In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about generating customer insights. Customer feedback is what you need to be able to build a better product and adjust for the objections that you get from customers—both those who have purchased from you and those who have not. Steli shares the different ways you can get customer feedback and identifies how to get the MOST value from these interactions. Hiten also gives you advice on how you can get your departments interacting with clients to better your product and processes.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:05 – Today’s episode is about generating customer insights
  • 00:33 – The goal is to generate insights that will help you respond to your customers better and earn their loyalty
  • 01:03 – Steli held the first customer meet-up for in New York
  • 02:12 – Hiten says customers are inundated with similar products, every single day
  • 03:05 – Feedback is important in developing your product
  • 04:01 – A landing page can help get you feedback, but the data you receive is limited
  • 04:48 – Emails might produce more information, but it does not scale
  • 05:12 – Phone conversations will give you more quality and information
  • 05:41 – Person to person will produce the most information
  • 06:32 – There is a tendency for companies to NOT visit customers as this takes too much time
  • 07:34 – Steli shares that he feels reluctant to meet with customers, but after meeting them, he is grateful for doing it
  • 08:27 – Hiten says customers are not just those who have already bought from you, it includes everyone else who hasn’t
  • 09:20 – You should build customer outreach into your schedule
    • 09:45 – If you have Twitter, use it—it’s an easy way to get answers by asking questions
    • 10:15 – Initiate polls and pull customers into a conversation
  • 10:41 – Steli says a recipe for success is to fall in love with your customer
  • 11:08 – The best way to earn a customer is to invest in them, first
  • 12:06 – The type of people that really matter in your business are your customers
  • 13:45 – Steli’s top priority right now is to connect the growing team to their customers
  • 14:25 – Hiten’s suggestion is to do it by department and make sure that customer relations is integrated in all the processes
    • 15:15 – Hiten tells their customers to be open about what they don’t like about the product
    • 15:42 – The team should develop a thick skin, as they will hear negative feedback
    • 16:38 – Critical feedback is not easily given by customers
    • 17:20 – Critical feedback is where you can get the most insight, especially in product development
    • 18:14 – In sales, the postmortem is important in understanding why the customers said “no”
    • 18:31 – Marketing is the hardest to get customer feedback
  • 19:48 – When interacting with customers, it’s not about the positive things they are saying
  • 20:14 – When customers give feedback, it’s NOT about getting a sale—if you start talking, you lose the chance to listen and understand the customer better
  • 21:20 – Ask follow up questions, dig deeper, and care about the person giving the feedback
  • 22:28 – The right mindframe is important when interacting with customers
  • 22:40 – Go to iTunes and give us a review and rating
  • 23:05 – End of today’s episode

3 Key Points:

  1. Make sure that customer relations are built into your schedule.
  2. When receiving feedback, you need a thick skin as you’ll be hearing negative comments.
  3. Customer feedback is NOT about making a sale, it’s about taking the time to LISTEN to your customers.

Steli: Hey everyone, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli: In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about sheer ways that you and your team can get closer to your customer and have a more intimate relationship with them. The main goal why you want to do that is that you want to keep generating insights about your customer that will help you to create the right products and services to continuously innovate, to continuously market and sell to them in a better way. I know that we’ve talked a lot about this idea of the past that whoever is closest to the customer ultimately wins. Whoever understands that customer best in a competitive market will ultimately own that customer. The reason why I wanted to talk to you about this is that we just recently, I just recently came back from New York and we did the very first, can you believe it? The very first customer meet up for Close IO. That event and some of the things that are learned there and the experience, kind of refreshed and made this topic again fresh in my mind on how valuable it is to invest in the relationship with your customers and make sure that you spend quality time with them. I wanted to chit chat with you about this topic.


