January’18 wasn’t just a new year beginning for us but also the start of our journey with Alore CRM.
We stepped into the crowded waters of the global CRM market. The fact that there are plenty of established names didn’t deter but rather motivated us.
That’s either got to be classified as craziness or extreme passion. We of course call it the latter.
Within a short span of 3 months, besides our tool, our users and customers find Alore CRM synonymous with customer experience.
That’s huge for us! like seriously huge !
In a recent feedback survey, an Alore user shared this:
It was a humbling validation of our efforts. We felt we succeeded so far in making our users feel the care we wanted them to feel.
Of course, our story has just begun, and you may say 3 months is too soon but we know there’s no looking back. Alore will breathe its customer experience focus every second every day.
Sharing my honest and tell-all journey so far to give you an example of how a 5 person, bootstrapped, 3-months-since-launch business is trying to make it happen.
If we can do it, so can you my friend ! 😊
Quick roundup of the Alore Story:
I’m Vikas, ex-clean tech VC and founder of Alore CRM. Alore CRM is a sales and marketing automation platform for startups and SMBs. We are bootstrapped and proud. 😉
After working for an early stage venture capital fund in Amsterdam, I moved to India and started Plash in 2013. Since then we have pivoted a few times and I have 2 failed products under my belt.
The zest to survive somehow led us to become a digital agency. We had some great brands for clients here. But Scaling sales was getting difficult every day.
In the agency days, the biggest challenge and frustration I faced was “time”.
One tool to extract leads, a second to export data, third a CRM , fourth a DRIP campaign scheduler etc. Me being a productivity worshipper, found this super stressful.
When I looked around, there wasn’t a single automation platform that could do all I needed and sync itself in real-time. The ones that were closest to what we needed, I’d have to sell a lung and a rib to keep enough licenses for all my teammates.
Slowly I began to create small tools to automate and bridge the gaps where I could. I started with creating our own drip campaigner that would collect all the stats we wanted, our own calendar and responder and slowly we realised we can make a fully integrated custom sales automation platform.
Thus, the idea of Alore CRM was born.
I re-hashed my development team and we started the Alore journey in April-2017. By October 2017 we had our MVP ready and initial beta testers. By January 2018 we soft-launched Alore CRM in the early adopter community.
As a SaaS startup in a crowded CRM market we had competition from well established names to aim for a slice of the pie — Zoho, Pipedrive, Salesflare, Close.io, Hubspot CRM etc.
Eyes open and spirit high, Team Alore set forth on the CRM journey. 😊
Our Customer engagement journey
When we began active discussion in Sept 2017, we knew if we wanted to survive, we needed to differentiate. However, it’s easier said than done.
We brainstormed for days or probably weeks on what we could do. We decided early that inbound alone wouldn’t save the day since its slower. We finalized on a combination of Inbound and Outbound to meet and interact with prospects.
Our initial thought was to provide great customer support (break down maintenance) and have every feature detailed out in the support wizard that we had painstakingly created. It was to serve two purposes for us:
1. Have an always accessible manual for every feature we provide.
2. Since we were a small team, aim for resource optimisation.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bummed out by the results. In Jan’18 when we ran our first Lifetime Deal (LTD), the user on-boarding wasn’t as friction-less as we had anticipated it to be. We had designed a four-step on-boarding sequence which would get you at top speed with the tool. Data showed contrary. Users weren’t even using the setup wizard like we expected they would.
They were so conditioned to jumping to the home screen all this while that it was where they went. We scraped the previous on-boarding process and took the following actions.
First, we changed our goals and stopped explaining everything users could do.
We moved on the hypothesis that once the user searches for an email address/uploads a CSV file and runs a drip campaign, he/she is invested enough to actually come back to see results or at least get replies in his email box.
We changed the on-boarding process and our hypothesis was proven right. (Thanks Hiten Shah. As usual he is always approachable). The results were better. The heat map shows how we attained what we wanted to achieve.
Alore had been built with the aim of making sales automation friction-less and here we were struggling in providing a friction-less experience within the tool.
This was an early wakeup call and boy !! am I glad we woke up.
We quickly moved our gears to active support and captured data to predict problems and guide users accordingly. (Used Inspectlet in case you’re curious what we used)
We’d been reading and exploring on customer experience since September 2017, even before we had completed our MVP. (We call those our Tony Hsieh weeks.)
