Inspiration from the offline world
"Oh, I'm with DNSimple. We're a globally distributed team, without a physical office, providing a domain management automation service to tens of thousands of developers at startups and large companies around the world."
— me casually answering the usual "so what do you do?" question
Every time it gets me. I find it mind blowing to think that we have tens of thousands of customers scattered all around the globe that use our service every day to run their own companies. Yet, we rarely see any of them. A random encounter at a conference or a meetup is pretty much all we get in terms of face time with our customers. While it's amazing to some, it certainly brings some challenges when the time comes to handle communications and relationships with them.
Today, twenty-some years into the online economy, there are hundreds of tools available that have emerged to do just that. Most are great and we've been relying on some of them to conduct the business but business is still a human concept that requires a human touch.
The human touch
Personally, I've always loved to inspire myself from what I see and experience in everyday transactions with local businesses and inject the essence of it into our company.
Let me give you an example of a small shop owner who nailed the concept of building a base of loyal customers:
Everytime I walk in my neighbourhood's bakery and Mario–the owner–steps away from the oven and comes over to ask how I'm doing while hinting at trying the fraîcheur du jour (by the way, if you're ever in Montreal, drop by and get a "pain choco-lavande").
The main challenge he faces is that there are at least half a dozen other bakeries in the neighbourhood… all of which provide a similar product to Mario's. The difference isn't necessarily how the croissants taste-it's in the experience. The bakery across the street is too big and impersonal. There's another one that has been around for so long, it's like they lost their passion in making the bread and are only in it to make bread (pun very much intended, thank you).
Then there's Mario and his staff, who welcome you into their small two-year-old bakery, and who, through their actions (not their products), win you over as a loyal customer in a few visits. When you go there you never feel rushed, there's always something new to try, they'll help you out with just about everything, and they even ask for suggestions for new bread to make!
In a rather clever way, this strategy draws away the customer's focus from the product, and to the service instead.
Of course this only works because Mario offers great baked goods, but since his offering is only marginally different than most other bakers in the neighbourhood it's by placing emphasis on the experience and the service that makes his business so successful.
Treating customer support like an opportunity
Unlike Mario and other offline entrepreneurs, we rarely get to see our customers face to face. Furthermore, catering to all our customers at scale can be quite a challenge. Sure, we use tools to analyse their actions to better understand what they want and better predict their needs, but the line is thin before it becomes creepy or intrusive.
There's one place, however, where we can interact with a customer and provide a human touch: customer support.
Quite frankly, as an online company, that's all we got! We'd be foolish to consider customer support as a second-class citizen. So, early on in the company history, we realized that it was a place where we can bring that human touch.
As a result, providing personal (and personable) support has always been a priority for us. Sure, we've all read the posts preaching the importance of customer support for the bottom line… and I agree that there are many reasons proving that it make sense economically to provide outstanding customer support.
But I believe there's more to it than that: every day, we get an oppportunity to get feedback on our work.
We get the chance to connect with the very people who use our tools to run their own projects. We may not be able to shake their hand and chat about how their kids are doing, but we have the chance to exchange and share our passion for our work as well as learn from our customers.
It's funny, I realized that my go-to place whenever I am feeling bored, depressed, or just unproductive is to drop on our support channel and engage with a customer that needs help. The same way Mario would drop the dough and come up to the counter to chat a little bit and see if he can help.
Where we get to take one out of my local baker's playbook is with the opportunity to give something more in an industry where, well, it's often not a priority.
In our line of business, we get many customers who run into issues with other providers but come to us to fix them. Sometimes it's just a very confusing situation for the customer and the customer knows that by coming to us they'll get the answer they need much faster.
So there's a good chunk of customer support that involves solving intricate problems for our customers on topics that are often not our direct responsibility. While that may look like a waste of time, I personally enjoy doing it as it gives me an insight of what part of the process that another provider built is confusing or outright impossible to get through for our customers.
There's another aspect that I find particularly neat about the way we conduct customer support: we respect boundaries and protocol (specifically around security issues), but nothing is scripted. You get a different "flavour" of service for every ticket you submit.
Take the above sentence as an example of this 👆…
"'flavour', who the hell writes it that way? He must be Canadian or British!"
Some of us like to use emojis 👌, others will ask about your company or about the technica implementation of a project you're working on but in any case, the response won't be bland.
Providing domain management automation tool with a manual human touch
The essence of our work is to remove the need for human interaction to manage domains. Ironically, it's the human interactions with our customers that are allowing us to get there. Much like Mario, we've realized the importance of adding a signature to our work. We've also realized how much more fun it is to have meaningful conversations with the people who chose to do business with you.
cruising through #vanlife in a '72 VW bus.
We think domain management should be easy.
That's why we continue building DNSimple.
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