Every SaaS company struggles with learning how to grow, and how to reduce churn. While there are plenty of SaaS growth strategies available, there is one solution that is so simple and low-tech that it’s rarely considered—customer conversations.
I know, right? Good old-fashioned talking to people. And it works.
Customer conversations helped Moz increase sales by 52% and helped Grow and Convert increase their course sales by 10x, and at the staggering cost of zero dollars to do it yourself, you can’t afford to not have these conversations as a key part of your customer experience strategy.
With a list of questions, a database, and a few phone calls or video chats, you can build community, reduce churn, and increase sales.
The process is simple, but it does require some time and dedication. Here I’ll help you learn why customer conversations are important, how to prepare for the conversation, and what to do with the information once the conversation is over.
Why Bother With Customer Conversations
Your current and past customers are the greatest determinant of your future customers. They have insights, feelings, and uses for your product that you’ve likely never considered. Taking the time to have conversations with your customers is the only way to truly understand why they love or hate your product, how they’re using your product, and how they speak about your product.
No, a Survey or Email Won’t Work
It would be easy to automate this entire process. Create a nice survey in a Survey Monkey or Google Forms and send it out to all your customers and users via email. Boom! Instant answers and useable data. Or is it?
There are three issues with sending a survey to your current customers:
1. You will only hear back your assumptions about the customer and what you think their thoughts or feelings are about the product.
For instance, a pain point question in a survey for a task organization app could look like this:
When you first began searching for a product that helped you organize tasks, did you feel:
- Frustrated with your current system
- Overwhelmed with all the tasks you needed to accomplish
- Content, but looking for the latest technology
But what if your customer wasn’t feeling any of those things? What if they were feeling angry about the lack of options on the market? You would never know that. They may choose one of the answers above or they might skip the question altogether, because it didn’t apply to them. The data you collect from a survey wouldn’t be complete, and it wouldn’t accurately portray the pain points of your customers before purchasing your product.
2. You don’t hear from the customers who hated your product and churned as soon as possible.
These customers’ opinions are very important. They will passionately tell you exactly how you let them down, what you failed to provide, and what they expected you to do for them. Conversations with these customers can sometimes be the most enlightening and revealing of your positioning or lack thereof. Sending an email to your current customers means you’ve missed this audience completely.
3. You won’t hear the customer in their own words.
Relational keywords are the specific words your customers use to describe your product, and to explain their feelings concerning your product. These words identify the relationship between your customers and your company. Word choice is crucial when you need to be able to relate, intrigue, and motivate your customer in a matter of seconds.
Using relational keywords is all about making it easy for your target audience to find you. They know immediately that your solution is exactly what they’ve been looking for. A survey will never reveal a customer’s relational keywords.
It Will Improve the Customer Experience
The insight you gain from customer conversations creates a better customer experience strategy for your company. By asking the right questions and actively listening, you’ll begin to hear the subtle annoyances your customers may experience or begin to see patterns where small expectations were not met.
A report by Econsultancy found that 51% of customers switched to a competitor because of poor customer experience, and 29% of customers said customer experience was an important factor in finding an alternative.
473 Customers were asked “What did your new vendor offer that led you to switch? Which of the following best describes what your old vendor did wrong?”
The ability to formulate a customer experience strategy with these issues in mind allows you to address each issue individually, which will dramatically change the way your customer experiences your brand.
For example, if after five customer conversations you begin to see a pattern that your customers assumed your product would help them with a certain solution and it doesn’t, you can take that issue to your product development team. Then you can build the solution your customers were expecting or change your messaging so customers no longer expect that service. Either option will lead to a greater customer experience.
It Builds Community With Your Customers
Language is one of the most powerful elements that bind a community together. When you use the same language as your target audience, you begin to form the backbone of an engaged community.
A customer experience strategy that uses customer conversations forces you to interact one on one and spend quality time getting to know your customers. Your investment of time shows them that you care about how they feel and what they think. At the end of the day, that’s all anyone wants out of any relationship.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review found that companies that create relationships with their customers, meaning they see them as long-term users not just one-time buyers, have stronger communities.
Their research shows that when customers were involved in a community culture with a company: brand loyalty increased, customers were 7% more willing to pay a premium for the service or product, were 8% less likely to switch to a competitor brand, and were twice as likely to recommend the brand.
Important to note, a community culture doesn’t just mean a Facebook group or a Slack channel. It’s authentic and offers customers human interactions that leads to increased sales, brand loyalty, reduced churn, and word-of-mouth referrals.
