I decided to head to the a new co-working space called ‘The Office’ last week to check out the 13th Vancouver Demo Camp.  I hadn’t been to a DemoCamp due to me living out of the country for most of the time, but also because I never really had anything to demo since DemoCamp #3.

There was some really cool startups pitching, including JukeNuke, Facing.me and Cooq.com but found the event to be lacking in substance and confined to the DemoCamp Structure which ultimately made it quick and boring.

For anyone who hasn’t been to a DemoCamp, the structure is anyone can do a 30 second pitch about their startup and then the crowd votes on the top 4, who then are given 6 minutes to demo their product.

I was actually amazed at the quality of pitches and products that were being demoed.  A lot of products that I could see myself using and you could tell there was a lot of time and effort put in to them.

Where I would like to see things change is to allow for more Demos, more time for questions and discussion about the Demo and more organization at the event.

How I think the next Demo Camp could be improved would be to simply have a website that allows you to pitch your startup before the event and allow people to vote for them before the event.

This would increase the amount of pitches that could be shared without making the event take any longer.

Give every pitcher an additional 3 minutes to answer questions.  I felt we started to get into some really good discussions about the startups that were cut short due to the 6 minute pitch window.

Finally, have every startup setup before hand with a demo of their product working so you can then talk one on one with the pitchers before and after their pitches instead of them being lost in the crowd.

On my way to work, a man carrying a suit case asked me if this metro line goes to Richmond.

There are two trains on our metro, one that goes to the Airport in Richmond (the stop is called YVR) and one that goes into Richmond’s Centre (called Richmond-Brighouse).

The next train to arrive was to Richmond-Brighouse and my initial thoughts was to say “Yes, this train goes to Richmond”.

Luckily, instead of just assuming the guy wanted to go the Richmond Brighouse way, I instead asked him which stop he wanted to go to.

He clarified that he wanted to go to the Richmond Airport.

It is common knowledge to me that Richmond means Richmond-Brighouse but that is because I live in Vancouver, for someone who is not familiar with the city, they have no idea about this slight difference.

This is the same when it comes to a customer.  Because you spend your day going over all the problems that can exist, it is very easy to assume you know exactly what the customer is asking, which can possibly derail their entire experience with you.

If you ask the right questions, you can ensure you don’t send your customer down the wrong path saving your customer a lot of time and aggravation.

Under Promise, Over Deliver

Under Promise, over Deliver is a mantra heard quoted around the world when discussing Customer Service.

However, most people don’t actually know how to take this a step further and deliver on the promises.

The key to this mantra is setting up your customers with clear expectations of what to expect from your service because if you do not set the expectations than you give the power to the customer to create their own expectations and this can be very dangerous for 2 main reasons:

The first being the reason of the customer creating a much higher level of expectation than they will be receiving.  This can give the customer a sour taste in their mouth when they receive the product if it doesn’t match their self created expectations.

The 2nd reason is that a customer can become worried about their purchase or product and start second guessing themselves.  It can cause stress and this instantly makes them relate your company with that stressed feeling they received when they didn’t know what to expect.  Even if they are happy with the end result, without the set expectations they may still feel this same level of anxiety the next time they go to purchase from you or when they next have trouble using your product.

How to set expectations

So how can you set the expectations so that you are not letting the customers pull their hair out with anxiety or let them come to their own conclusions?

Start by being honest with your product and always add some leeway to your estimates.  For example, if you are able to ship your product to a customer on average within 5-10 days, then mention a shipping time of 10-14 days.  By doing this, it sets the expectation for delivery time and actually allows you to ‘wow’ the customer because on average a customer will receive their order before the expected time.  This also gives you a great buffer in-case things do go wrong…. and things do.. go.. wrong!

Try to steer clear of fine print.  Fine print is a necessary evil of business, but when you can avoid it, avoid it.  Try to have as much detailed information about the process your customers will go through in order to complete their transaction with you.  Do this in easy to understand words and don’t try to confuse customers with big words.  Direct and to the point will always win customers over in the end.

