Transcript: What Marketers Should Know About Designing Effective Referral Programs with Jeff Epstein

On this episode, I was joined by Jeff Epstein, Founder and CEO of Onboard.io, a company that helps streamline the customer onboarding process. I was excited to have him join us because I often get asked about how to create customer referral programs and Jeff has a ton of experience in this area. We talk about how to set your referral program up for success, the importance of deeply understanding your community of potential referrers, and how to make it as easy as possible for customers to refer. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Jeff. 

Margot Leong:  Jeff, welcome to Beating The Drum. I’m really excited to have you on on this lovely Friday afternoon, my time, I think probably closer to the end of the day for you, right?

Jeff Epstein: Yes. Thanks, Margot It’s great to be here and excited to chat. 

Margot Leong: What I’d love is if you could start off with a quick introduction. So could you share that 30,000 foot view of your background and what you’re working on today? 

Jeff Epstein: I’m sort of a lifelong entrepreneur. I’ve started several businesses online and offline but most recently founded a company called Ambassador. And this was in 2010, which is a B2B SAS in the referral marketing space. Raised a little bit of funding, grew that to about 50 people and ended up selling the company in 2018. And then after Ambassador, we took one of the problems that we faced that was sort of a major issue for us was thinking about onboarding customers better, and we didn’t find that there was great software tools out there to do that. So more recently about a year ago, I founded a company called onboard.io with a couple friends and coworkers from Ambassador. So we found that together as five of us working on that today. 

Margot Leong: We’re definitely gonna get into a little bit around what onboard.io does and, and some of the learnings there in terms of how we can make just better customer experiences overall, but what I’m really excited to get into at least initially is some of your experience at Ambassador and how that’s informed how you think about referral programs.

So on the customer marketing space, a lot of times, we are tasked to create these referral programs, whether one-sided, double-sided, for existing customers to refer new prospects and they can be quite complicated.

So the first question that I’d love to chat with you about is where do you typically see referral programs from a sequencing standpoint. This is something that you and I talked about in our pre-call, you know, you said that it’s really important to think about what stage of the company and where referral programs should fit into. So I’d love to hear about your thoughts on this. 

Jeff Epstein: It’s really important. And I think it’s one of those things that even as just running a business generally, right? Like the sequencing and timing and planning is really important to do things effectively and ideally efficiently, right. So one of the things that I think is really important for referral programs specifically, is really understanding those customer metrics. And especially if it’s SaaS, but software. The cost of customer acquisition, the lifetime value of customers, all of those data points inform how much your company is able to pay for a new lead or a new prospect, or ultimately a new customer.

And the reason why that’s so important is one. So you can benchmark those metrics versus other channels of acquiring customers. And two is you also can create incentives and ideally more efficient incentives to get those new leads and essentially paying those instead of paying them to Google or some other ad network, they can go directly to the folks that are, as we call them, ambassadors of your product or service. So people that are supporting you and referring you out, so those metrics though, knowing those. And it really is in many cases, the difference between success and failure, and oftentimes the cost of customer acquisition is much, much higher than you would expect it to be. And that’s always, I think, a surprise when you really do the math.

Margot Leong: I’d be curious to understand, like you said, it’s the difference sometimes between success and failure is understanding those metrics. Do you have any examples where you’ve seen this go wrong essentially where you’re investing in a referral program, but not understanding basically the foundational pieces beforehand. 

Jeff Epstein: It’s amazing like looking back at various customers and the industries and the types of companies that used Ambassador specifically, it’s amazing to see so many of them have become public companies now that were customers of ours five or 10 years ago. And they may still be, I’m just not there anymore. But it’s really amazing to see and full well knowing that many of these companies were successful. There is a small part of it where the company is just doing a great job of building a superior or at least a great product or service or treating their customers very well.