Hiten: I really love it. It’s like one of my favorite topics. Just to go off for a second, I’ve been doing this for a long time. By any means, it’s been over a dozen years. What I mean by doing it is building software, being on the internet whether it’s through a consulting service, a bunch of sass businesses or even just helping a ton of other people basically build great products, build great businesses, growing businesses, and I gotta say. We used to be able to get away with not having to talk to the customer that much and not having to be so close to them. The reason for that is there weren’t as many options for customers in terms of the products that they could use or the businesses that could service them. These days, it’s the exact opposite. There is so much out there, customers are inundated with sales emails, inundated with marketing, inundated with even sites like Product Hunt, where they can go every day and find an alternative to your product, literally every day. This topic is super critical and I talk about it a lot. Whether it’s through my newsletter on product habits or every single meeting I have. It always comes back to the customer so it’s really exciting to hear that you folks did a customer visit, or had a customer visit. Whatever way it worked out and that you got a lot out of it so, I’m super excited to talk about this. It’s one of the things I’m pretty much like, some people had heard me preach so much and related to this, just to give another viewpoint, is feedback. You don’t get enough feedback. This is the number one reason I would go for it is you don’t get enough feedback. You don’t really understand your customer at all unless you’re actually able to sit there and be so close to them that you’re able to get the feedback on your product. I’m launching stuff now, probably every month, every two months. Something new, whether it’s a new feature in our businesses or even a whole new business or product, and this is going to be the cadence this year. It’s amazing what that feedback does. It also hurts sometimes. Let’s go. What’s on your mind? That’s what’s on my mind.


Steli: All right, I love it. Let’s do this, let’s talk on first on why it is important and then all the ways that you can do it and you should do it, right? And the benefits that you can gain from it. To me, you hit on a crucial point which is like, you’re not getting enough feedback, but to me, what I would add to that is that you want to get the highest nutritional value feedback possible, the highest density of information type of feedback possible, right? I can put up a landing page and pay a few bucks on Google Ad to get some traffic to that landing page, and then I can look at a metrics board and see, “Oh, I got a hundred clicks to that landing page, and then I got three clicks on that button and then I got one submission.” That’s information. That is, to a certain degree, feedback. They liked it, they didn’t, it’s a high conversion, it’s a low conversion, whatever. But I would say that it is very limited in what kind of feedback or data you have. You add a layer on top of it, that is good and it skills really well, but it doesn’t give me a lot of information to who these people were, did they like it or not, were they confused, why did they click? There’s a lot of information missing. If a level higher, I had a chance to email a hundred people and get three or four of them to reply to me and say, “Yes, this is interesting, or no, this is confusing, or please stop bothering me, this is annoying,” and had a chance to go back and forth in email a little bit, I would have more information. To me this is … This is a better quality feedback. It doesn’t skill as nicely, but it is richer in information. A level higher, what if I could call these people and have conversations over the phone and maybe have follow up questions, or maybe not just hear the content of their words, but hear their tonality which enriches the message. If I tell you, yeah that sounds super interesting! Or if I say, yeah that sounds super interesting. This is difference, right? There’s a difference between what type of information I’m transmitting to you based on my tonality. Then, the richest form of feedback and information is if I can actually see you. If I’m in your office watching you click around on my product, watching the confused facial expressions that you have. Potentially have you explain back to me what you’re seeing or what works or doesn’t, or even explain to a colleague. But also, I can observe the office dynamics, I can observe all those software tools you have on your desktop, I can get so much rich information if I’m at your office versus if I talk to you in a coffee shop versus on the phone versus an email versus if I just observe your mouse on some kind of a landing page, clicking or not clicking. I feel like we want all the feedback, so we’re going to do all the things, obviously, but I think that as your business scales, and as you have mobile customers, more things to do, there’s a tendency to feel that these less scalable, high density forms of feedback collection and interactions with your customer, they’re just too burdensome. It just takes too much time to go and visit a customer. It takes too much time to organize a customer meet up in some city with 30, 40, or 50 customers. That stuff, you know it’s good, but it seems like most companies never make the time for these things. I think that, I’ve done the customer visit a lot, so we’ve been visiting customers for a long time at their offices. New York was the first time where we hosted a meet up and invited all the customers in a given city to come and mingle with each other and talk to us. Give them a little bit of a talk and outline, “Here’s where the product goes this year,” an open Q&A with all different types of customers all together. It was a different type of learnings and insights that we got that way, but every time before I do this, I feel like I don’t have the time for it and I feel like, “Oh my god, I’m going to have to leave my office or my work environment, this is going to take so much time, it’s going to kill my entire day,” it always feels like something that I don’t have the time for. Every time afterwards, I’m like, I’m thanking the universe and I’m so grateful that I did it because the insights, the relationships, the aha moments, the feedback that I gather is so incredibly valuable and rich that I’m like … Every time I do this I think I need to do this more.