A great tip I learned from Mike McDerment (of Freshbooks.com) is to never let a customer know that something new is going to be launching and to not tell customers about upcoming features or products.  This advice alone has saved me hundreds of times from upsetting customers.  If you have a new feature or product launching and you tell a customer the date or type of product that is going to be launched, it sets an expectation from the customer.  But what happens when your team decides to push that launch date back or pull the product/feature indefinitely?  You have created an expectation that cannot be kept causing damage to your customer’s experience.

Sometimes things don’t always go as planned and you aren’t able to deliver on the expectations you already set.  This is ok, and although it will upset the customer a little, reach out and set new expectations.  It may be a small sting for the customer at first, but pales in comparison had your customer needed to reach out to you to figure out why their expectations were not met.

Setting a customers expectations is one of the most important things to do when setting up your Customer Experience.  It keeps your company in control of the experience and sets guide lines that both you and your customer have a clear understanding of what you can and can’t do for them and will save you hours of time when discussing why a customer cannot receive unreasonable requests.

Let me know if you know any great companies that set clear expectations and often surpass those expectations.  I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Through my years of working to make great customer experiences, one of the most common things you will need to do is apologize for a mistake, poor experience or just because the person is having a bad day.

I have found that apologies are very simple to do, however, not many people do them right.

The first step to a good apology, is to say “I am very sorry.”.  Now the most important part about this phrase is not the word ‘sorry’, not the word ‘am’, not the word ‘very’ and definitely not the word ‘I’.  The most important part of this is the period(‘.’) at the end of the sentence.

People ruin their apologies by saying “I am very sorry for this inconvenience”, “I am very sorry for this delay”, “I am very sorry that you did not understand this” and so on.  When you add something like this on the end, you take blame away from you and put it on either the customer or an unknown disaster creating monster that is out to get the customer.

Accept that the customer is upset and just wants to be heard and to their knowledge this is not their fault.

The next thing I find people do backwards is instead of  fixing the problem, they explain why the problem occurred.  Take this chance to be a hero to the customer, as yo have already started your email out correctly by apologizing.

Explain what you have done to fix their problem.  The key to this is that when reading emails, people tend to skim through emails, so if they are going to take away 1 or 2 things from the email, it should be that, A) you are sorry and B) you have fixed.

Now if you want, you can explain why this problem happened to this customer.  However, if the customer is at fault, find a way to explain how to do it properly next time without belittling them.  Place the blame on you and find and fix the reason why they were not aware of the correct way to do it.  Let them know that you will make this more clear for future orders.

Finally, ask if this has solved their problem and if there is anything else you can help them with.

To recap, if you follow the 4 simple steps of:
1) Say you are sorry. PERIOD.
2) Fix the problem or explain exactly how to fix the problem
3) Educate on why this happened
4) Ensure you have answered their questions and let them know you are willing to help with any other issues they may be having.

For some other great resources on how to apologize check out:

37signals: Apologizing like a human, not a corporation
Randy Pausch - Inspirational Speech on Oprah (Starts at 7:40)

If you have any other ideas about how to apologize or have a good apology rant or praise, let me know in the comments

Once upon a time, lived a beautiful princess in a land full of monsters where danger lurked around every corner.  Just then, Snappy, threw him down the well and he plummeted to his doom.  The End……

Wait.. What happened?  Who is snappy? Who fell down a well? What happened to the beautiful princess?

Obviously you wouldn’t read a book that was written like this but this is the story a lot of websites are telling their users.  It starts out with a beautiful opening scene, but as you delve into the story, it jumps around and doesn’t give you a clear path to follow to get to the end of the story.  When designing your users experience you should think of it as a story.  Most startups focus on a beginning and end but then forget to focus on the action points that gets you through the entire process.

Your story should constantly involve your user and guide them along the story line, never assuming they know what is going to happen next.  Fragmented stories cause confusion, lose returning customers and add more support emails to your inbox.

