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Love is All You Need (Plus Maybe a Blog, Twitter, and an 800 Number)

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I was intrigued when the very attractive woman next to me said, "I was supposed to leave, but his first two slides had me hooked and I'm not going anywhere."

This happened last Thursday at Social Media Camp New York, during a session entitled "How to Make Love to your Customers," run by a guy named Saul Colt. Saul Colt is a big man and he absolutely packed a room full of women (and some men) with his topic and approach. The love we're talking about is setting up a company philosophy that treats all interactions with customers as parts of relationship creation.

"Making love to customers is not a campaign, but a lifestyle," says Saul in his talk. What does he mean? "Making love to your customers is not something that you can do for a certain amount of time--it is a company commitment. You can't run this like an ad campaign--customers will sense when it is over and leave you. Over-exceeding expectations means treating your customers better than any other company relationship your customer has ever had." This is something the Nordstrom executive or a manager at the Four Seasons would smile knowingly and nod at.

Saul's company, Freshbooks.com, where he's Chief of Magic, spends time, effort, people, and resources on creating relationships with customers. The central assumption in these relationships is that Freshbooks employees love their customers--even if the customers have something bad to say. Saul considers this a great opportunity to turn a detractor into someone who realizes how much Freshbooks loves him or her.

For example, it is tough to find a phone number for most web companies, but Freshbooks' number is on the top of the home page. The company even brags on its blog about its commitment to answering the phone. And employees do blog--to inform customers, to answer questions, and to begin to create relationships. Their forums are another place where they listen to customers, take feedback, and improve their products. If you Twitter @Freshbooks, you'll get an answer--often 24 hours a day. They're obsessed with making customers happy and answering questions and requests. They use the web to create opportunities to meet, greet, and connect with customers in person, because nothing takes the place of direct interaction.

Whenever Saul or other top Freshbooks staff travel, they email customers, twitter, post about it in the blog, and use all the company's media to let customers know they'll be in town. Then they buy dinner. Last week in Boston, 16 customers showed up, and two of them left with new business for their own companies. Imagine if all your vendors introduced you to new customers while buying you dinner! This love initiative is the foundation of a sexy word-of-mouth campaign. Freshbooks uses the word love all the time: "We tell customers who ask how and why we answer all the questions that we get, 'We answer because we love."

Another subtle point: Saul discussed this concept, and the actions that back it up, for thirty minutes and, aside from the logo on his slides, never once mentioned his company or what it does. In fact, he spent so much time not mentioning it, and instead talking about caring, that at the end, people were demanding to know what Freshbooks does, and how they can get some. (It's an invoice, expense and time tracking service online for entrepreneurs and small businesses.)

Love doesn't necessarily pay the bills, of course. But Saul says his philosophy "will deliver an incredible ROI that can't be tracked in a traditional way." So, what's the ROI for loving your customers, and how does Freshbooks measure it? Saul starts with the number of new customers and inquiries he gets in a given period, and then subtracts all the leads he got from promo codes, direct marketing efforts, banner ads, and blog posts. The balance, he figures--which amounts to a large percentage of the company's customers--come from the customer love initiative. He also tracks twitter mentions, unsolicited blog posts, and the number of answers where users respond to questions for other users in forums. If he can't track it traditionally, he figures, it must be love!

For Freshbooks, this means their outreach is a many-splendored thing.

Last updated: Aug 12, 2008




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