How to Turn Big Mistakes Into Awesomeness - Be A Human
So - we messed up our first major customer survey but achieved a better result when we showed our humanity
Humanity is the best form of marketing. Sound cliched? Yup. At Opensense we lived it in the most painful way. We insulted all our customers. And it turned out to be the best engagement lesson we’ve had in months.
How did we do this? Ironically, with a bad email. Hilarious, right?
An email that made it clear we were using automation tools. An email that got their names and titles wrong, and confused them. Our best customers.
So how did we turn the frown upside down? By showing our human side. Being human has a way of cutting through the noise and revealing that behind the façade of a company – even more so, a tech company – resides real humans trying to do their jobs.
Here’s the story.
Our First Comprehensive Customer Survey
We are a young company but are growing very quickly. We have tripled in size in the last year alone and are taking care of larger and larger customers. Our G2 scores told us that our customers love us - including the very largest that have significant demands. Cool. Props to our team.
Naturally, our crackerjack Customer Success team collects quick feedback after every interaction. To date, those pulse poll numbers have come back really strong.
That said, Opensense had not run a full customer survey and collected NPS (Net Promoter Score) in an organized fashion. Our COO wanted it done in the worst way for a board presentation. He was right. We needed to set a benchmark for future comparisons and also to make sure our pulse polls were giving us the right signal.
As any team at a fast growing company knows, the biggest challenge is prioritization. We started work on getting the survey out in September. Then the marketing team (ahem) fell behind on some other projects. We had a half-dozen events in an eight-week stretch. Each one needed prep, pre-and-post emails, schwag, logistics, in-event social campaigns, booth-staffing and more.
So the survey languished. We looked up and it was the end of October. Then we REALLY needed to get the survey done. So we hit the gas - all hands on deck, let's jam this out in a week. We also knew that after this survey, our first, we would have a process and a template that would make each subsequent smoother. In other words, pay now, profit later.
For the survey, there were a number of related tasks required; identifying which users should get the survey, creating the survey questions and format, constructing the survey in Google Forms, setting the Amazon gift cards to send to those who completed the survey, writing the email inviting them to the survey. We divided and conquered, knocking them all off in succession.
Then came the list of customers. We have a slightly different situation at Opensense in that we have hundreds of thousands of people sending millions of emails via Opensense daily but only a few hundred people actively managing the Opensense platform and interacting with it every day – loading in new signatures and banners, setting up groups, connecting with their CRM platforms and other marketing automation tool.
Those superusers were the people we most wanted to survey. They would be the ones that would have the most relevant feedback or could recommend us into their next company.
In the rush to get the email out the door for the survey, our list got messed up. As in, really, really messed up. Yikes. We somehow switched and mismatched the names and emails of all of our superusers. This meant that Joe Smith got an email in his inbox addressed to Jane Doe who got an email addressed to Liza Johnson (and so on, and so on). We were flooded with confused responses from customers - many whom we speak with on a weekly basis. It was not good.
Post haste, our sales and marketing teams moved to recover and send out corrections and apologies. First, we fixed the list to make sure we had the right names and emails. That was not too hard. Then we thought, what’s the best way to apologize and let people know we do care about them? And Severan Johnson, our sales operations leader, decided the answer was simple: be extremely and obviously human, admit personal fault, show vulnerability and humility. After all, we figured, who hasn’t hit the send button on something that later came back at them? It's almost always human error. And humans have empathy for other humans.
You can read the opening text to the second email below:
At this point we were just hoping to explain what had gone wrong. But we figured this first survey would be a washout. Bummer.
Then responses to our "mea culpa" email started coming in. And more responses. And more responses. So! Many! Responses! We were stunned and happy. At least, we thought, we would get enough feedback to make the survey useful – even if it wasn’t the happiest feedback. When the dust settled we got an eye-popping survey response rate of over 30%. (This is rather insane for a SaaS company.)
Then we started to tally the responses and we were blown away by what our customers - the very same customers whose names we had just messed up - thought about us. I won't lie. The whole company Slack was lit up with high-fives. 84% of our respondents would recommend us to a friend and 89% were either very happy or extremely happy with our product.
The numbers showed that our customers loved our product (hopefully as much as we love them). Equally important, the survey gave us clear guidance on our product roadmap and prioritization – focus on banner campaigns and ABM integration. Check, check. (In fact, we just rolled out our latest feature which allows senders to select which banner they want to send and control their banner cadences – pretty nifty).
All from what looked like a busted survey campaign.
Would we have gotten as many responses if we hadn’t begged forgiveness and shown our customers that a real human had sent the email? I am not sure one way or the other. But I do know this. Being a company of humans, comfortable with showing our vulnerability, certainly saved this survey and probably contributed mightily to its success.
Being human – making it clear a human is talking to a human – is the best way to show you care. That’s doubly true in email.