A great example of a website that tells a great story from start to finish is DropBox.  From the start it leads you through its download process, installation and using the product.  It also adds almost a game element where if you follow the storyline you can receive rewards.

Knowing the story to tell can be a learning process.  I suggest following my simple DEAL formula to discover what your story is and how to tell the story correctly:

  • Discover: your pain points in your story that will cause confusion, by pretending you are a robot and only following the on screen directions your story gives.  Don’t ever assume you need to click something, or continue with something unless it is spelled out for you.
  • Explain: your process out loud, while writing down the steps used to accomplish each task required to get you from start to finish.
  • Adjust: your story by simplifying the tasks so that there is one clear path to follow to continue the story.
  • Listen: to your users, the best way to figure out where your story is confusing is by listening to the support emails and identifying consistent problems.  Ask yourself where the story is not being explained and repeat the Explain and Adjustment step.

In the end, your story should have a clear beginning and clear ending for each task.  It should also walk you through each task and focus on giving one clear path to get from start to finish.

At Indochino, we recently adjusted the “My Profile” story to give the user a clear path from the time they order until the order has been completed and is in the user’s hands.  This has drastically decreased the amount of support emails we are receiving, has saved costs based on users now understanding the story and not making changes to their profile when they shouldn’t be and has increased user satisfaction dramatically by guiding them until their purchase is in their hands.

I highly recommend you constantly ask yourself “What story am I telling my users here” and follow the ongoing DEAL formula to simplify your story into one clear path.

I have always been a fan of the management style of treating employees as adults and not needing to micromanage their lives in order for them to produce on a high level. In fact I would argue that by micromanaging your employees you create less productive, unhappy employees.

I find that there are a lot of companies in the tech space that still like to pressure their employees to work set hours and further find that they are happy to tell an employee when to start work but then have no problem leaving the end of work time a mystery.

In some cases this is down right shooting yourself in the foot.  Why would you tell an artist/graphic designer to start being creative at 9?  Is this some magical time where artists can turn on their creative juices?

Why would you make a developer start work at 9 if his optimal time to code is from 12pm to 2am?

By giving an employee the freedom to make the choice of when they come to and leave work, I have found a drastic increase in these key factors:

  • Loyalty – It shows that the company has hired the employee to do their work to the best of their ability, not to be just another ass filling a chair.
  • Efficiency – Working when they are at their most efficient means quicker turn around and better output.
  • Passion – You don’t mind working until 2am on something you are enjoying working on because you don’t have to come in at that magical 9am time if you are tired.
  • Hours Worked – As Loyal, Efficient and Passionate employees they enjoy the time more that they spend on their projects as it isn’t a 9-5 work time but a project they are dictating.

Now, It would be irresponsible of me to say you will get all of these things to happen over night if you decide to tell everyone that they can set their own work schedule, as it isn’t as easy as that.  In fact if you don’t follow these key rules, it could back fire and you could create employees that are lazy, dispassionate and inefficient.

However, if you follow these simple steps of treating your employees as adults hired in set roles, you will keep your employees the former instead of the latter.

  • Set clear goals and targets of the expectations of your employees, for example, What they are working on, who they are working with and when the projects need to be complete.
  • Communicate with the team early on any important dates, meetings or milestones so that the team can plan for these around a mutual schedule.
  • As the employer, hire to fulfill a role, not to put an ass in a seat from 9-5, I can’t stress this enough.

Companies will argue that if ‘Employee A’ sees ‘Employee B’ coming in at 11am everyday they will want to do that as well.  My defence for this is: why can’t ‘Employee B’ come in at 11, is there a pressing matter that makes it so they need to be in the office at 9?  If so, then treated as an adult with a set role, clear targets and future knowledge of important milestones they will understand the importance of being there at this time and work this into their personal work schedule.

If you have set work hours at your company, I highly suggest rethinking why you have set those hours and realize the productivity it could be losing you.