We wanted to reflect our culture and values in what we did. We loved what David Cancel and his team at Drift were doing and that was validation of authenticity being accepted by consumers. But we didn’t know the start point until we had run our LTD 1 in January and saw the need and value of customer support.
It was like finding the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle. The differentiator we had been finding, our company culture we wanted to showcase etc would all converge into the Alore customer experience.
This very customer experience became our defining identity and here’s the details on how we did it.
Phase I: Planning and strategizing
Step 1: Defining what customer success meant to us
We wanted Alore to not just be a super-useful product but also be “us”. The Alore experience would be seamless between its team and the tool. We wanted our customers to be people who would talk to us like they were talking to a friend over beer. Always approachable.
I also wanted to do this the Steve Jobs way — Get my customer experience right and build a product that fits it well.
We knew most Alore users would be smart capable individuals making a name for themselves in the world. Our job would be to forever help them achieve their goals. We wanted to ensure sales automation was one worry less for them if they used Alore.
We don’t want to preach to them. Our customer experience strategy delves on this thought in various forms — Show them not direct them.
Advice to fellow founders here: Find your differentiating factor. Define what customer success means to your business very early on. Anybody can start a business, but it always starts and ends with a customer.
Step 2: Choosing the right tool stack:
Once we’d decided what customer success meant to us, the next step was to decide how we would talk to our customers. We’d need to bridge this with the right piece of technology.
Choosing the right tool stack can really accelerate your growth post launch. We wanted to get this very right in the first go. My team and I made a list of tools and we began the consideration and evaluation process.
Some of the tools we considered and discussed for reviews from users in the founder community were:
- Zen Desk,
- Facebook etc.
We found through reviews that Zendesk, FreshDesk etc weren’t able to provide instant gratification to customers and had an older UI.
We were in a dilemma between Drift and Intercom then. So in Sep 2017, Drift was considered a great option, good for booking and interacting but there were some features we found missing then (eg. emails. Now they have them but not in 2017). Eventually it got struck off the list.
Intercom resonated with me because of its UI. At this point I also had a chat with Hiten Shah and his advice struck a chord with me. We are so conditioned and groomed in using chat interfaces after having used Messenger, LinkedIn, WhatsApp daily such that the interface feels familiar each place. Intercom brought in that familiarity between us and the customers. They wouldn’t feel out of place with it.
Intercom also had a lot of other features that would be super useful — ability to manage tickets without creating tickets, the knowledge base, support ratings, get instant feedback. etc.
It’s super useful to be able to track such metrics when customer experience is high on the agenda
I also loved how email and chat worked seamlessly on Intercom. I could reply to customers on chat and it reached their emails and vice versa. The Intercom team was super approachable and in no time I had about 180 articles ready at Launch to support.
We also used Cloudapp heavily all along. We created about 500 GIFs of various support queries and had them ready to answer every reach out query answered the quickest and best way we could. (Its also faster to show than tell !! )
And the tipping factor was also that they had a startup friendly package which was is a huge plus when you’re bootstrapped.
The choice paid of well eventually because I remember there was a day in January when I was heavily outmanned. I had 53 chat windows open in parallel while I furiously typed across chat windows. That’s startup life for you!
Advice to fellow founders here: Choose your tech stack very wisely. Its difficult to jump between solutions specially once you have customers used to a certain way. Always ensure the tool stack you choose can handle 10X the customer volume than you have at the moment of decision.
Step 3: Team and vision alignment
The crucial step after having chosen the technology was to get the team groomed into the vision we had for providing customer experience. We faced a slight bump when two of our team members I’d identified to handle customer experience quit the company. While I wish them well, I also had to deal with finding someone at the same time. I couldn’t, so I jumped into the ocean and trained others in the team to do it.
My heroes turned out to be our shy and nerdy developers!! They pitched in and took over the customer handling on Intercom with me to share the load. I sat with them for days on getting the tone and personality right. And giving them a masterclass on using GIFs over Pizza breaks. Yes, that was us.
Deepika, spearheaded the marketing activities on social media, influencer and prospect relations and blogs. I’ll talk about this in detail ahead.