But where specifically I think you can see success or failure of a program, but also perhaps more generally of a marketing initiative and marketing goals is making sort of blatant assumptions. Like for example, like, oh, we should just give people $5 to refer somebody. That worked really well for PayPal in like 2000 because getting $5 for referring a friend was a new idea. Now everyone has a referral program. So even though like the $5 may be meaningful for two seconds of your time. It may just ultimately people aren’t spending all their time, just referring others to different things, right. 

So, one of the things that companies have to consider is all of this is still a competitive mindshare, right? Like it has to be worth it for the person to refer you over all the other potential things that they’re getting offered to refer. Then you also have to realize like, what is sort of the most that you’re willing to pay. You sort of want to think about those numbers so that you can say, okay, this doesn’t work at $5, but maybe it works at $25, right. If you just give up and say, oh, well we thought five would work. And we budgeted for five. We found that those companies tended not to be very successful and they were super rigid and maybe didn’t do the math because ultimately you know that they’re paying more than $5 a click and that’s still like not the bottom of the funnel. They still need to maybe do a demo or some call to action on a website and then they convert. You want to measure apples to apples versus just kind of picking a number because you saw it somewhere else in another industry, perhaps. 

Margot Leong: Are you surprised by how many companies just sort of tend, to follow other examples without really doing that foundational math essentially.

Jeff Epstein: Yes. And honestly, almost all companies started with something very basic. And it was just a round number like 5, 10, 25, 100, maybe at the most which a hundred dollars seems like a lot and it is a lot, right. But it’s interesting when you would ask them, what is your CAC?

It might be five grand. So you’re like, well, why are you only giving a hundred dollars when there’s like all this extra margin, right. And it’s like super valuable for you. So at Ambassador, I’ll tell you, we gave companies a hundred dollars if they referred someone to demo. So it was much higher in the funnel because we knew that we would pay several thousand dollars for an actual customer. That was sort of what worked for us and we found that would sort of give us the most velocity and the most number of leads, but also it was like a meaningful amount of money for people, and we also did percentage of revenue for actual customers too, in some cases.

So we did a little bit of both. But it is very surprising when people are like, well, they should just be happy with $25. Yes, but thinking about it backwards, like instead of thinking about the person referring should be happy from a marketing perspective. My opinion, the best way to think about it is: what is a really efficient acquisition number for us as a marketing department. And is this in fact more efficient than other channels? Some of the other channels you can sort of turn on the spigot and blow them out better. Referrals is going to be some constraints based on just the people that are in your network and things like that. So to me, really want to optimize where you can and still get really great results. 

Margot Leong: It’s interesting because we’ve all heard about the success of like the Dropbox program or the PayPal program, right. You brought up two really interesting points which is, number one, those may have really worked, a decade ago, right. At least when this was a new idea. So like just because something was successful at that time does not necessarily mean successful now. 

The fact that that was successful, it means a lot of people knew about it means that a lot of people are used to, it means that  sort of the novelty of it or the excitement around it, like people just get used to things. They become more numb to them.

So you not only have to think about what is an enticing or appealing offer, but then to your other point, does that offer actually work mathematically based off of what you tabulated is an efficient channel, right. And it sounds so good in theory, referral programs, right? Is like these people like us. Let’s just get them to talk about how great we are. That should be really easy. And I think what you’re saying is like, it’s just a lot more complicated than that. 

Jeff Epstein: I think that does a really great job of synthesizing what I was trying to say, because you know, you’re right. And like any marketing initiative, there’s almost sort of like a useful life of them. And I think if you’re always generating new customers and new excitement, then like a referral program can sort of persist perpetually. But in some cases, it’s not as easy. I mean, you have a launch and you have to keep folks engaged and you have to actively keep them engaged by maybe making changes and sending them emails.

So I think the complexity is also just that it’s something that requires a lot of work. You know, like everything else in marketing, right? Like nothing is as easy as it sounds as someone like me telling a team, oh, let’s just do this, right. And then everyone’s like, okay, well, yeah, there’s a million things we need to do after that. I think that’s one of the things that we found that the companies that tend to be the most successful. They’re keeping these folks engaged, whether they’re customers or they’re offering you know, a contest for whoever gets the most referrals for a given quarter or period or week.

