Learning from Your Customers: Empathy Is a Strategy, Not a Product 

by | Apr 7, 2022 | Marketing

This week we have teamed up with Carine Roman, Chief Customer Officer at Mailchimp.

SaaS companies find success through many avenues, whether they’re charting new territory with their engineering team or realizing a market gap and capitalizing on a need with an easy new tool. But those who find sustained growth usually have at least one thing in common: Human connection drives their approach to customer success. 

For more than a year, I’ve seen this firsthand as the Chief Customer Officer at Mailchimp. My role is to represent the customers’ perspective—to be their voice inside the organization. Mailchimp’s success has always been built on a deep understanding of its customers, so I knew immediately when I joined the company that no orientation, data analysis, or internal workshop would help me learn what I needed to lead us forward. Instead, I set out to speak with as many customers as possible within my first 100 days. I met one-on-one with dozens of customers and partners across a range of industries, countries, and scales. (If you are one of those customers, thank you again for the time you shared.) 

Millions of small businesses and entrepreneurs use Mailchimp, so you might think that patterns and trends would be hard to parse. But every discussion came back to one theme: human connection. My conversations with customers have spurred real change within our organization and taught me three core lessons any company would benefit from. 

1. Build Meaningful Partnerships.  

Committed customers feel they have an emotional stake in your brand, and the investment must be mutual.  

When I joined Mailchimp, I was amazed to see how deeply our customers identify with the brand. You don’t usually see this kind of connection with B2B brands or businesses! It was clear from the outset that this compassionate, authentic (and sometimes silly) company had built a unique rapport with its customers—one sustained by its approachable yet powerful technology.  

But even the best relationships require deliberate nurturing. Listening is everything, and Mailchimp must honor its relationship to customers by taking action when they voice their concerns. One way we’ve accomplished this has been through our partner program. We noticed that some of our small-business customers were growing so fast, their marketing needs were beginning to outpace their experience level. Meanwhile, we were seeing a steady growth in the kinds of advanced users that make up Mailchimp & Co., our partner network for freelance marketers and small agencies. So we built a matchmaking tool, our Partner Directory, to connect these two camps with one another. Suddenly our small business customers could seamlessly contact experts who could deliver results. And our partners, be they copywriting pro or web design genius, could grow their businesses with inbound leads that fit their expertise.  

The feedback has been incredible. We have partners saying that nearly 90% of their new business comes from the Mailchimp & Co. directory. What’s more, they say these client relationships are some of the best they’ve ever had. Customers are happy, too: With an expert in their corner, they’re learning how to use new tools and freeing up time for other business priorities. We listened hard, adjusted accordingly, and created a solution that benefits everyone—and that’s an approach I know we’ll apply to the next obstacle, too.  

2. Don’t Equate “Do It Yourself” with “Do It By Yourself.”  

One of customers’ most common gripes is as simple as it is challenging: “Why is it so hard to talk to you?” 

With Mailchimp, you don’t need a huge team or an extensive marketing background to create campaigns that drive results. And while ease-of-use gets many clients in the door, we’re constantly adding new features to keep up with the needs of the many advanced marketers and larger businesses that use the platform, too. Our long-term success depends on pairing the product-led growth mindset that yields these new features with a service-led strategy that keeps even our most entry-level customers engaged. Introducing new features can also introduce new pain points, and not every customer is going to have the inclination or even the bandwidth to share feedback when they start to feel frustrated. 

When I set out on my 100-day challenge to speak with Mailchimp’s customers, it was the ones who were already highly engaged who tended to be the most willing to speak with me. Yet I was keenly aware that there were many other voices we were not hearing from. So how does a company get through to everyone else? For starters, we added a “help” button to every page in the app, drawing more attention to resources that already existed for customers. We also created 580 new help articles—available in English, Spanish, French, German, and Brazilian Portuguese—and translated nearly 200 existing pages on Mailchimp.com into four different languages, ensuring that our customers worldwide could find answers on-demand. And we’re actively seeking new channels and opportunities to facilitate customer feedback: In 2022, we’ll debut our pilot Customer Advisory Board, a community with different business models and marketing needs that will inform our path forward.  

No solitary approach will help you keep in touch with all of your customers. Whether you’re creating YouTube tutorials, crafting highly granular help content, or interacting with someone one-on-one, a truly customer-obsessed company should always be looking for new ways to open lines of communication. Show up for your customers before they need you, and you’ll solve minor annoyances before they bubble up into major problems.  

3. Grow Together.  

Scale is a one-sided benefit if you can’t bring your customer with you.  

As Mailchimp grows, I’m excited about the ways we can use data science, business intelligence, and AI to help our customers scale with us. I’d love to reach a point where our platform guides new customers through every step as they create a seamless marketing journey. But in the meantime, every single human interaction with a customer is an opportunity to drive big results. This starts with taking care of the people who take care of your customer.  

Hire enough staff—customer success reps, sales people, and account managers—to adequately support your growing customer base. Build and maintain tools and software programs to help you manage customer relationships, even as your team grows larger and more distributed. Above all, seek input from a diverse table of decision-makers: You can’t tackle problems at scale if every voice in the boardroom is informed by the same narrow set of experiences.  

Staying customer-obsessed as your company grows cannot be just a job for the customer team, either. In July, Mailchimp embarked on a “Customer-Obsessed Sprint,” setting aside two weeks for cross-functional teams to focus on the issues that were most likely to cause frustration and churn. This allowed us to tackle accessibility, task completion, and site performance without getting bogged down by long-term projects we may not be able to wrap up. We combed through all of our support tickets and categorized them, identifying several small (but meaningful!) fixes we could implement right away.  

By the end, we resolved more than 1,300 support tickets. We added “dark mode” for Android and introduced the option to delete multiple tags at once. We created tools to help our customers export orders for tax purposes and added keyboard shortcuts to improve accessibility. Most of the changes weren’t flashy or headline-worthy. But if you’re an entrepreneur who uses our tool every day, they probably gave you some time back. In the end, that’s what we’re working toward: Building a tool that offers our customers the resources and support they need to grow their businesses, on and offline.

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