Hiten: Yeah, it’s almost addicting. It’s also one of those addictions where it’s easy to stop, too. The reason is at some point it’s like you keep doing it, you’re addicted to it, and then you just fall off because business comes in the way or something. I’m going to start by saying one thing, which is super important, which is we often just think about our customer as the people who are buying from us. There are a lot of customers out there that haven’t bought from you yet. If you’re feeling like, “I don’t want to bug my customers,” or you’re falling off the wagon, just start scheduling calls with people who could be your customer. Even if it’s not a sales call. Even people who are your customer, vary it up. Because what I found is people start this process and they get addicted to it because obviously it’s a great process and it has so much value, but then what ends up happening is they just stop. It’s one of the biggest pitfalls. Usually where I see this happening the most is they basically stop after that initial period of building their product. Because they usually do a lot of customer development early on, and then for some reason the business gets in the way, or all these operational things get in the way. They’re focused so much on their customer, because in the beginning you’re actually talking to people who aren’t your customer. You’re addicted to it. You need that feedback, you want that feedback, but you don’t really build it into your schedule. I know this sounds really like a hack or a tip, but really I have started to build that customer development, that customer outreach into my schedule. One easy way you can do this, and I’ve found repeatedly super duper valuable is you essentially, if you have some amount of Twitter audience, right? You literally start asking them questions on Twitter with a Twitter Poll, or you ask them to email you and if know my Twitter, you’ve seen me do that for different topics because I’m testing things and I want to see what the response is. That’s an easy way to also get the speed back and stay really close to the customer. A lot of times, many of us have thousands of Twitter followers. I have a ton, so I know I’m probably an outlier and people are probably thinking, “Oh, you have a lot of followers, 200,000 or something, this is easy for you.” Well, actually, even if you just have thousands on your company account, you can start doing these polls. You can start actually talking to them that way and actually pulling them in. Because the thing is, Twitter is very conversational and I don’t think people realize that. All I’m saying, it can get tiresome, it can get boring, or it can just get to the point where the business gets in the way of you doing this. Find your way to do it, schedule it in. It’s so critical. It actually energizes you because your customer is who you’re doing this for.


Steli: Yeah. I think that falling, if you can fall in love with the problem and even more so with the customer, more than with your particular solution, I think that’s always been a recipe for success. If you truly care about your customer and if you realize that the customer is why you’re in business. The customer is giving you purpose, or is taking it away from you, and you have to earn their business. The way to earn it, the best way to earn it is to invest in those customers. To understand them. To care about them in a way that puts them first and you second. I think that a lot of times what happens is … I think today because a lot of the startup education that has happened in the past decade, I think more startups in the early days get through the exercise, doing customer development and interviews and all that. But once you have a little bit of traction, I feel like we all like to fall back on our own ideas. On our own hypotheses, our own biases and go, “I know what the customer wants, I know the next 30 things we need to build, I know what to ignore in the market and what not to ignore. I know how to market to these people.” We turn all our focus inwards on the team and what the team wants to do and what the team’s roadmap is and what the advisors of the team say, and what your investors say. We stop paying attention to the only type of people that truly matter, which is our customers. Then it becomes a matter of time where you drift off. You and your customers are drifting off in different directions, and all of the sudden, things become harder and harder to do. All of the sudden, there’s problems. All of the sudden, your marketing is not as successful as it used to be. The new features you’re launching, people don’t care about as much. Your growth slows down. I find that a lot of times people, again, what do we do? We panic and we come up with all these short term solutions on how to fix this, and we don’t understand that the problem is we just don’t get our customer anymore. One thing that I want to ask you is, all right, so on an individual level, I do understand this and I’m a big proponent of it and I’m partially addicted in a healthy way, I think, to customer feedback and customer interaction. What I’ve noticed is as our company grows … We used to be a tiny team, and we’re still a super small team for a market, the smallest team in our industry. But …


Hiten: By the way, I love that.


