muhuk's blog

Nature, to Be Commanded, Must Be Obeyed

September 16, 2008

Best Way To Shut Your Customers Up

I have seen two significantly different approaches to the sales problem. The prevalent one is to push it onto the customers even if your product is crap. The other approach is to try to perfect the product, perfect the marketing, perfect the whole user experience. The latter is seldom seen, and for a reason.

I am business illiterate, I won’t even pretend I know the first thing about sales. But inevitably, just like everybody else I am a customer, I try hard to get it right. So I try to understand what happens behind the counter. I don’t think it is as simple as I have the good you have the money let’s trade.

The common business model or sales model looks just like that from the outside. Me Tarzan, you Jane simplicity. But first of all you should notice that the sales person doesn’t have an emotional relationship with the product. I am not talking about romance here, maybe just a strong feeling of the product being really useful, or some personal experience. The reason might just be that the sales person doesn’t try hard enough, or it might be that the product is not really cool anyway. So they either fake it or they enlighthen you with “uhm, I don’t know actually. But...”s.

Another characteristic of the conventional model is that you don’t get proper service after sales. This is mostly because the product is crap and therefore the service costs are higher. Or more dramatically because the seller thinks that the market is a set of buyers. And a subset of those buyers will buy her product. And a subset of that subset of buyers will be dissatisfied. Now if that dissatisfied group is not effective enough to reduce the potential buyers that’s fine. Whether they are satisfied or not she has cashed in. Once this market is saturated, there are other crappy products and new markets for them. I am not making this up, I was explained this and I was assured that it works. Furthermore I have seen it in action personally.

The other, brave model of making it right is rarely seen. Let us be honest here, financially it is not as rewarding as the conventional model. It is difficult to implement and even more difficult to keep alive. But from my point of view this model should be the only one. I don’t care if the seller has earned ten times her investment. As a customer I only care if the product is as good as it was advertised and if I will get proper customer service after the purchase.

When I find a supplier for a certain product that does business the right way, I stop looking around. This prevents you from learning what is new, but it also saves you time otherwise wasted. For some things you just don’t get much from being an expert.

I used to move from one hosting company to another, but for several years I am using Webfaction (formerly I am 100% satisfied with their services, and it is not expensive as some of you might think. I don’t know much about the competition now, for the reason I have explained above, but I know there are too many cheap, as in cheap imitation, hosting companies you just regret you have ever known them. Webfaction does it right. And they are still alive and probably growing up[1].

So what do they do right;

  • Their plans are no BS. They give you shell access (for shared hosting too) and all the tools you need. They have installers for popular programs for quick and painless setup. If you need a library the server doesn’t have they kindly install it for you. Finally you can install and run your custom application.
  • They are open and proactive; when a server goes down it is immediately posted to status blog. And posts are updated when the problem is fixed, usually with detailed information about the problem and/or solution. I think being open is huge on customer satisfaction.
  • Their technical support is great. I don’t remember a single issue when my problem isn’t solved somehow. Response times are very good, support people really know their stuff[2] and they are always kind. I have asked many stupid and/or irrelevant questions but they have never disdained or told me to search the forums. This is the biggest reason why I don’t keep an eye out for hosting companies.

Webfaction has started showcasing sites they are hosting. This is a simple, easy way to strenghten the community. Why do I care? Because Webfaction users are like-minded. So there is a community to begin with. Maybe the most important consequence of the do it right model is that you end up creating a community around your product. Let me re-phrase it; a community with you in the center.

Before I sign off I would like to mention another company that know how to shut their customers up, in a good sense. Neosante is an online store for supplements. I have purchased from them many times. They do nothing extraordinary, they just do it right. Everytime. Even when there are many bigger stores selling a wide range of products, this niche store does near-perfect compared to all of them.

I used to work for a price comparison site so I have a rough idea about the market. But those figures shouldn’t mean anything to customers at all. We should have a different set of heuristics for the success of a seller. Take Neosante; I give my orders, they ship it, they ship it right, they ship it on time, I get what I have ordered, I am offered a satisfactory solution if I have a problem, I say this is successfull. Anything else, I stay away.

[1]This is because they are smart people.
[2]No “have tried turning it off and then on again?” stunts.

If you have any questions, suggestions or corrections feel free to drop me a line.