Dexter Zhuang ‏@dexteryz: As a startup, what’s the fastest and easiest way to gain reputation with customers aside from a great product? Thx


I know there are some books on this but I, unfortunately, have never read them. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this area where I built a reputation and then I lost it. 100% of the time it had to do with poor communication. For instance, in October, 2008 I was managing a small piece of someone else’s hedge fund. I was down that month. At the same time, my marriage was falling apart. It had actually been falling apart for years but this particular month it was REALLY falling apart. Arguments every day that were raw to the bone. All I can remember on top of this is that the financial system was also falling apart and for some reason it was raining every day.

I’m sure if I looked back at the weather reports it would show that it wasn’t raining every day. But I can’t remember a single day where it wasn’t raining. Where I wasn’t on my hammock and being rained on. Where I wasn’t walking back from the local museum where I tried to hide in the afternoons and being completely drenched. Where I wasn’t outside talking to my partners and thinking, “this phone will get ruined in the rain”. Where my kids weren’t inside the house all the time wondering when I would come in and play with them. It was wet, raining, and my eyes were blurry from crying.

And one time my “customer” called me and said, “you really need to learn to communicate with people”. And he pulled his money from me. I’ve written about this before but now we are friends and work together often on a deal by deal basis. But at the time I thought I would never talk to him again. That time when we spoke was only after I had avoided about 20 of his calls and emails.

The same thing happened when building websites for a living. I had a designer that nobody wanted to use. And yet he was the designer on almost all of the projects. So I was avoiding the calls from customers begging me tp take him off the project. And I was avoiding talking to him about it. Finally, companies would call me in for a face to face meeting (always ugly. ugly faces everywhere, ugly scowls, ugly comments, always “we wish we didn’t have to have this talk”, etc) and I’d have to reel them back in.

So here’s my guidelines on keeping reputation for ANY business: service or product businesses.

– stay in touch with customers. If you have only a few customers, call them every few days, even if it’s just to chat. You may find hidden needs that they have that you can fulfill, even for free.

– don’t be afraid to do extra. I always try to surprise customers with extra service. Something they didn’t expect. Then they know that with all the other guys they will get what they see, with me – they will get a surprise. Always.

– blog. If you have many customers, you can keep in touch with them via blogging. And with blogging, follow my suggestions. Bleed, add value, share ideas, and then syndicate also to get those ideas out as far as possible.

– customer service. When a customer has a problem, solve it immediately. Give them things for free. Scour twitter for comments about you and respond to them. Every forum is a customer service forum for you.

– “Thank you”. Say thank you to everyone. Commenters, twitters, customers. Say thank you in every way you know possible.

– “Crush it”. I’m borrowing this from Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crushing It” and I know it works because I’ve used it. Go on every blog related to your company’s sector and start posting comments. Don’t link back to your site always. Only sometimes. Maybe one in five. Go on Quora, Pinterest, Wikipedia and become a quality source about all things related to your company. I use every social medium as a channel. You should also.

– Become the source. Look at Yahoo. They were a website that became big by being THE source for all other websites. Find everything related to your sector. Become the directory of all tools, websites, blogs, related to your sector. OWN the sector. On facebook, twitter, your site, pinterest, etc.

Building a great product is, as you point out, #1. But no man is an island and people live and die by communication. Keep people from loneliness and you have a customer for life.