I ensured that the entire team was talking factually and not superficially. I wanted them to understand data as well. We decided together that we shall not take any decision without data.
Advice to fellow founders here: Have your inner circle of team members and colleagues who are perfectly aligned with your vision. They should live, eat and breathe the product as you do. never shy from giving them credit wherever you can to show you value them. Also, capture data from day 1. You can but only win with data. Furthermore, In the startup life every colleague and team member must be your customer experience evangelist and representative.
Phase II: Execution
We began selling our discounted licenses early in the days, but it was mostly people who we had known at one or two degrees of connection. We were grateful that we got adept in handling Intercom queries with people in the circle.
Then one day it happened, EB became our first paying customer on Intercom who we didn’t know through our circles. This was a milestone for us because it instantly felt like the journey had finally begun!
EB went on to introduce us to his circle of early adopters and new doors opened. We were introduced to communities on Facebook and LinkedIn where technology savvy early adopters from across the globe brainstormed on the newest software and its relevance.
It was also the place where you could gain early access to new software over Lifetime deals. The power of FOMO fuelled the purchase behaviour here and we felt we’d reached the right place. Over time, I got introduced to SaaS Mantra founder Sampath with whom we did two Life Time Deals(LTD) to do a soft launch.
Our aim with running the two LTDs was to validate the products usefulness and get feedback to refine it as per real needs of global startup and small-business wizards.
Advice to fellow founders here: Value your first users as much as you can. Its your duty to ensure they feel they are heard, valued and their opinion matters. Allow people into your circle as friends because the initial advice and feedback from them will help shape many of your product features.
Besides the fact that we networked with whoever we could to initiate and build relationships, we had one thing clear. We were here to not just make a sell but to also make friends. Fortunately, this was a common trait we had in Team Alore- we all loved making friends. So we decided to make that our brand personality. Alore was not just the tool you bought, it was us as well. And it was our job and delight to keep you happy with your Alore experience 😉
Since we are a SaaS company, we knew if we wanted to really connect with our audience and be remembered, we would need to communicate our personality across in text and life. Here’s some things we did:
We adopted emojis in the blink of an eye because WhatsApp and Facebook had trained us for years on this. They help us get the tone of a statement right. It’s easier to distinguish between sarcasm and a compliment with this and it helped us get our points across to users without ever having them doubt if we might have been sarcastic.
GIFs are ubiquitous with modern conversations. We used GIFs as a part of our communication strategy because everything that’s visual catches attention quicker. GIFs helped us decode the biggest hurdle of the digital world — getting the personality and sentiment across. They helped us to give our users a sneak-peak into our minds at that moment. They’re so simple to use even a 5-year-old gets the meaning 99% times.
And we haven’t restricted the use of GIFs to communicating mood or sentiment btw. We also create GIFs of the tool’s working to help users understand certain aspects better than just sharing black and white text and emojis.
We’ve created around 700+ GIFs by now while interacting with customers answering queries. Its easier and faster to show than tell !
“We see our guests as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts”- Jeff Bezos !
You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but we actually share a bond with our users and evangelists over Pizza. It started off as a joke once when in a community on Facebook, during a conversation on Alore features, Alore user RC quipped “can Alore also give pizza” –Alore’s marketing head Deepika and I looked at each other and smiled — “of course” — what our customers want, that our customers get.
RC (who is a good friend now) lives in Canada so Deepika quickly checked up best pizzerias around his city and I dug out his address. In 45 minutes he was sitting at home with a Pizza from Alore.
It started a trend of us surprising our users with Pizzas randomly to thank them for their inputs in shaping Alore’s features, championing us and just being awesome supporters. We’ve now supplied pizzas in 7 countries so far from Greece to Argentina to Australia and of course in India. And what we love is that we have them not just as customers but as friends as well. And we’re yet to meet any of them. I don’t think it’s very common in SaaS.
In fact, once we even got reverse stumped. Alore user- CK, who’s based out Canada, saw how we were all bonding over Pizzas with Alore users and he decided to treat us instead. I can’t explain in words what that gesture meant to our team.
I write regular emails to update our customers and users on what we’ve been up to every 15 days. I ask them to share their experience with Alore. Creating multiple channels of dialogue is important because only a small percentage like to communicate on social media. There are many silent users who love the product, talk regularly over emails or personal messages but never on social media.
