FreshBooks::: grow customer base by 150%

How a Company's Word-of-Mouth Strategies and Customer Focus Helped Grow Its User Base 150%
by Kimberly Smith
Case study published on 4/7/2009

Company: FreshBooks

Contact: Saul Colt, 'Head of Magic' at FreshBooks
Location: Toronto, Ontario Canada
Industry: Small business services
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 28

Quick Read
What's the quickest way to a small-business owner's heart? Make his or her life easier.

Toronto-based FreshBooks was founded on that idea—specifically, taking the pain out of small-business expense tracking, billing, and invoicing. That service, however, is not all that has made the company what it is today.

While businesses around the globe have been faltering, five-year-old FreshBooks has grown from close to 300,000 users to over 750,000 in the past year, and much of that can be strictly attributed to word-of-mouth.

How'd they do it? Through a level of service that might best be described as refreshing.
"We treat our customers better than they've ever been treated, or expected to be treated, and we live up to everything we say we're going to do. We're overly attentive to listening to our customers, and we do fun and interesting things. That surprises people, and they talk about it," explained Saul Colt, who leads the company's word-of-mouth marketing efforts under the official title of Head of Magic. "It's so simple and ridiculously obvious, but for some reason more companies don't do it."

Read on for specific examples of how this online service vendor is keeping customers and winning over new ones, and getting a healthy dose of personal endorsements in the process.

FreshBooks is an online invoicing and time-tracking service targeting freelancers and small businesses.
"It's not the most interesting thing in the world…not something people will likely run around and talk about on their own," admitted Colt.
Yet, the company has set out to make it just that: something everyone can—and does—talk about, whether they actually use, or even need, the service.

The true success of FreshBooks has come from its commitment to forging real relationships with customers, potential customers, and others.

Online connections
FreshBooks uses social media, especially Twitter—where it has over 3,300 followers—to make connections with users on the Web.

On Twitter the company uses movie-quote contests and party invites to engage with customers and non-customers alike and to open the door to new conversations and relationships.

Moreover, FreshBooks has found Twitter to be an effective platform for listening to customers and other users and for getting to know them as real-world people. It then goes out of its way to respond to those people's needs, whether personal or professional.

Examples include making donations toward users' walks for charity, sending small gifts when someone has a baby, or flowers when someone has a bad day, or even just mailing off a funny story to brighten someone's day.

"Our goal is to make our customers happy, personally and professionally. We're available for advice, friendship, everything," said Colt. "The value of this is immeasurable if it is coming from a genuine place, and you make a connection with your customers."

Face-to-face interactions
Company employees traveling on business regularly host dinners for up to 30 local customers and influencers in the cities they visit. They've also been known to drive, rather than fly, to conferences in order to meet up with as many customers as possible during the trip.

At one such conference, they also used the company RV as a party shuttle and offered attendees hangover kits, along with a free pancake breakfast in the morning.

Client-centric promotions
"We don't make it about us, we make it about other people, using whatever small influence we have to prop up our customers," said Colt. "If they have better results, they will tell everyone about our service."

For instance, in March the company made up a series of "Internet All-Star" baseball cards featuring many of its customers with "shiny Internet personalities," then handed them out at the South by Southwest (SXSW) 2009 conference.

Customer involvement
FreshBooks also uses various opportunities—including its on-site user forums and weekly email newsletter, as well as in-person meetings—to garner feedback and solicit recommendations from its users.
"We rely on them for advice and suggestions, too. We make them a part of our company, and that makes everyone feel good and spread the word," said Colt.

FreshBooks had close to 300,000 customers about this time last year and now has over 750,000 users, according to Colt.

"We have amazing relationships with a lot of our customers, and through these relationships we have helped to grow the company exponentially," said Colt. "It all came from treating customers as best we could."

Lessons Learned

  • Customers are a business's most valuable resource. "Never take them for granted," said Colt. "If they care about your product and are passionate about it, they will champion it everywhere they go."

  • Non-customers can prove to be just as valuable. "We care about people, whether they're using our service or not, and nothing stops us from talking to people who will never ever use our service," said Colt. "They can still tell ten friends about something cool we did."

  • Generating great word-of-mouth is not a distinct marketing campaign; it's an everyday, ongoing part of the business. "It's our lifestyle," said Colt. "There's never a time limit or an expiry date. It's a lifetime commitment."

  • It's okay to ask for referrals. "We ask people to please tell a friend," said Colt. "We don't take for granted that it will happen by itself."

Target women: Douchebaggery 101, embracing your inner douche.

Pull up to the drive-thru window, order your Famous Star with a side of machismo and check out “Target Women: Carl’s Jr.”.
Try not too laugh your ribs off. For every mention of "douche" slam a tequila. You'll never recover.

