Don’t You Care?
That big difference between you and the big players on the market is that you’re free. You have nothing to lose. Starting from scratch means no politics, no bureaucracy, no inertia. You can just talk to your users, give out your personal phone number, share your feelings, listen to their needs. You can offer a quality of service that they’ve never experienced before. Spend all of your time pleasing your users. This might not be scalable in the long run, but this is your main asset in getting to the point where you’ll scale. Learn what really matters: caring for people.
We all know the meaning of the word “care.” We try to apply it in our everyday lives, to our friends, our loved ones, even strangers. Nobody wakes up and says, “I really want to be a jerk to everybody,” — at least, there’s not too many people who do that. We all say, “I want the people around me to know that I care.”
The real problem comes in when you have to scale that care.
When you’re just starting out, and you’re finding your first clients, it’s easy to care for them. Or, I should say, it’s a matter of deciding to care and really meaning it. You respond to problems personally, you communicate directly with them, and you build a strong relationship. At scale, that’s hard. It’s so hard that one of the biggest clichés that we hear about a company is that, “They don’t care.”
Think of a multinational corporation, a telephone company for example. If you have, as a client, to interact with the customer support, you’re already in a bad mood. You know it’s gonna be a nightmare. You know that they’ve gotten into the mindset where every customer isn’t an individual, but just a tiny part of a mass of obligations that they need to maintain.
As a startup, you know exactly what each of your customers means.
You know exactly how hard it is to find and keep those individuals who support you at the beginning. And on the other side, your customers like the feeling of knowing that there’s a real person behind the website. They like to know who is running things, they like to feel close to the product that they’re using. And so there’s a mutual sense of caring that is created in those early times.
Heetch was a great example of this. It’s a car-sharing app that only runs in the evening and night, it’s great for people who go out to the bars and then need to get home. So their founders, for years, were going out to party with people and then, at the end of the night, they made sure to get them a Heetch ride home. They were literally out there creating their community of users, demonstrating value and care for their customers.
As a startup, that level of extreme care can make you into something truly special. Making those connections can change the minds of even the most skeptical people. Real care has a magical effect, whether it’s in your personal life or in the business world. People remember it when the CEO reaches out to them to fix a problem. That type of care can absolutely save a startup in its early days. That’s why you need processes in place that place the user at the center and emphasizes the kindness with which you’re going to interact with them.
You don’t need perfection in a startup.
Why is nothing perfect in this world? Because all the perfect products are trapped on the hard drives of entrepreneurs who never launched. So everything out there has its problems. But caring is outside of your product: you can be as perfect as possible in your caring. You can hit the magical trio of being a caring entrepreneur: be personal, be sincere, be authentic. That’s how you can win. Not by being perfect, but by being the ideal entrepreneur for a small and intense community of users.
Of course, that takes time. Exceptional care means an entrepreneur has to be available: ready to respond, fast to respond, and responding at any time. It means adapting your tone to the individual customer. When I send an email to a startup’s customer service, too many of them respond in a bland, corporate tone that doesn’t let me feel a connection to the company. If someone writes to you in a formal tone, reply to them in a formal tone. If someone writes to you in an informal tone, or in a funny tone, respond in the way that you find natural. See every customer as a potential friend. Don’t see them as a number on a screen.
You cannot delegate customer relationships when you’re starting your business.
Until it becomes literally impossible to handle, an entrepreneur needs to be dealing directly with every client who contacts the company. But if it takes you an hour every day to respond to the emails that clients are sending you, that’s one of the best hours that you can spend. That hour will never be a waste of time. And when there’s a problem, do whatever it takes to fix it. Commit yourself to finding a solution, and you’ll be taking advantage of one of the biggest benefits to being a startup.
You can (and should) even go one step further at the beginning — go ahead and give out your personal phone number. That’s the level of commitment that makes great entrepreneurs. And don’t be afraid, don’t tell me, “Oh, but then I’m going to have people calling me all the time.” Look, if people are calling you, it’s because they know your service and what you’re doing. That’s your entire goal. If you can get to the point where your phone is ringing all the time and it’s impossible to keep your phone number out there, great — you’ve managed to find success as an entrepreneur.