We even went into the nitty-gritty of the invisibles — the font, the text size, colour, harmony etc. True story!!
This is an intangible method but a very important metric to go by. We try to be as responsive as we can as much as we can.
We compete with ourselves on this one and here’s a snapshot of us working on our response timing.
We are building a close-knit community around Alore and its surrounding networks. Founders today understand the value of communities and how they are a great place to bounce ideas in and dive into collective wisdom. We actually gave the community building a deeper thought and here’s a cleaned-up snapshot of our decision matrix:
Result was we went in for Facebook. We strategized to form two groups on Facebook because we saw value in being where our users spent most time.
7. Quick Refunds
I personally faced hassles and delays in getting refunds for many of the subscriptions I took in the past so I didn’t want this to happen at Alore. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you but getting your refunds at Alore is a cakewalk. Any user who is unhappy can reach out on Intercom and request a refund. We immediately give a quick call to check for the reason and take feedback. If the customer still insists on refund its done within minutes. In fact each colleague of mine has the right to initiate refund and there are no clearances needed from me. Though we’ve had a negligible number of refund requests so far, I believe it also forms an integral part of the customer experience with your brand- he/she being a customer or not.
8a. Sales and Growth hacks- Ideas that Scale
We first built a closed group on Facebook called “Sales and Growth hacks- Ideas that Scale” to just nurture the startup and SMB ecosystem. This is open to all entrepreneurs who wish to seek or share ideas around hacking sales and small businesses. We reached out to founders, product managers and growth hackers over email, personal messages etc and formed a little community to share ideas. Some in the group are prospects others might be some day or not. The aim of starting this group was to share what we learn at work and also learn what others do (at least those who are willing to share).
We’re careful about who we allow in the group and currently let in one out of six people who want to join it. Quality of contributors is important and like every oxygen breathing human on the planet — we hate spam!!
8b. Alore Uservoice:
This is the inner sanctum for us. It is a closed support group on Facebook for Alore users. I must tell you that a lot of thought went into the naming of the group. While we started with the thought of having this as a customer support access point, we wanted it to be a place where our customers felt they didn’t need support but could talk to us at par — a place where every user had a voice that mattered, hence UserVoice.
Here they can discuss Alore features, future feature requests and learn from other users how they’re using Alore. The users can even upvote feature requests to expedite a certain feature to priority. This power is best in the hands of Alore users.
We used Canny to log in feature requests from users
This community of Alore users also serves as a medium for me to share my thoughts and updates. Within a tightly knit and growing community we gain great traction in how actively we discuss and debate around Alore which I find wonderful in helping us engage with our customers, users and also learn how we can offer more features as solutions.
We know we got this one right when an Alore CRM user Gary O’Toole had this to say ” Alore has managed to build a core fanbase who have gone onto not just be users but brand evangelists and ultimately an army of unpaid salesmen/women!”
9. The Content Strategy
Every communication in this world is sell. Including customer experience. Our job is to make life easier for the users and customers. We decided we didn’t want to ship fluff. Marketing is our voice and our voice can’t be shaky. It can’t be confused.
We would like to have our customers find interacting with us as memorable and to achieve that we need to strike a personal chord with them.
Initially when we started writing our blogs in September, we wrote what we felt the users might like. It was an honest attempt but a weak one. Not something thought through deep. Over time we figured out that wisdom lay in not writing what they might like but to write what our audience can resonate with. It was our moment of truth and glad we learnt it soon.
When we write our blogs, we try to personalise them as much as we can. Stories move mountains. Stories are remembered. All the content we produce should feel like we are sitting next to our users and talking to them across the table.
If a story can’t add value, we don’t publish it. After reading every story, our readers / users should be wowed and have learnt at least one new thing.
I and my team strongly believe that if you don’t dig deep, the stories won’t be stories, they would be preaching or opinions. The more anecdotes or data we add, the better we can convince and offer our logic; The more solid the story will be.
We should be sure about what we are talking. We are to the point always. We talk what we feel, and we talk about things that matters to our users not because its doing rounds in social media.