How to Prepare for Customer Conversations
In order for these conversations to be meaningful and quantifiable, you must take some time to prepare. You need to know what you are going to ask and who you are talking to before you begin the phone call.
Creating a list of questions to ask beforehand ensures that the conversation is productive. The last thing you need is to get a customer on the phone with no clear direction and end up wasting half an hour talking about their cat. While chit-chat is important (more on that later) you want to be able to keep the conversation moving forward.
Here’s a list of questions you can ask:
- Why did you choose our product?
- How were you feeling before you found our product?
- What was your first thought about our product?
- What do you love about our product?
- What annoys you about our product?
- How can we better serve you?
- How are you using our product?
- What’s the most frustrating thing about our product?
- What’s the best thing about our product?
- How often do you use our product?
- Who do you think our product/service is for?
- What do you think makes us unique?
- Do you refer us to people you know? If so, who?
- How does it feel when you use our product?
- Who do you think our competitors are?
- How did you find us?
- Why do you continue to use our product?
- What does our product help you do?
- What were your biggest hesitations or doubts before purchasing our product?
- Were there questions you were unable to get an answer for?
This is a sample list of questions, but there are hundreds more you could ask. While it’s important to have your questions ready and handy before the call, you don’t have shoot them off in rapid order or stick to any script. A little practice and good listening skills will help you respond to the customer’s responses and get more indepth answers.
One of the most powerful tools you can use in these conversations is the follow-up question. A simple, “Um hmmm, tell me more about that,” or “Really? Why’s that?” can lead the customer deeper into their insights and emotions.
Sort by Categories: Biggest Fans, Greatest Enemies, and Meh Customers
Every customer, past, present, or future, can fall into one of three categories, and you’re going to want to talk to a few from each category.
Biggest Fans: These customers converted quickly, brag about you everywhere, leave raving reviews online, and engage with you on social media.
Greatest Enemies: These guys hate your guts. They leave awful reviews on social media, have called customer support numerous times to rant about your crappy product, and they demanded a refund as soon as possible.
Meh Customers: These customers probably took longer to convert and likely won’t stick around long. They like your product. Maybe they’re new users and aren’t quite sure how everything works yet, but they haven’t called customer support and they didn’t request a refund.
Give Them an Incentive
You might be thinking this all sounds well and good, but your customers will never spend time with you on a phone call. You might be surprised. People love to talk about themselves and they love to feel heard and understood.
In order to sweeten the pot a little and show your appreciation of your customer’s time, you may want to consider an incentive or thank you gift. An incentive will be another reason for your biggest fan to love your company, and could be the motivator that even gets the greatest enemy on the phone.
A few incentive ideas:
- 20% off next month’s bill
- $25 gift card to a local coffee shop or restaurant
- One month of upgraded service for free
The exact amount of the incentive varies from company to company, but should be reflective of the cost of your product. For instance, if a customer pays $5,000 a year for your product, 25% off of next month’s bill would be a huge incentive to get on the phone for 30 minutes, but a $10 gift card may not be worth their time.
Choose an incentive that makes sense for both your company and the customer.
The only way to know if people will participate in customer conversations is to simply ask. Now this is a good opportunity to automate. Send an email to your entire list with a survey asking two questions:
- Do you love our product?
- Yes!! It’s amazing!!
- Eh, I’m still figuring it all out.
- No, I wish I could punch the founder in the face
2. Would you like to tell us about it?
- I sure would
- That depends…what’s in it for me?
Then you can segment based on their responses.
Try asking on all your active social media channels:
Hey guys! We want to know more about you! If you’d be up for a 30 min call with Joe, our founder, give us a high five in the comments! P.S. There’s a sweet treat in it for you!!
Ask your email list. Your email list is a powerful place to do business, and will help you find the customers that would love to have a conversation about their experiences with your product.
An email might say:
That takes care of your biggest fans and your meh customers, but what about your greatest enemies? Social media will help you here as well. Put out a tweet or LinkedIn post calling on previous or current customers that are frustrated with your product.
You can also find your greatest enemy customers by checking online negative reviews, your own customer service data, and complaints sent by email.
How to Have the Customer Conversation
You’re prepped and ready and now it’s time to have the conversations. Here are a few tips to keep the conversation productive and natural.
- Spend a few minutes on chit chat. Talking about the weather may seem like a complete waste of time, but it will actually give your customer time to warm up and get to know you on a personal level.