When you’re fixing problems, get used to being generous, and be glad for the opportunity. Putting customers first can’t be looked at in terms of saving money. Over the long term, it’s one of the best ways that you can market yourself. Whatever it costs to create a customer who is happy with you for life, that’s money well spent.
We at The Family sometimes come upon a problem, where people mishear what we say. Because we are the first ones to tell you that you have to go out and be violent to have success as an entrepreneur. But being violent is a state of mind and ambition. Being aggressive doesn’t mean that you don’t treat people with respect. We say that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, but part of that is…actually asking for forgiveness! If (when) you do something wrong, you better be ready to apologize. And to apologize sincerely.
Emails from your company need to be coming from a real person.
That’s why you need to reply to everyone (and do it fast). That’s why you need to unsubscribe people yourself — don’t send them a link and ask them to unsubscribe themselves. That’s why you don’t ignore anyone, not even the trolls. That’s why you never refer people to someone else, but you handle it and fix the problem yourself.
If you take on that role, where fixing problems is personal, it filters down into the rest of your company. Everyone in your company will see exactly how important it is to fix problems without hesitation. That’s the company culture you want.
When it comes to needing to scale up customer support, there are tons of tools out there.
You should incorporate them into your processes as soon as possible, as it will make that scaling process much easier. Crisp, Slack, Front, they can all give you not only vital information about your users, but also allow you to maximize the personal interactions that you have with clients.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean it’s low cost. It’s difficult and expensive. But it’s one of the most important things that you can invest in.
Captain Train is one of the best examples in the last few years of this level of personal care and scaling. During its first years, if you dealt with Captain Train, you were dealing with the CEO. Their commitment was to have the most incredible level of customer service — it was the highest priority in the company. They wanted to make sure that whoever they spoke to went away absolutely amazed at how much they cared.
That filtered throughout the company as they scaled. Go to their Facebook page and watch what happens. Captain Train is involved in that page. They are responding to everything. And they’re doing it authentically. People respond to that authenticity in a way that is incredible, to the point where Captain Train now has millions of users across Europe. And their customer support is still the absolute best that you can find.
Finding ways to connect with people doesn’t have to stay online.
People might wonder why we have so many events at The Family, but it’s because they’re the best way to get people involved in the community and create a real bond with them. People will come to an event because there’s free food and drink. But people will come back to the next event because they found a connection there that spoke to them. Those are users that you can recruit and use, while having a great time.
Events also let you really learn about your users. Events show you how to best adapt what you’re doing to their needs. It’s how you can connect them to each other, and how you can get real feedback on what you’re doing. People in a crowd will always give you more useful feedback than they will one-on-one. Why? Basic human psychology, really. But an event can give you a space where people feel comfortable with you and they see that you are listening to their concerns.
And don’t leave your events to chance. Plan them out, know what is going to happen when. There’s nothing worse than showing up somewhere and it becoming clear that there is no plan. Be there yourself, get up on stage and give an introduction, meet the people who came out to see you.
The only thing that matters in a startup is the result. Care at the beginning of a startup is what gives way to a caring culture as you grow. You can make different strategic decisions in order to get there, in order to push it into your team, in order to scale up. But in the end, it’s a mindset: JUST CARE.
Care (noun): serious attention; inclination; liking; fondness; affection.
Care is a huge competitive advantage Big Companies don’t care: established companies are so big that they treat individual clients as liabilities to be managed en masse. Additionally, there is no customer service culture in Europe, as care is considered a luxury feature. But clients care: people want to feel that there are real humans behind a website, that they are close to the company and the product they’re using. At the beginning, your luck as a startup is that you have few clients and so you can do things for them that no one else can. Caring makes you special. Extreme care can be the reason why people talk about your startup and even a way to transform haters or disappointed people into fans. People always remember care.
Care or die Care about your customers at a level they don’t deserve or you will die because you will never stir up any feelings in them or give them the urge to fight for you. Care not only for your clients but for any person in your community: employees, investors, partners, suppliers… you’ll create a virtuous circle of positive vibes.
Be authentic The winning trio for successful entrepreneurs: personal, sincere, honest.
Be available Be ready to reply, quickly, anytime.
Be committed Never delegate customer support and customer relationships. Everyone in the team, all departments, should receive every customer support email and read it, so that no one forgets along the way that the company exists only because real people on the outside are using your solution.