K-Y: An Intriguing Product Launch

The K-Y brand team wanted to reach beyond menopausal women and target a new generation of consumers—couples, both men and women—to give them the tools they needed to make their intimate moments together more special.
To successfully transform K-Y into an iconic intimacy brand and support its foray into the premium lubricant category, K-Y charged us with devising a multidimensional campaign that included traditional media outreach, influencer marketing programs, unique events, targeted sponsorships and sampling, and product placement in unexpected places.
Insight: We conducted an omnibus survey and study on intimacy and the relationships and interpersonal communication of more than 600 consumers.
These studies showed the importance of intimacy and the significant role it plays in successful and lasting relationships, which served as a great entry point as we talked with the media.
An in-depth analysis of the media through conversations and background research helped us identify the most receptive targets and create personalized approaches. This also gave us an understanding of reporters’ editorial needs and how K-Y could meet those needs.
• Created a temporary art gallery in New York’s Chelsea district.
Intrigue: The Art of Sensuality displayed works from nine artists. We used the venue to host two major events—an opening reception and a closing celebrity bash.
• Established grassroots buzz and developed an influencer program to enlist the support of brand ambassadors and evangelists before the product launched.
• Positioned K-Y as a leader in intimacy beyond its product and engaged industry specialists to communicate the importance of healthy intimacy and relationships in and out of the bedroom.
• Educated specialists on the benefits of the product and armed them with the K-Y brand’s research and survey statistics.
• Sponsored the Heatherette fashion show during New York Fashion Week as an opportunity to speak to the brand’s target luxury consumer. The product was included in 500 gift bags and handed out at the show, and it was distributed to guests at the after-party.
• Sponsored celebrity blogger Perez Hilton’s birthday bash in Los Angeles.

Outcomes: In 2007, Intrigue was the top-selling K-Y product at Walgreens and CVS. In overall drug store sales, K-Y Intrigue came in fourth place behind only Altoids and two new candy bars.
Finally, the pinnacle of K-Y success measurement, these numbers easily surpassed those of Valentine’s Day 2006.
In total, K-Y Intrigue received more than 128 million impressions, including hits on Wall Street Journal.com (WJS.com) and the coveted beauty shots of the product in several women’s magazines. K-Y Intrigue was highlighted in top-tier national outlets, including the TODAY show, Perez Hilton’s birthday bash, New York’s Daily News, New York’s Newsday, Glamour, Women’s Health, Essence, MORE, Redbook and others. Bloggers were writing about K-Y Intrigue; the media now calls K-Y “lubricant” rather than “jelly.” It was clear that we made conversations easier. It was a significant achievement for the brand and for Ogilvy PR.

Six Ways to Build Your Brand Through Customer Service

by Anand Subramaniam

When it comes to brand building, customer service is often the last and most-ignored piece of the puzzle. This is a big mistake--and big missed opportunity.
Aligning customer service and your brand is an essential but under-used way to attract and retain customers, differentiate the business, and boost brand loyalty. Done right, it can create a truly sustainable competitive advantage.
Here are six ways we've seen to use customer service to reinforce brand identity. These methods can be used to align customer service with established brands or to build a brand through customer service.
1. Establish and execute to a brand-aligned customer service intent
Successful companies formulate a
strategic intent and execute to that intent for market success; savvy organizations map that strategic intent to a brand intent. While businesses often capture brand intent in their advertising, they ignore it in delivering customer service, whether it is through their websites, contact centers, stores, or branches. This could result in damage to the brand. It is therefore important for C-level executives to launch a brand-aligned customer service initiative to make sure it is implemented across customer-facing and back-office operations.

2. Design brand-aligned processes
Customer service processes often involve multiple steps, tasks, people, and organizations. For instance, contact center customer service includes call routing, interactions, resolution, and fulfillment, and could also include proactive outbound communications, based on pre-determined business rules. High-touch brands should design processes that emphasize human-assisted customer service over self-service, whether it is in a brick-and-mortar environment or in a contact center setting (e.g., phone and web chat). It is also important to ensure that promised service levels are met through robust customer service process management tools. Non-intrusive brands should refrain from aggressive in-person or live chat customer service.
3. Provide brand-aligned human-assisted service
Human-assisted service is here to stay- complex customer service requests and certain transactions require human involvement. Moreover, some customer segments prefer the human touch. As such, it is important for companies to hire and retain brand-aligned people for customer service. HR organizations could match the personality of the brand to the desired personality of frontline reps to ensure brand-aligned agent recruitment and retention.
The knowledge and conversational styles of "role model" (i.e., the most brand-aligned) call center agents can be captured in customer service management systems in the form of knowledge base content and interactive guidance to agents at the point of customer interaction, and even in customer self-service systems. Forward-looking retail and financial services companies are extending such systems to brick-and-mortar stores and branches to improve the effectiveness and brand alignment of in-person customer service

4. Provide brand-aligned self-service
Self-service provides a great opportunity to further build the brand. For example, sophisticated guided-help knowledge base systems and online chatbots modeled after the company's multimedia advertising spokespersons can orchestrate brand-aligned self-service interactions with customers. A hypothetical example would be chatbots modeled after the gecko or the "cavemen" for GEICO and William Shatner for priceline.com. In fact, a leading financial services company in Japan has used a chatbot, modeled after an actor featured in its television commercials.

5. Use brand-aligned metrics
A critical misstep in customer service management is the misalignment of brand strategy and service metrics. For instance, force-fitting Wal-Mart metrics to a Nordstrom brand intent is not a good strategy. High-touch brands should not emphasize throughput metrics such as average call handle times.

6. Brand-align all touchpoints
Most businesses still have interaction, data, and knowledge silos in phone call centers, online service centers, and self-service systems, where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Of late, many companies have started unifying customer interactions and knowledge bases into common platforms as the first step to unify customer experience across channels and service agents.

However, most companies have yet to brand-align customer service across communication channels. A unified platform approach to cross-channel customer service and brand alignment can help them get there quickly, and their customers won't have to face Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as they go from one communication channel to another, or from one agent to another

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