High touch

A friend recently complained to me that some of her customers have lots of special requirements. One has slightly different payment terms, another slightly different services included, and a third has so many slightly different things it adds up to an extra 10 emails back and forth and a whole lot of extra time trying to keep them happy.

While I am a big fan of the concept of customer-centricity, i.e. putting your customers’ needs at the heart of everything that you do, I think it needs careful balancing with what makes sense for your company’s overall efficiency – and your own sanity.

As a general rule, if the price of your product or service is low, and therefore you need hundreds of customers to achieve a reasonable revenue level, it needs to be as low touch as possible. Yes, you evolve the product over time, and yes, customer feedback informs that roadmap, but you should not be customising to each individual request.

If you’re selling expensive enterprise solutions – whether you’re a snappy software startup or a more traditional law firm charging tens of thousands per engagement – you will likely need to (and want to) make sure your solution fits like a glove.

Being stuck in the wrong part of this matrix – selling relatively cheap things and doing lots of customisation – is a complete nightmare. It will end up costing you more in your time (or your employees’ time) than you will actually make from that customer.

If you’re here, you need to get out, pronto. Ask yourself: do I have customers who don’t have a lot of special requests? That will be where your product-market fit is strongest, so focus on those customers and stop serving the rest for now. If you don’t, maybe you need to iterate the product a bit – look to the most common asks from your existing customers to help you get there.

Software companies have this nailed. As an individual, I cannot quite call Microsoft and say that I want them to change the UX for conditional formatting (I do), and expect a new Excel vJanaSpecial to be available to me tomorrow – and while we’re at it, also ask to pay by sending a carrier pigeon with a check. That said, if I was buying a Microsoft environment for a company with one million employees, I could probably ask quite a few special things, because the contract would be worth millions. Maybe they’d also befriend my pigeon.

The advice to my friend? Given the majority of her customers were happy with the “standard package”, I told her to focus on those, find more of them, and (nicely) drop the rest. It’s not personal, it’s necessary.

Love and cash flow,

Jana

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