Be generous Make gifts a habit: gifts are the best marketing expenses you can have. Make your clients happy, whatever it takes.
Scale the acquisition along with the careYou have to be aggressive, violent in your sales campaigns, but never mean or disrespectful.
Treat people with respect Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Spam, but with fine-tuned emails and apologize sincerely if needed.
Reply to everyone Emails should be sent by a real person. Email addresses in “no-reply” are forbidden. Always use the tone your customer used to write to you. Consider every customer writing to you as a potential friend. As soon as you have a little traction, you’ll have haters / Internet trollers / crazy people writing to you. Just ignore them: the upsides of a close dialogue with users are more important than the downsides. But don’t hesitate to reply harshly to false accusations and jerks. Care is not about being nice with everyone.
Unsubscribe people yourself Never ask a user to do something you can do yourself.
Care is not just to enroll new usersYou also need to care to keep them: retention is as crucial as acquisition.
Email is your friend Email is a very simple way to keep in touch with everyone. Keep replying and make it quick
Support is everyone’s job People cannot be kept waiting. Never refer a problem to someone else, everyone is responsible for fixing problems. The only possible answer to a problem is, “We screwed up as a team and we will fix it”. Don’t find excuses or scapegoats. And as usual, it begins with founders. Lead by example.
Take advantage of existing tools There are thousands of tools that exist to scale customer support: learn how to use them. The golden rule: make it look human. Care has a necessarily high cost.
Give them your own number Answering your phone is a part of your job. It can sound impossible but being a great entrepreneur cannot come without a great level of commitment.
Check Twitter and Facebook constantly Do not leave that to a community manager.
Discover who your users are Events are another way to create proximity and sincere relationships with your customers, to understand what they want and make them understand who you are and how you define yourself.
Don’t leave anything to chance A good event is prepared: it has an agenda, it starts on time, everything feels right and people are happy to be there.
Be present Do not send anyone other than the core team to events. Be present even if you don’t speak on stage, do at least the introduction or the conclusion, show that you are there and you care.
Be cool Make people feel comfortable: offer nice food and goodies, for instance.
Help them connect Be sure to help the attendees get value from your events.
Get real feedback People feel more comfortable saying tough truths in a group.
Adapt to your crowd Gathered feedback is an opportunity to learn and evolve.
Execute to earn respect Show how to do it instead of just explaining what to do. Once again, lead by example.
Results are all that matters Care is not about making people feel better when they fail. Accept it and move on.
Love your users It is a collective responsibility and you must show the way.
Build your culture Caring for your users and your internal team results in your culture. If you care for your team, your team will care for your customers. Your inside is a reference for the outside. By the way, your employees and you yourself should be deep users of your solution.
Just care :)
Articles to go deeper
Tim Wu, “Why Airlines Want To Make You Suffer”
The New Yorker, December 2014
Dov Seidman, “From the Knowledge Economy to the Human Economy”
Harvard Business Review, November 2014
Maciej Cegłowski, “Web Design - The First 100 Years”
Idle Words, September 2014
Aral Balkan, “In the Age of Experience, Great Design Is Your Business Plan”
Zapier Blog, May 2014
Seth Godin, “Clients vs. Customers”
Seth’s Blog, July 2013
Robert Phillips, “Trust and the Fall of Public Relations”
Jericho Chambers, January 2014
Paul Graham, “Do Things That Don’t Scale”
Essays, July 2013
Roger Martin, “The Age of Customer Capitalism”
Harvard Business Review, January 2010
Tim O’Reilly, “Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles”
O’Reilly Radar, January 2009
Paul Graham, “Be Good”
Essays, April 2008
Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, “The Cluetrain Manifesto – 95 Theses”
The Cluetrain Manifesto, 1999
We told you, they lived it!
Frédéric Mazzella, CEO @ Blablacar
Frederic Mazzella started BlaBlaCar in 2004 and turned it into the world’s leading long-distance ridesharing service, connecting drivers with empty seats with people travelling in the same direction. Having begun on the French market, it now operates in 22 countries spanning Europe, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and India. The platform is engineered to create a secure, trust-based community, as BlaBlaCar creates a global people-powered network of drivers and passengers.