Because again, a referral is in some ways, you’re asking for a person to make a personal recommendation, vouch for some things. So they have a lot to lose in my opinion, right? So there are certain people that will refer everything and there are other people that are going to be really selective and it doesn’t matter what they’re receiving as an incentive, you know, I think the incentive for them is that they’re helping someone out, that’s also a really powerful incentive, right. And those are the best referrals. It’s just really hard to cultivate those at scale. And so I think what you’re ultimately doing is hopefully you’re capturing those with all the other ones that are willing to make a marginally bigger effort if they have some sort of incentive to tip them over the edge.

Margot Leong: There are different people who are more likely to just recommend something because they psychologically have that profile. So you have to think about that. And then you have to balance that with this idea of social capital, which is having something to lose and not all people are motivated by monetary incentives, which I think is a really valuable point. Who are the people you’re capturing within this segment who are incentivized by that, but also like who are the people who would just recommend you regardless of whether they would get any money. So I guess I’d be curious about this engagement piece and how that sort of fits into running a successful referral program.

Jeff Epstein: It is very challenging. And I don’t know if there’s a specific, one size fits all answer. I think one of the things that is just really important for each company is to understand the community of potential referrers, right? And is it just customers, is it folks that are users, right? I mean, I think there’s sort of a global or general community and really understanding, like, what do they value, right. In Dropbox, it was amazing because they valued the product and it was really cool to talk about. It was new and exciting. 

In PayPal, you’re sending money. So like giving them money was a really great incentive because that’s what the product did.  One way to do that is really know and understand these folks. And again, it’s something that’s a lot more work than what we would imagine by just saying, oh, let’s set up a referral program is like actually talking to the folks that are doing the best.

And so we would often recommend, like talk to the top 10 performers and like, see what they’re doing. Are they bloggers that just happened to have a very big audience? Or are they like power users or are they just consultants or what do they do? And really get inside the mind of them. And understand, how do they think? Very much like sales when you’re really targeting like a specific profile. Who are these people? Can you create a persona? And then can you find more of them? And from that perspective, especially if you’re looking outside of your customers, but even if you are looking at your customers, those are the kinds of things you want to replicate so that you can grow the program successfully and understanding what makes them tick and ultimately ask them what would give you even more incentive to continue to do this, right. And I find in business, oftentimes asking people like real questions and listening to them is a pretty powerful thing. And it’s surprising that most people don’t do that. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I do think that on the customer success side of things or on the customer marketing side of things, we are at a bit of an advantage in that regard is that, you’re naturally customer facing, you naturally want to listen to your customers. And so I think just opening up the types of questions that you’re asking and being really honest and really framing it as like, we’re building this with you and we’re going to massively take your feedback into mind. 

I know that, you know, it’s not one size fits all. People are very different, but did you tend to find that there were any industries or position types, anything like that in which people were more likely to be open to referring. Was there any patterns that you saw? 

Jeff Epstein: There’s a couple interesting sort of macro issues which lead to industries, which do better with referrals. My guess is that it’s partially because the incentives are much greater. So for example, like FinTech, is a high lifetime value very competitive from like a cost per acquisition perspective. So I think that companies are willing to pay a lot and therefore they did quite well. And I think just like credit card companies will give you like cool products to sign up, I think the expectation is you don’t switch financial services as often as maybe other things, so we had a ton of companies in the FinTech space. Software and technology always did well, especially less commoditized companies. So I think the things that are novel and unique where there’s the ability for someone to share something because it’s a new and cool. It’s a little bit less industry, I would say, but more of like a new way to buy commerce. 

And then I think it’s sort of wide ranging, but those tended to be the best. I also think the sort of cohort of the customer type. So like folks that were really active on social, in the mid 2000s or late 2000, you know, when you could basically post whatever and get tons of, like that was really valuable. Right now, I’m guessing Tik Tok referrals are like way more valuable than some other ones that are probably getting pushed away. So I think the media matters and you want that fit of the type of person that’s actually a user or an influencer versus the type of product and services they have.

Margot Leong: What’s valuable to keep in mind that came to mind  is that people also share things because of what it says about them. I’m really into food, so I share a cool restaurant. Like, yes, I want that person to experience how great this restaurant is. Psychologically, it’s partly a bit selfish because the fact that I am the one introducing you to this new restaurant also says something about me or how I like you to see me. 

Another question I had was, when it comes to infrastructure, right? Or like what it takes to get something like this into place, how much effort and time does something like this typically require? 

Jeff Epstein: It certainly varies. One thing that we saw quite often was it does require, at least in the beginning, but I would say the best companies had someone who essentially was full-time focused on managing the program. It’s a pretty large requirement. I mean, there are plenty of agencies that handle a lot of the outreach and management for companies as well. But I think the ones that are most successful again are doing the engaging, are doing the work behind the scenes, talking to the top performers, understanding their mindset and what makes them tick, so to speak. 

And then I would say even before all those things, sort of what we mentioned before, it was like, it’s still really important to just know the data. And if that isn’t the person running the team, it’s that person gathering the data from the other marketing folks in the organization, and really being able to build a case of this is the expectation. These are the goals and what we expect, right? Like I think the worst outcomes that we saw were people that said, we need to get a 10,000 users and we can only spend a hundred grand. So we’re going to back into it and say, you need to spend $10 per, and it was like that wasn’t based on anything that they’ve seen before, it was just like, they had a target and they just work backwards. I think it’s much better to say, right now, we’re paying a hundred dollars via Adwords So if we can get people for 50, we’re going to be thrilled and we’ll get as many as we can get because our Adwords budget is also infinite assuming we take anyone at a hundred. So I think framing the original and the initial way of, sort of the scope and the plan, that requires, I think, some effort upfront just to learn from your team, but also to make a pitch. Whoever you have to make that argument to up the chain to make sure that you’re setting the right expectations and getting off on the right foot versus just you don’t get referrals by paying for referral software. We used to always tell companies that. That’s great that you want to use us, but like, this is a cost of like managing the program. It doesn’t get you referrals. I mean, you’ll get a couple, right. But like ultimately the work still has to be done. 

And so I think that’s one thing that companies need to think about from an infrastructure perspective. It’s not just set up a link. Like there has to be things that have to be done and that even may include some developers and putting code on a website and things like that if you really want to get tracking attribution done correctly. 

Margot Leong: That’s really important and a really good tip for customer marketers is talk to your growth team and understand this number because that’s the magic number for you to basically test against .

Jeff Epstein: Definitely. And one thing that always resonated with me and this is a psychologically about like the mindset of the person referring. One thing that we used to talk about quite a bit, and it showed up quite often, is people that refer your product because as we mentioned, typically people who do refer something, they obviously want the experience to go well, they want things to be proven, correct.

It also actually inherently creates them more loyal as a customer. So there’s a really interesting by-product, it’s not necessarily easy to measure. But if you look at the number of referrals a person makes, they tend to also be a customer for a very long time as well and much longer than the average customer. I would really be interested in seeing companies if they were to spend more time on it, but from reading from some studies and things like that, psychologically , something that you vouch or refer for, you tend to be a lot more loyal and fight for going forward.

Margot Leong:  How important is it when it comes to providing the person with the resources around how to make the ask. Some referral programs I’ve seen, the company’s equipped you with an email that you can send with a link to the person and like the emails got some copy about how great the solution is or whatever, right. But how important is it to provide them with stuff like that? Or do you just think, most of the time, if the referrer  cares that deeply, it’s much more effective for them to do it themselves. So like where do you think about that balance essentially? 

Jeff Epstein: It’s a really good question. And I think there’s a couple ways to think about it. The more inherently shareable or referrable your product or service is, I think the less you need to worry about what we used to call, “making it easy for them.” So I think there’s like a sort of  spectrum. The PayPal’s, the Dropbox’s, like the companies we know about that like sort of are universally known for referral programs, they did so many things right that it didn’t necessarily need to be easy, although I think it was. But it just became sort of this like massive, viral, like, tornado, right.