- Actively listen. This means that your focus is on the customer. Put away all distractions, find a place to sit that will allow you to focus on the customer. Let them speak more than you do.
- Do not sell to them. This conversation is not about taking the opportunity to upsale or convert this customer. Once you try to sell to them all trust is gone and they will not give you genuine answers.
- Be understanding. The conversation is going to bring up areas where you as a company have failed or have room to improve. These may be hard things to hear, and you may want to correct the customer, or defend your company and employees. But this is not the conversation to defend previous mistakes or to right wrongs. Any time you find yourself feeling defensive, ask the customer to elaborate. These are the places where the most improvement happens.
- Be comfortable with the silence. Awkward silences are just that—awkward. But when they happen, allow the customer to be the one to break the silence. If there’s been silence for more than a few seconds repeat the last thing the customer said. For example, “You were saying that you had a difficult time learning how to add new files to your database. Tell me more about that.”
- Keep it friendly. Use the customer’s name whenever you naturally can.
- Be thankful. Let the customer know how big of a favor this is to you and your company.
- Get to the core of the emotion. If the customer responds that they were excited when they found your product, it’s important to know what “excited” means to them.
- Stick to the time limit. On average, these conversations can take 20-45 minutes. Schedule longer than you think you may need for the first few. Getting off the phone early is never an issue, but going too long can be an inconvenience to you both.
- Change the conversation. If the customer never opened up and isn’t giving great answers, be willing to change the conversation for a moment. Go back to the chit chat. Let them get comfortable, and when they are, you can resume by saying, “Oh yeah! I forgot to ask you about…”
Once you’ve done a few conversations, you’ll begin to notice a pattern in the issues and words customers are using. The exact number varies, but around 5-10 customer conversations from each category of customer is usually enough to identify the relational keywords and gather qualitative data.
Record the Conversation
The point of these conversations is to gain insights and walk away with accurate data that can be used throughout your company, but that won’t be very useful if you’re the only one who hears the phone call.
Recording the phone call is a great way to capture the conversation for your leadership teams and to generate data based on the conversations. Just be sure to get permission first, as it’s illegal to record someone without their knowledge, depending on location.
A few good tools to help you record conversations:
A great option for recording phone calls and video chats. It’s a free tool for one-on-one conversations, with the option to add more users and call larger groups for various price points. It allows you to schedule a meeting, and a bonus for the customer it allows them to join by their telephone while keeping their number private.
Allows you to record the phone calls, video chat, and share your screen if needed. At two price points, free and $15 a month, it’s a simple application with multiple uses.
Skype’s version 8 allows you to record your calls. With Skype you can have a private number and it works on a desktop or device.
What to Do When the Conversation is Over
You’ve taken the time to speak with everyone and you’ve got hours of conversations recorded, so now what? How do you take those conversations and turn them into data you can use?
Create a Relational Keyword Database
Remember that relational keywords are the words your customers use frequently to describe your brand or product. During your conversation, you’ll begin to notice patterns and repetition of words and phrases.
You may have 10 out of 12 customers say they were looking for “the best social media scheduling software.” So now you know to document the words “best” and “social media scheduling software.” Using the exact words of your customers leads to an easier sale and an smoother customer experience. Putting these relational keywords into an organized database ensures that they can be used by everyone at your company.
We know that when you use the customer’s language, you attract more of your target audience, and you build trust easier and faster with your customers, because you have an intimate understanding of their needs. This database will become the script to use during every sales call, demo, event, conference, website, landing page, email, and blog post.
Create a Database of Issues
A spreadsheet with all of your users’ annoyances, frustrations, and issues gives you a clear idea of what needs be changed, modified, or just thrown out altogether. These two databases combined begin to form the roadmap for your company’s customer experience strategy. They give you a clear idea on how to help, serve, and nurture your customers throughout their entire buyer and user journey.
Share with Team Leaders
This information is crucial for every person in your company. Your developers need to hear the customer experience issues. Your sales team needs to understand what words resonate with customers and which words or phrases repel them. Your marketing team needs to know how your customers describe their biggest pain points and solutions. Take the time to share this across your company and you’ll be pleased with the results.
Talk to Your Customers—It Works!
Your customers’ words matter, and the only way to know their words is to get on the phone and have a conversation. Giving your customers the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings helps to create a community, which leads to brand loyalty, reduced churn, and higher conversions.
How have you used customer conversations? Do you have anything to add? I’d love to hear your experiences. Let me know in the comments!