Good companies versus great companies

What is a “good company”?

Naturally, the answer depends on who is asking the question. A stockholder will say it’s a company whose share price appreciates. A partner will say it’s a company that is easy to work with and considers its partner’s interests as much as its own. A vendor will say it’s a company who places regular orders and pays its bills on time. But since everyone is a customer of at least one company, it’s the customer’s perspective that we’ll discuss here.

If you’re a customer, a good company is one that stands behind its products and delivers fair value for the money you pay.

Lots of companies are able to do this, and they get rewarded with repeat business from their customers. Given a fair and level playing field, good companies shine in comparison to their competition and the result is a virtuous cycle in which they end up growing faster. If they are able to manage this growth and keep it from getting in the way of their being “good”, then they start making it on the various lists of the fastest growing companies. All is well.

Some companies achieve greatness.

A great company is one characterized by passion — a passion that its employees have for always thinking about their customers first, committing every day to providing them with the best product possible and never willing to settle for anything less than the best.

When a company possesses this kind of passion, it will often transfer over to its customers.  The best indication of this transference is when customers enthusiastically tell their family and friends about the company’s product. The reward for this is obvious, as the customers now serve as an extension of the company’s sales and marketing teams.

How can a good company become great?

The roadmap to becoming a great company is pretty clear: it all boils down to the employees. Without a team of people who have great skill and believe totally in the mission of the company, greatness is almost impossible to achieve.

Coming up with a unique idea, identifying an underserved market, or figuring out how to build “a better mousetrap” is only the first step to building a great company. The most important step (and some would say the hardest one) is finding the right people to make it happen… every day.

Wide Open Communication with Customers

 “Listening” versus “communicating”

How often have you heard that it is important for a company to “listen to its customers”? That would be hard to dispute, but listening is only part of it. In order for a company to be really successful, it must engage in regular, two-way communication with its customers.

A company must listen to customers so that it understands things like:

  • what pain they are experiencing
  • what they have tried in order to solve their pain
  • what they consider good value for a solution they purchase
  • what feedback they have on the company’s product after they have bought it

A company must speak to customers to tell them things like:

  • what the company heard from them
  • how the company’s products address their problems
  • why the company’s approach is the best
  • what they can expect from the company in the future

Some companies don’t believe in telling customers anything about their future product plans. That’s an opportunity lost because the more a company treats its customers like a true partner, the more loyal those customers will become.

The conventional argument against sharing too much about future plans is that doing so makes life too easy for the company’s competitors. Such thinking betrays an insecurity — if the company were really confident in its unmatched understanding of the customer, its superior ability to develop innovative ideas, and its unparalleled ability to execute, it wouldn’t be so reluctant to share openly with its customers.

How companies communicate today

The internet has been as transformational for a company’s ability to interact with its customers as it has been for so many other things. Now there is a wealth of options for realtime, two-way communication.

Of course, a web site is essential. A professional and attractive web presence is the minimum ante required of any organization that expects to be viewed as a “real company” by its customers. Web content tools and technologies have come so far that maintaining a web presence and keeping the content on it “fresh” has never been easier.

Typically, the web site serves as the primary vehicle for distributing the most up-to-date information about the company. But now the web site is as useful for inbound communication as it is for outbound communication. By incorporating an interactive blog, the company can enable a straightforward and easy-to-use mechanism for customers to provide direct feedback.

More and more companies are including Facebook in their marketing campaigns, with some running expensive promotions to accumulate “Likes” by users. The popularity of Facebook among younger users makes it essential as a way to reach a more youthful demographic.

Once the company achieves real sales traction, finding a scalable way to disseminate information to a large number of customers becomes very important. Twitter fits this role very nicely.

Despite the fact that, as a technology, email has been around for almost two decades, it still remains a very powerful arrow in the company’s quiver. Not only does it serve as a scalable mechanism for outbound communication to customers, but it also provides an efficient, documentable way for customers to submit support requests and information.

At LightArrow, we have found that doing all of these things helps to make us the best company we can be. But, we go even further. For instance, we allow our users to comment on any of the product pages of our web site. We feel this level of openness with our customers is essential if they are going to feel like we value their feedback and trust them to provide it. And not only do we share our future plans, we share our product roadmap, complete with target dates. This gives our customers confidence that we will continue to innovate, and that their faith in us and their investment in our product are well-placed.

Of course, if our customers ever come up with an idea for a way to communicate with us that we’re not already using, we’re all ears!   🙂