Out of the hundreds of thousands of people using my company Open Listings to shop for and buy homes, I thought I knew who our worst users were — even by name.
There was Sarah* in San Diego who went on 134 home tours before finally buying one. Then, there’s Dan in San Francisco who’s asked our in-house agent team questions about nearly 1,000 properties but hasn’t submitted an offer on a home yet. And, there was Chris, who tried to negotiate our already low fee down to zero by blackmailing us with negative online reviews.
As CEO, I cared deeply about all users and every shred of feedback. I read every review, internalized problems, and prioritized solutions. I felt confident that we were super customer-centric and solving the most important problems.
Then, I had lunch with an investor who told me a story about a friend he had referred to our company a couple months back. This buyer had gone on a tour of a home but disliked the showing agent who toured with him so much, he decided not to use us to buy a home and never returned.
At first, I was defensive. He must be mistaken. We follow up with every bad review. Imperfectly rated showing agents are phased out of the platform. We race to fix any issues we hear. Our NPS score was over 80 last month!
The investor shrugged. His friend didn’t bother to rate the showing agent. They went dark, chose another solution, and barely thought about our company again.
All of a sudden, the people who I had thought were our worst users turned out to be some of the best. They at least ‘cared’ enough to use the product and be vocal about it.
For an early-stage company, insight is more valuable than incremental revenue. Their early criticism actually helped us in the long-run because we could grow from it.
In contrast, our worst users never returned and gave us nothing.
These detractors who leave silently, giving our team no issues to fix or negative feedback to unpack are the hardest to understand and to segment. And, they make up the majority of the users we don’t retain.
Hunt down silent churners, and get their feedback.
“In today’s world, helping is the new selling and customer experience is the new marketing.”
Helping our users becomes easier and customer experiences get better if we strengthen our commitment to both our best and worst customers, and most importantly, take the time to find and listen to them.
Hustle, cold call, survey, install HappyOrNots — do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of a user’s frustrations.
If we spend the time to seek out and truly listen to the customers who didn’t even bother leaving negative feedback, it has the potential to turn all of our “worst customers” into our best.
As a startup begins to scale, it’s easy for group-think to take over internally.
Potential problems and negativity can be overlooked, swept under the rug, or flat out ignored as everyone hitches themselves to the rocket ship. But, it’s extremely dangerous to stop asking questions and taking contrarian viewpoints.
At the end of the day, the best startups solve problems. If you dismiss problems, you are really dismissing your opportunity to be great.
Early adopters are a great audience for early-stage startups because they’re willing to try anything and they tend to be vocal about what they like and don’t like.
But, what if your most vocal detractors aren’t actually your target users?
Instead of just listening to existing feedback or seeking out more of it, it’s crucial that you also understand and segment your users correctly.
Only then can you prioritize the feedback and solutions that are right for your current business.
Often, when we think about growth it’s easy to fall into the trap of only considering new users.
However, acquiring a new customer can be 5 to 25 times more expensive compared to retaining an existing customer. Even when a startup is in growth and scaling mode, it’s important to remain focused on retention.
If you’re taking a hard look at product and process improvements that reduce churn, you give displeased users a voice, even if you aren’t able to capture their feedback before they leave.
Giving a voice to previously unheard users is the easy part. But, it also means you need to listen intently, design the right solutions, and test-and-learn from the improvements you launch.
Getting to the truth about your product, warts and all, will help your business iterate faster and build the experience users won’t want to ignore.
*Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent
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Judd Schoenholtz is the Co-Founder & CEO at Open Listings, an online home buying service. Judd and his wife bought their first home in 2011, and he’s been singularly obsessed with fixing the home-buying process ever since. Before founding Open Listings, Judd was Group Director of User Experience at Huge, where he spent 10 years building an unrivaled, global digital agency acquired by IPG and designing products for Dell, IKEA, JetBlue, Vans, Samsung, Target, Fox, Google, and, ironically, the National Association of Realtors. Follow him on Twitter: @jjjjuuuuddddddd