Steli: The smallest team in the industry?


Hiten: Yeah. At our company, at Crazy, we are the smallest team in the industry too. Maybe this is why we like .


Steli: Maybe that’s why we’re on the same wavelength. But, we have grown. From the original six people, I think we’re so close to the customer, and also it was a mix of sales people and engineers. The engineers were so intermingling with the sales people that our engineers had this amazing sales IQ after awhile. Fairly dangerous sales people themselves, by now. We went from six people to then ten, to then 20 to then 25, and now one of the number one concerns I have, one of my top priorities is how do we make these people that have joined over the last 12 months, that have not had as many as rich and as intimate experiences with our core customer. How do we make sure that we don’t drift away from our customer base. Thinking about this beyond just the founders, to now a team that is growing. What are the type of things that you’ve seen companies do successfully that you would recommend to make sure that, especially new people. That new people are really exposed very richly and very closely to the customer so that their IQ and EQ is very high when it comes to the customer.


Hiten: Yeah, I actually go department by department and make sure that it’s integrated into all the processes. One of the easiest departments and the hardest to do this in is product development. It’s easy because if you don’t get any feedback from the customer, you aren’t using something as simple as running user testing videos through your product like, literally every week. In my companies, we have regular weekly if not monthly, depending on where things are at, where customers are running through our onboarding. Not customers, users. We’re using user testing to do like, ten videos a month, or ten videos a week even when nothing else is going on. The reason is that gives us a good sense of these … We literally get videos of the customers or potential customers going through our experience and yelling at us. We actually encourage them to say, “Don’t worry, we want to know everything you don’t like. Please tell us if you like something a lot, but we really want to know everything you don’t like. That’s how we’re going to make this better.” We actually preempt them to bring the hate on, as I call it.


Steli: Bring the hate on, I like it.


Hiten: Bring the hate on, please. I think that’s one of the mottos. One thing I have to say is that’s totally super valuable. I find that to be one of the most valuable things I can do is encourage the team to get a thick skin. For example, I’m working with my new business partner, Marie, on software. We launched the fundraising tool, at least into early access. We’re getting some feedback. Not all of it is great. In the sense of like, it hurts sometimes because it’s like, “Oh crap, we made this awesome thing,” and I say awesome because obviously we think it’s awesome to some extent otherwise you wouldn’t make it, you wouldn’t put it out there. Not that we think it’s awesome, but that’s a different story. We’re getting feedback and some of it’s like, “I won’t use this.” Right? The feedback loop in her old businesses that she used to be in weren’t software. Sometimes she gets really anxious, I do too, don’t get me wrong. We both get anxious and then we have to remember this is what we want. Only reason I’m saying that, hey you just have to get used to that, you have to get that thick skin, get used to that hate coming at you. Because sometimes it gets solicited, like you ask for it, but most of the time you’re not asking for it and it comes to you. And other times, which is a most common case, you don’t get that critical feedback. The first thing I would say is go get really good at seeking the hate. The critical feedback. What do you hate, what do you not like? The reason is when they tell you they like something, ignore it. It doesn’t really matter. Unless it’s like ah. How many times do you need to hear that your onboarding experience is great? Or I love the design of your website. Is that useful to you? No. I don’t mean to say to tell people not to tell you that, they’re going to tell you that no matter what, but go for the things that they’re not telling you and really attack them. That’s one big area that I would say I always, every time we launch new stuff, always get that. Get that feeling and want the team to feel really … You almost need to feel good when you get that critical feedback. You need to be like, “Oh great, we know now.” You know? “Oh great, someone told us something where we screwed up,” or “Someone told us something they don’t like.” That’s a big one for me. Anyways, product development ends up having a lot to do with that kind of effect, but it’s really easy because you can do things like user testing and ask for the hate. Sales is easy too in my opinion. As long as you have really good feedback loops. One thing I’ve seen in sales, which you probably have something to say about, is in sales, people will oftentimes not … The sales people and people like that will just move from call to call instead of stepping back once a week or whatever, and thinking through, “How can we make these calls better?” And things like that. I think you have a feedback, you’re getting the feedback. People are telling you no, dude. But you’re not necessarily doing the post mortems and understanding why they said no, what you can do about it, how to improve. The best sales team do, don’t get me wrong. Honestly, I walk in. I’m very experienced in sales from a strategy, tactical standpoint, but not necessarily a sales person myself. I’ve never done sales 100% of the time, unless you count founder sales. So many teams don’t do this. They don’t get the critical feedback back at all. Last but not least, I’m going to end with marketing, because we’ve done product sales and marketing, which I think are core functions that need feedback. There are others, too, but those are core. Marketing is probably the hardest because marketing is a lot of metrics and ads and social media and emails and things like that where it’s a lot of data. It’s actually, I don’t find enough marketers getting really qualitative and talking to the customer. I know that sounds really screwed up, but they can get away with their job without doing a lot of that because they already have a lot of data that tells you what people are doing.


