portion of your customer base, you’ll find you have actionable insights that truly reflect the wants and needs of your whole customer base.
Don’t fall into the trap of building for future upgrades
Have you ever had feedback from a customer who said “I’d upgrade if…” or “I’d buy your product if…”. It’s incredibly tempting to do exactly what they’re asking for because they’ve promised you a sale if you do so.
Only they haven’t committed to a sale.
Too often, this doesn’t pay off. Either the customer still isn’t satisfied and wants more before they purchase, or they just disappear and never make good on their promise to purchase. Or they do purchase, but you’ve taken your business in a direction you hadn’t planned and now you’re at a disadvantage when it comes to servicing your other customers and growing your business.
iOS developer Charles Perry told a story about this exact situation on a recent episode of the podcast Release Notes. A customer from Saudi Arabia promised to purchase Charles’s app for his whole department if only Charles would add support for Arabic. The work seemed doable and the payoff big, so Charles translated the app into Arabic… and never heard from that customer again.
When you’re looking for clues to help you grow your business, pay attention to the customers who already pay you for your products or services, and their past behavior. They might think they know how they’ll act in the future, but you can only rely on past behavior, which is measurable.
How to use the feedback to grow your business
So now that you’ve setup the automated emails, had a few conversations with customers and analysed the feedback, it’s time to start applying it to your business and your product.
But how do you do that? Again, it largely depends on your business and the feedback you got from customers, but here are a few ideas:
Improve your marketing & advertising
By asking your customers where they are hanging out online and who the influential people are, you can really refine the way you use advertising, social media, and other channels to attract people to your website.
If you find a large portion of your customer base are reading a particular blog or trade publication then it makes sense to spend your time and effort marketing your product or services there in an attempt to attract more people who are going to see the value of your offering and become customers.
Improve your website
Understanding your customers and how they use your product or service can help you refine your target market and create messaging that appeals to them.
By asking your customers what their goals & KPIs are, the pain points of their role and the main benefits your product provides, you can get deep insight into how your product really helps people achieve things they care about and create super relevant messaging that really appeals to them.
Improve your conversion rates
John O’Nolan is the founder of Ghost, a non-profit blogging platform. John and his team were looking for the “Aha!” moment—the point users must reach to realise the value of your product and convert to paying customers.
John had assumed the biggest “Aha!” moment came from when a user first published a blog post. It makes sense; users sign up for Ghost to create a blog, so the first published post is when that goal is completed.
However, what John found from getting customer feedback was that the action that made users most likely to become paying users of Ghost wasn’t publishing their first post. It was uploading a custom theme.
With this information in mind, John and his team were able to improve the onboarding experience of Ghost so new users are encouraged to upload a custom theme when they set up their new Ghost blog.
This increased their conversion rates from signup to paying customer and helped them grow their business faster.
Remember that fruit vendor I mentioned earlier? The one who sits and watches the traffic go by, wishing a customer would show up to solve his problems?
You don’t want to be him.
Your business needs to solve the problems of your customers if it’s going to succeed. And that means you need to know what they want.
No doubt you’re already talking to your customers directly in multiple ways, but setting up a timely, automated email to go out to your customers is a perfect way to automate the process and make sure you’re staying in touch with customers needs and wants at all time.
Your turn: Are you planning to set up an automated email that get customer feedback? What approach will you take—setting up calls, asking directly for feedback, or something else?
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