Advice to fellow founders here: Pizzas, GIFs, Blogs etc are just various tools we employed that we felt reflected our culture and how we felt about our customers — friends. You must choose your methods after serious thought on what works for you, your brand value, culture and ideology. Have a certain quality of customer experience associated to you which forms a real human connection with your team.
Alore CRM’s Road Ahead:
Prepping up for launch
3 months post our soft-launch and 1000 + active users later, we’re gearing up for the big game — Our product hunt launch to dive in deep into the SaaS market !!
In this regard we’re doing a number of things.
- Making our content better
- Ensuring influencers see value in what we’re doing
- Networking with our customers and leads
- Ensuring we work on feedback from customers and users to refine our product.
We plan our Product Hunt launch in some days and will share an honest narration of what we do for it.
What we can share with fellow founders on customer experience on nurturing relationships:
Customer experience is just as Tom Knighton summarised — “the next competitive battleground where businesses will be won or lost”. With our initial foray in this direction, I have the following experience to share:
1. Be honest
As founders we must constantly endeavour to be as transparent as possible with our customers and evangelists. We are who we are and shouldn’t feel shackled by the need to portray a certain image of ourselves.
For e.g. I’m an introvert who believes in real friendships than superficial ones and I work on that my way. My colleague Deepika is an extrovert and I encourage her to be herself and let here energy spill into conversations.
You will find your productivity shoot up exponentially when every person in the team plays to their individual strengths and is just the real deal !
An honest conversation of current struggles, future vision etc makes you sound real even if its flawed.
2. Be approachable, Be Omnichannel
Strive to build an image of being approachable, so that no customer or user ever feels shy or hesitant in reaching out to your company, giving feedback, ask for help or just say hello.
and remember that being omnichannel makes it easier for the user to reach you the fastest way he knows in the comfort of his /her favourite channel of communication.
3. Communicate your brand personality
Choose what signifies you and your team. If you’re starting a serious cryptocurrency business, you would need a persona that matches what you sell. Just be one with your brand no matter what.
e.g. we are direct, and we are humble. We might disagree with our users, but we respect their Point-of-view (POV) and are always listening to them. We plan to write like we are sitting with you at Starbucks and talking over a sandwich. If we fail to make you feel like that, then we fail in that piece of content.
4. Make customer evangelism everybody’s goal
“You don’t need permission from your boss to make your customer happy !! “
As much as anyone would like to say great products sell themselves, everybody needs evangelists and supporters. Along-with you, your team must also look forward to forming their own communication style and relationship with users. The more comfortable users are, the more comfortable they will feel giving you candid feedback 😊
I’m fortunate to have a highly motivated team who think of Alore’s customers as a virtual family to look after. I recently overheard them talking over lunch about customers like the customer was a favourite cousin — I couldn’t have felt prouder!!
5. Push your limits
Okay so this one is a tough one because your risk burnout here but here’s the deal. When customers in Australia are sleeping, the ones in the US are waking up. In the initial days personalised attention matters and here’s where founders need to burn midnight oil. See what works for you and how. get an external team, have teams work in shifts or divide customer support between teams -find your mojo there but get this right. sooner the better!!
I personally try to be super hands on as well because as a founder, it starts with me. Off late I sleep 3–6 hours a day and have my phone with me all the time. Intercom is the only app that can beep at all times. It gets hilarious as well sometimes. E.g. this:
Though I am an AI man myself, I prefer the personal touch always. Thankfully so does the team and we answer all our Intercom on our own for now.
I’d like to close my thoughts by urging fellow founders, product and sales managers to give in their longest and best thought into refining and sharpening the customer experience. You have to nail the four pillars of customer experience right really early.
Approachable — Always be somebody the customer never hesitates in reaching out to.
Omnichannel — Ensure you have multiple communication channels open with the customer
Friendly– You can get customers to really tell you’re their issues unless you come across as friendly
Quick — You can never really add value to customers if you’re solving yesterday’s problems tomorrow.
Gamify — You’ve got to create a fun element around your brand to have people remember you in the early days e.g. that’s what Pizzas and Gifs did for us.
Hoping you found some takeaways!
Do let me know what you think of our story so far and what we can do to better it . We’d also like to hear of your favorite customer experiences in life for us to learn from 😊
Originally published at blog.alore.io on April 27, 2018.