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What does it mean to add value to your customers?

“How can I add value?”

This is the question I write at the bottom of my daily planner almost every day. Why? Because I want to train my brain to think in those terms. Why? Because I hear this is the key to success.

I never managed to answer this question adequately. And I had the insight that I need to answer a different question first! And that is:

“What does it mean to add value to your customers?”

Looking at this question, I realized that my efforts have been selfish. I was concerned with “my success.” The reason I wanted to add value is that I become successful by doing so. 

This question forces me to face the fact that I don’t know what “value” means for my customers. Yes, I can make guesses, but I don’t truly know. 

So many times, I have been tempted and followed through with this idea: what I do is valuable to me, so it must be valuable customers too. And if they didn’t see the value, that was their loss! This approach has resulted in projects that are too complex or in features that I thought were cool, but the customers did not care about them. 

And this has happened because I never paused to ask: “what is valuable to my customer?”.

Value is very subjective, I have discovered. I don’t handle loss very well, so I have a reliable backup policy. But others are much more willing to start over again, so backup is not essential. 

I value aesthetics and elegant design. But most of my customers value ease of use and the ability to manage the website themselves. 

I also have discovered that I am biased. And my bias is not the same as my customer’s bias. 

The first step in discovering what it means to add value to my customer is to be humble enough to admit that I don’t know and that I need to have a discussion. In this discussion, I need to ask the customer what is valuable to them, and if required, to help them discover their values in that process. I also need to set my bias aside and truly understand where the other person is coming from. 

The second step is for me to determine if we are a good fit. Based on what I now know about my customer’s values, can I truly serve them in their best interest? And sometimes the answer is no. And in this case, I have to send them away. 

But there is a way to refuse to work with someone that is not selfish. You can still add value by making a recommendation and send them to a specific someone else (your competition), instead of simply turning them down. This way, interacting with you has still got them one step closer to solving their problem, and you have been generous and trustworthy enough to recommend another person for them to work with. You may have lost a client, but you have earned trust, and in today’s world, trust is precious. 

So how can I add value to my customers? It first starts with showing empathy and meeting them where they are at. And in some cases, it means saying “no” and pointing them in a different direction.

Credits: my viewpoint on marketing and adding value is shaped in great part by people like Chris Do, Seth Godin, and Blair Enns.

How do you find customers?

I know this is a burning question in the minds of many entrepreneurs and freelancers. 

I don’t have a “how-to” guide that will guarantee your success, but I would like to share my perspective because it is not just about getting more business, but also about creating a better world for everyone :). I also admit that what I about to share does not apply to everyone or every business model.

My first customer was my first employer. They were buying what I had to offer, my unpolished, raw programming skills fresh out of school. I did not like that customer, but they taught me a lesson: 

your customers should find you, rather than you finding them. 

It took me almost a decade to understand it, though. 

My second customer was my second employer. But this time there was a big difference. They called me, and I had to decide if I wanted to work for them, not the other way around. They had already decided they wanted me there.

This may seem like luck, and that is what I also thought for a while. But it happened again with the third employer. And after that, I stopped being an employee and became a freelancer. And the people I work with today found me. 

It wasn’t until I read about inbound marketing that I understood what was going on. And that, in fact, luck was just a part of it, and maybe not the most significant part. 

What I was not doing was not sitting around, waiting for clients to call. I was continuously working. Either to improve my skill or to generously solve other people’s problems. 

When I began my freelance work, I’ve spent the first two years doing volunteer work. And they have been the best years. In those times, I would only do work that was profoundly satisfying to me. And I discovered how nourishing it is for the soul to be able to choose the people you are working with or working for. 

To paraphrase Seth Godin, the way to get clients is to do work that matters for people who care and to do so generously.

Contact forms done right!

What is worse than nobody contacting you for business? It is having to deal with a lot of Spam. Spam takes away from your attention, and it can potentially drown a valid contact request or a genuine request for support. 

I will be talking here about WordPress and specific plugins, but the general principles apply to other technologies as well. 

The contact form is an essential part of your business. You can get both feedback about how you are doing, but also it is a way for customers to quickly reach out to you, or for leads to ask presale questions. 

The easiest way to get a contact form in WordPress is to use Contact Form 7

But just installing and activating the plugin is not enough. There are two extra steps that I suggest you do:

First: get rid of SPAM. 

Yes, I know, in the first few weeks or months there will be no problems, but as soon as a script bot discovers you it will send a ton of Spam, and that will also affect your server reputation and your ability to send out email. Don’t wait for that to happen. 

To get rid of Spam activate and configure the CAPTCHA test. The one from Google works best, and I choose it most of the times. (If privacy is a big concern from you, I don’t know if Google can be trusted, so shop around!)

Second: Safeguard against email failure.

The way a simple contact form usually works is to accept the submitted message and then email you (the website owner) with the contact message. 

This way used to work well, but with the ever-increasing Spam problem, there is a chance that the contact email will never reach you. When and if this happens, you will never know. Unless…

Unless you also save the messages on the server where you can review them later. For this, I use the companion plugin Flamingo. Aside from making sure you don’t lose your messages, this collection of data can become a treasure when it comes to customer research: most common questions asked, or problems in interacting with your products and so on.

Bonus: Integrate with an auto-responder.

When you begin to get more messages than you can quickly respond to, a nice touch is to use an auto-responder to provide some quick tips or to reassure your visitors that you will get back to them as soon as you can.

When you do use Flamingo or an auto-responder, make sure you update your privacy policy to inform your users about that and be GDPR compliant.

A look into the (not so distant) future.  

Soon contact forms will be replaced with virtual agents/assistants. This is already happening, and it will be a game-changer — more about AI in a different article.