Relationship advice for tech companies and their customers

Sam Altman‘s How To Start a Startup class is turning out to be a trove of great content. Several lectures in that class are well worth the watch, including this one by Wufoo‘s founder Kevin Hale titled:

How to build products users love

He provides some phenomenal advice for companies to better engage their customers and build products that they love. But the parts that really resonated with me were the analogies he drew between the relationships companies have with their customer and “real life” personal relationship.

Specifically he equates the relationship with new users to dating and the one with existing users to marriage.

From the former, he draws the importance of first impressions. The first interactions with the customer are the ones that matter the most, and he extends the typical definition to apply to any “first”.

But it’s the latter that even more profound. He argues that couples typically fight around 5 major topics:

  1. Money
  2. Kids
  3. Sex
  4. Time
  5. Others, as in “other people”: jealousy, in-laws, etc.

And customers typically call support about very similar topics:

  1.  Cost/Billing (Money)
  2. Users’ clients (Kids)
  3. Performance (Sex)
  4. Roadmap (Time)
  5. Others, as in other companies: competition, partnerships, etc. (Others)

The reason many relationships break up can be attributed to four negative behaviors:

  • Criticism – not focusing on the issue at hand, but on the over-arching issues (you never listen to your customers)
  • Contempt – intentionally trying to insult
  • Defensiveness – not taking accountability, making excuses
  • Stonewalling – shutting down, not feeling a need to answer/respond

And the same four behaviors apply to bad customer support.

He then make a pretty compelling case for why engineers and designers should be fielding customer support calls themselves. Which you can learn more about by watching his talk.


Relationship advice for tech companies and their customers

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