What happens when the sh*t hits the fan? Your company gets hacked, your users’ data “disappears”, your service is disrupted at the wrong time. How do you prevent your customers from churning?
In this guest post, Hasan Yalcinkaya, co-founder and CEO of Put.io, an Intercom customer, explains how a few simple, thoughtful messages has paid off over the years, leading to an active user base that forgives you when such mistakes inevitably occur, and ultimately reducing churn as it grew. Put.io is a cloud torrenting service based in Turkey.
It is not easy to admit this, but here at Put.io we have made many engineering mistakes in our six years. We’ve accidentally erased user data, we’ve seen service disruptions, experienced multiple outages, accidentally cancelled paid accounts. You name the problem, we’ve probably committed it.
What we’ve learned is that when a company seriously screws up — and you’d be naive to think it won’t — what makes or breaks it is the strength of existing customer relationships. This is where Intercom has been absolutely transformative for us in the past two years.
About that TechCrunch article
Oftentimes startups experience a single, cataclysmic event which catapults their number of new signups. For us, it was an article in TechCrunch. Pre-TechCrunch, we had about 150 users, all in our home country of Turkey. 150 users is manageable and so we simply handled support through an online forum where users could submit their own questions and answer others. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but we’re small and it was the easiest way to manage lots of user queries. We also didn’t want to spam inboxes with announcements, so we’d just post them in the forum.
After the TechCrunch article came out, we had 3,000 new signups overnight. To four introverted engineers whose first language isn’t English, this was really overwhelming from a communications perspective. None of us had any marketing or customer-facing experience. Who were these potential customers? Where did they come from? What were they doing in our app? How do we convert these people into active, paying customers? How do you communicate with all of them without pissing them off?
See first, then speak
Upon a friend’s recommendation, we started by installing a free version of Intercom, just to see who our users were and get some initial customer intelligence. Being able to filter users by geography and behavior is great, but my biggest revelation was sorting users by the number of Twitter followers — we had some high rollers (by Internet standards)! It was truly amazing just seeing who our audience was, and this helped inform our product and design.
What also stood out to me was how Intercom communicated with me through its own automated messages. I wanted to provide the same personalized, thoughtful experience to our own customers. So finally, I got over my shyness and tried messaging individual users who had written in with difficult issues. Suddenly, the tone of our customer conversations went from negative to productive and we quickly replaced our support forum with Intercom.
Here’s my theory: when we respond to queries through Intercom, we can see live user data in the same view and get all the context necessary to respond more thoughtfully. It also prevents us from having to ask a bunch of annoying questions, which usually only frustrates your users even more.
It makes a big difference when you can converse with your customers as human beings rather than as anonymous Internet citizens. Here are three “personalized communication” principals we try to follow:
Tip #1: Avoid bad surprises
Inspired by something Intercom does, we also began proactively telling users when we mess up. Recently, one of our engineers accidentally reset some users’ activities. We pushed an in-app message through Intercom which pops up when a user logs in:
We received a few frustrated responses, but mostly people responded with something along the lines of “no problem — good luck!” It’s nice being able to announce problems through a private two-way conversation rather than as a one-off message posted in a forum or through Twitter. Email-based confessions come too late or too early. The puppy dog face might have helped too (it was the best expression of how we felt).
Tip #2: Pro-actively solve their pains
Through feedback we learned that a major pain point for our customers was slow Internet speeds. So we created this message:
Our users really appreciate this message. It’s an easy way to show you care.
Tip #3: Reward loyalty
Personally I don’t believe in discounts, but after reading about how Intercom does it we tried offering a discount at the six-month mark. We send this to Basic plan users in hopes of turning them into Premium ones:
About 20% of people end up upgrading!
I’m really proud to say that even though we have more than 5,000 active users to support, since using Intercom to talk to our users we have managed to reduce churn by 14%.
No matter what your company does — even if your audience is behind a computer screen 24/7 — personalized communications is the key to keeping users loyal.