Jim Duffy: Best to avoid a close shave with your customers

There is no doubt that the UK, along with other counties, is bursting at the seams with start-up companies '“ I'm being careful with my language here as I do not and could not class all start-up founders as entrepreneurs.
Jim Duffy: valued customer or number on a spreadsheet? Picture: Ian HowarthJim Duffy: valued customer or number on a spreadsheet? Picture: Ian Howarth
Jim Duffy: valued customer or number on a spreadsheet? Picture: Ian Howarth

Regardless, the explosion in start-up businesses means we, as consumers, get a wide range of products, services, apps and a whole lot more to chose from.

There is probably an app for almost anything out there. There are new start companies offering all sorts of stuff that you can use, buy, trade, experience etc… And they are all competing for a slice of your wallet.

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Yes, they all want you to buy their products in a business-to-customer relationship. After all you are the most important person to them – right?

They have worked at whiteboards with mentors and investors to get their businesses to a stage where they have moved from pre-revenue to sales. This is not an easy thing to do these days and I still speak with so many start-ups who tell me they are in soft-launch mode, stealth mode or pre-revenue mode and actually appear quite happy to be there.

What these guys are doing is hiding from reality: the reality of selling to human beings. But what happens when you start to take that customer for granted? What happens when you don’t make me feel special anymore? Well, let me give you a hint.

About 12 months ago, I signed up to a subscription shaving service. For some reason, company X had been tracking me on my browsing of newspapers online. Their ads would appear inviting me to sign up for great razor blades and a fabulous team providing them. I was pretty bored of the usual offerings at the supermarkets, so I decided to support a start-up – again – and sign up to their subscription service. I joined online, gave them my bank details, chose how many razors I wanted each month and within two weeks my new box arrived.

Inside the box was a razor handle, four razor blades and a lovey note from the founding team thanking me for becoming a customer and telling me how amazing I was and how much I meant to them. Nice touch. All was well and for 11 months my direct debit came off my bank account, while my blades arrived each month.

Then, there was a clear-out of my bathroom and I either mis-placed or threw out my razor handle by mistake. So, I contacted my razor chums via their online inquiry form to let them know that I would need a new handle. And here is where it all gets interesting.

In my mind, I calculated that the razor handle was worth about 50p, maybe a pound. It would be manufactured in China and bulk shipped into my razor chums who would keep a pile in the corner for dudes like me who lose their handle every now and then. So, as a valued customer who paid on time, every time with lovely recurring revenue for them that required no marketing or calls or emails or indeed anything, I kinda expected my razor handle for free. I was a dream customer, who vastly reduced the cost of customer acquisition for them over the 12-month period.

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I got a note back from them telling me that they were sorry to hear that I had lost my handle and that a new one would be dispatched right away and they hoped I was enjoying the blades. Lovely, I thought. Spot-on customer service. My new handle arrived a few days later… along with an invoice for £2.99. Oh dear, it had all been going so well.

But what had they just done? Well, I no longer felt special after them telling me I was a valued customer. In fact, I felt a bit like a number, a transactional digit on their spreadsheet. It made me think that I was not valued after all as a customer and in fact was merely a user.

My subscription was cancelled the next day. My suggestion to start-ups is – don’t take customers for granted, especially those who have paid for 12 months, while you chase new ones.

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark