September 21, 2014

FreshBooks Rocks: Getting Personal with Customers

wagon.png One of the best ways to get to know your customers is to spend time with them face-to-face.  This method of doing business is a hallmark of a Customers Rock! company and is usually supplemented with other types of customer conversation, including traditional and social media marketing.  For FreshBooks, based in Toronto, Canada, this is not an unusual way to do business – it is business as usual!

Unique Customer Outreach

FreshBooks provides online invoicing and time-tracking for service professionals.  I had the chance to speak with CEO Mike McDerment, and he shared with me his story about their unique and effective customer outreach campaign.  Mike and a few other folks from FreshBooks were attending two different conferences here in the USA last month, including speaking at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.  Coming from Toronto, the easiest way to get there would have been to fly – but not for this team.  They decided to take the fun path and rent an RV (see photo above), meeting and talking with customers along the way!  By the end of their Roadburn roadtrip, Mike and his employees Saul (who put the trip together) and Sunir (marketing and community development) had 11 meals over a period of 4 days, meeting with more than 100 customers over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The Roadburn blog above chronicles the trip, and several customers came out to it, requesting stops in their towns.

vinyl_rev01.png This was not a product roadshow.  This was a listening tour.  Mike and his team didn’t lead the conversations at all.  They merely asked a few simple questions to get them started, such as, “Hey, how are you?  What do you do?”  Rather than peppering their customers with questions, they encouraged the customers to network with each other.  By the end of these meals, many of these customers were swapping business cards and planning to do business with each other.  According to Mike, the result was “almost a mini eco-system!”  Listening in this type of environment provides fresh (get it?) customer insights that you can’t get on a survey!

I loved the way the FreshBooks team described the intent of the road trip on their site:

“The FreshBooks RoadBurn may seem like a stunt or a marketing ploy but in reality it is pretty much what FreshBooks is all about….listening to it’s beautiful customer base and getting to know them on a level that other companies wouldn’t make the effort to do so.”

Getting to Know You

FreshBooks wants to get to know customers and wants to be easy to talk to as well.  They have actually been holding these “customer meals” for about four years now.  According to Mike, every time he goes to a city he gets a list of FreshBooks customers in that city, and he invites them out for dinner to see what is going on with their business.  As you can imagine, this is pretty effective for building customer relationships, as well as for great word-of-mouth.  Mike says,

“We are conscious that there is always someone on the other end of the computer screen who is using our products.  We keep asking ourselves, how can we get closer to our customers?”

FreshBooks does it not only with face-to-face meetings, but they believe that social media really helps, too.  First of all, there is their blog, FreshThinking.  FreshBooks uses it as a way to communicate updates to their customers, as well as business tips and other tidbits.  It must be working – the blog regularly gets comments and has over 1100 readers (per Feedburner).  In addition, FreshBooks is a big fan of Twitter.  They twittered the road trip as they went across the country; Mike described it as “random and quirky” writings.  They Twitter from inside of FreshBooks as well to share with customers what is going on at the company.  It is also part of their customer support mix.  For example, the aforementioned Saul, at home on a weekday evening, sees someone using Twitter to ask how to do something in FreshBooks, and he replies and gives the answer. 

Good customer service, right?  Yes.  FreshBooks is paying attention to customer conversation and helping where needed.  Per Mike, “…we are not instigating these conversations; rather, we are being where they are.”

Caring – A Core Value

Customers are embedded in the corporate culture at FreshBooks; it is in their DNA.  Mike supports this in a few ways.  One, he hires for fit.  He describes this as hiring people who feel good about helping people out.  In addition, everyone at FreshBooks does a rotation into customer support.  This gives all employees the opportunity to hear from customers directly and to understand their pain points.

Mike says one of their core values is caring.  As CEO, Mike is always taking care of employees, making sure they have what they need for their jobs as well as looking out for their happiness and health.  Here is his formula for success:

Take care of staff –> Staff takes care of customers –> Customers take care of referrals

This works!  From customer satisfaction surveys last year, FreshBooks had a customer referral rate of 98%.  This year, the rate went up to 99%!  This rocks.  Per Mike: “There is really nothing better.  Happy customers are a great pool of positive WOM.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Mike.  FreshBooks rocks!