Not all growth tactics scale with your business. But they’re still worth doing.
Note from Len: This is a guest post from Ryan Shank, founder of PhoneWagon.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about doing things that don’t scale in order to create loyal customers and build a successful company. The founders of Airbnb flew across the country to meet with their early customers to find out what problems they were having with the product.
Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, explains how stepping into their shoes let him see the pain points they were feeling. Through this exercise they were able to discover that people weren’t booking rooms on Airbnb because of low quality photos. Without meeting with their customers and getting them to open up about the problems they were facing, this instrumental problem might have never been discovered. Today, Airbnb is a $30 billion company with more listings worldwide (2.3 million) than Marriott and Starwood combined (1.3 million rooms).
Now, this is not a story about Airbnb (or quality of photos), but rather the idea of doing things that are unscalable in order to develop deep relationships with your customers that will benefit your business in the long run.
I have been building companies for nearly a decade and there is one tactic that I have used with every company that has helped me build lifelong customer relationships that have materially impacted the business. This is a tactic that is not scalable and cannot be done quickly. It requires commitment, energy, and attention. If done properly, I guarantee that it will help you build lifelong relationships with your customers. I have recently applied this tactic to my new company PhoneWagon and now I’m going to share with you exactly how to build lifelong customer relationships.
Commit to Building the Relationship
The first thing you must do is commit to building the relationship. This is a prerequisite to everything else. If you aren’t committed to building the relationship then this absolutely won’t work. You will go through the motions but it will seem forced. When you commit to something, your body will follow your mind.
When I launched PhoneWagon, I mentally committed to building a lifelong relationships with a target customer. I didn’t seek out any particular customer but rather took a mindset that I would need to build a genuine relationship with a target customer to understand their problems and how I could solve them.
Before we launched, I setup a landing page and was testing some ads on facebook. I didn’t really think I would be able to get any leads from this facebook ad campaign because I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Then, randomly, I got my first lead:
Funny story about the timing of this lead. I went to college at Clemson University and they happened to be playing in the college football national championship on January 9th in Tampa, Florida. Since it’s a very rare event for Clemson to be playing in the biggest game of college football, of course I went to the game.
This lead came through at literally 5:50am the morning after the game.
To say the least, I wasn’t planning on “working” that next day. I even texted my friend to see if he wanted to go to the beach with us.
Authenticity Wins in the Long Run
Regardless of the timing, the lead came through and I called him later in the day. I was very real and transparent that I was the founder of the company, that I was in Florida for the national championship game, and that the company was very new. Contrary to what you may think, this actually helped me build credibility.
If you try to say what you think the customer wants to hear, you have already lost because you aren’t being authentic. In an age of automation and robot-like customer service, I like to humanize myself when interacting with customers. It brings a fresh, relatable feeling to the conversation which a lot of people appreciate.
Regardless of all the things that could have worked against me (being on vacation, not being in front of a computer, being the founder of a brand new company with no customers, etc), I was actually able to leverage these things and begin building the relationship on a foundation of trust and transparency.
Providing Value First Gives Your Leverage
This particular customer was a guy in California who was generating phone calls for chiropractors and charging them a monthly fee for the phone leads. The crazy thing about this was that I had previously worked at a company that did the exact same thing so I was able to provide him with a ton of insight into building a pay-per-call business. 90% of our phone call was talking about his business, how to generate phone calls, how to charge per call, and the experiences that I had while working at a eerily similar company.
Gary Vaynerchuk says that the person who gives value first has the leverage. I didn’t do this intentionally but maybe this manifested after I was able to provide a lot of value for this customer.
This customer ended up signing up as a paying customer the very next day.
He sent me an email a couple days later saying that one of our competitors had contacted him. He told them he wasn’t interested anymore and he even made up a story so that he didn’t reveal our name to them and put us on their radar.
Continue to Provide Value
After this guy came on board as a paying customer, I continued to reach out and provide value relating to his business. One of my buddies is a chiropractor in New York and I emailed him asking if he would like a referral (huge value!).
By adding value to his business, it strengthened our relationship.
Be a Partner Not a Vendor
When you show your customers that you truly want them to succeed, not just sell them something, it builds trust and positions you as a partner versus a vendor. When someone views you as a partner, they are more willing to stick things out through missteps. If you are simply a vendor, there is no loyalty and the customer will jump ship at the blink of an eye.
A perfect example of this is when an early version of our software was causing a glitch for this customer. Instead of simply cancelling his account, which typically would happen if we were viewed as just a “vendor”, this customer sent me an email with a screenshot of exactly what was happening.
This particular issue ended up being user error but still something that we needed to address for future users.
Keep the Conversation Going
One thing that is critical to building lifelong customer relationships is continuing the dialog. Periodic check-ins and random calls/emails/texts go a long way. This shows your interest in their success and that you are thinking about them.
I continue to engage with my customer and we hop on calls to discuss new product features for my business and talk about new ideas for his business. It’s mutually beneficial.
After a couple months you will have built trust and established a real relationship. There will be no question of whether you have their best interests in mind.
It’s easy to get caught up in the mindset of establishing scalable systems that provide outstanding customer service to all customers across an entire organization. While I recommend that all businesses implement these systems, I fundamentally believe you have to also do unscalable actions in order to build lifelong customer relationships.
Always start the relationship off with transparency and authenticity. This will be the foundation to any relationship that you build. Then, continue to add a ton of value to their business without any expectation of anything in return. You will eventually establish yourself as a true partner in their business, not just a vendor that they’re using. Ultimately they will also become a true partner in your business, creating a win-win scenario.