Steli: That’s so interesting. I think that … You touched on a few things that I think I’ll wrap my tip around for the end of the episode, right? Obviously, in terms of basic things you can do, obviously you could do surveys, you could do user testing, things like videos, I didn’t even think about that. You can do polls, you can make calls, you can visit people individually or create meetups or even a level higher, do customer conferences. Industry conferences, right? Which is something that I see more and more, even smaller sass companies start doing at an earlier stage. Those are all the ways you can mingle and get feedback and information, data. But I think that my top tip at the end of this episode is building up on something that you said earlier, which is when you interact with customers, it’s not about an ego boost. It’s not about you. It’s not about you hearing how brilliant your company is or your brand or your product, it’s not about that. It’s awesome when you hear that, right? I’m not saying you should not feel good when you hear positive things, that’s awesome. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s also, these customer directions, they’re not hardcore sales sessions either. It’s not about if a customer tells you that they have a problem, it’s not about you convincing them that they don’t have that problem. Or when they tell you that something sucks about your product, that is not the moment where you need to push them and make them realize that they’re wrong. That’s not what it’s about. At least, if you make it about that, you’re going to lose out on all the most juicy, most valuable pieces of information and feedback because you’re going to be very busy talking versus listening. These are directions you should think about yourself like a good therapist or somebody that is an investigator and all you’re trying to do is understand the customer better. You should be asking most of the questions, you should be doing most of the listening. The customer should do most of the talking. That’s a good way to know if you have good interactions with the customers or not. So good interactions with the customers. If you or anybody on your team speaks by any percent of the interaction time, then you’re missing on all the things that you could learn. I see this way too many times. When you interact with customers and they tell you something positive or negative, ask follow up questions. Dig deeper. Pay attention. Care about the answers. Care about the person and about what they’re truly telling you. And if something doesn’t make sense or you don’t understand it, don’t just brush it off. Ask the follow up question. Tell them, “Help me out, I don’t quite understand, what do you mean when you say this and this doesn’t work? Can you tell me more? Can you share with me when you encounter this issue? Can you tell me what your workarounds are? How have you been dealing with it so far? Who else has this problem?” Dig deeper. Try to learn it. It’s a learning exercise. Obviously, if they have questions, answer them and try to be supportive and try to fix problems on the go if you can, but your mindset should be all about learning from them and not changing their minds or making this a brew ha ha, I want all of these people to be fans and if they’re not, I’m going to force it down their throat. If you do that, you might as well skip the customer intimacy and the customer events and send our surveys because you’re going to get better data that way, better interactions. You’re going to value the time of your customers better that way. Make sure that you have the right mind frame when you interact with your customers.


Hiten: I love that. I’m not going to add anything else, we’ve dropped a lot of knowledge on this.


Steli: We’re going to wrap it up, but before we do, make sure if you listen to us on iTunes to go to iTunes and give us a review and a rating. The more people know about this podcast, the bigger the community gets, the more value we can create in sharing what Heath and I have learned through blood sweat and tears over decades of entrepreneurship with all of you. Please, we highly appreciate it. You become our instant favorite people in the universe if you give us a review and a rating. This is it from us for this episode.


Hiten: Take care.