The reality is though with so many companies competing for your time and energy, the less clicks, the less you have to think, right? Like asking someone to share is one thing, asking someone to share, but also write an email is like, now you’re asking them two things. 

One of the things that we always thought about at Ambassador and we do it at Onboard as well, it’s like, make it easy, right? Like if you want someone to do something for you, like make it as easy as I’m just like clicking one time. One of the things that we did at Ambassador was we enabled companies to create like a sharable blurb and they could customize it, so hopefully it wasn’t super canned, although, maybe it was and then the person could share it with like one click. And so is it the best? Is that like the highest and best way to refer? Probably not, but I think from a volume game, can you get additional, sort of the marginal people that are on the fence to do it because it takes one second. Probably, those are the things where, again, this is more complicated or maybe requires a little bit more thought of like where your company sits along the spectrum of it’s really shareable versus it’s not really shareable. Like I think you want to make it as easy as possible. You also have to be realistic. Who is that person? What is easy for them? Because like there could be other channels. If it’s going to be social, maybe like a pre-written tweet is really valuable. Like you can do click to tweet or whatever.

Maybe it’s something else, right? If you can give them like a code for their name, that’s easier to remember than them having to copy and paste it from somewhere. There’s a lot of like little nuances, but ultimately again, philosophically in life for me, like, I want to make someone else’s job as easy as possible if I’m asking them to do something, especially if I control some of the components of it. So it just tends to work better and probably work more the way I wanted it to work, to be quite honest. 

 Margot Leong: That makes a lot of sense. I’m personally always really curious about testing copy. Let’s say that you’re pre-populating email for them. I’m sure that you guys probably tested all sorts of copy or work with companies that tested all sorts of copy. What kind of copy works the best? How you frame it?  I’m curious what your thoughts are on this. 

Jeff Epstein: The key is finding that perfect balance between something that’s general enough to work for almost everybody, but authentic enough to sound like they wrote it just for one person. I think it’s a combination of you want to create a voice and a tone perhaps and you know, what’s interesting, what we found is that, and what we would tell companies to say is, they would say like, what should we do? And we’d be like, what is it this person doing who’s like 10 times more effective than the next person.

And then like, they would say, oh, good idea. And they’d ask them or they look at the emails and they would change them and they would make them different. And we’d say, well, let’s use that as a guide, right. And then go from there. So we worke with companies like Hulu and HP and SoFi, these are very different industries. The customer is very different in many cases, not always, but you know, T-Mobile and all these brands, and it was like, one thing never worked the same. The key, I think was making an email not feel like a template, right? Like I think that’s an obvious one. 

But then you have big companies where they have so much legal oversight and compliance. We were like, man, that’s your best email? That is horrible. And there’s nothing you can do about it sometimes. Right? The marketers, their hands are tied. So in those cases, what they often would do is, you have suggested copy, right? And then hopefully you say these are some examples or like a lot of these companies that were successful, like newsletters and they’d say this is sort of what we’re seeing as the high performers are doing these things, right. They’re sharing in this way, they’re doing a video also. Like we did a company where the person did videos and they crushed it, they made like six figures a year selling literally like a cat litter robot, if that makes sense. Okay, like literally this guy wasn’t even polished. It was so crazy, but he was gone with this cat in the background. Videos are absolutely crushing it and they just kept saying, let’s find more people that do videos and then they absolutely crushed it, and the company is still doing amazing 10 years later. They’ve probably grown. I don’t even know, but I see folks that we work with and they’re still raising a bunch of money and expanding the business. 

So, I think the companies that took it seriously and they were very serious about it, they actually came and spoke to our team, they were so serious. They just really took it to a new level because they were thoughtful. And again, it wasn’t like a product that you maybe would go out of your way to share, but they just really saw what worked and doubled down on that. You know, just like a lot of things you want to do in marketing, you have your own preconceived assumptions and notions, but then also follow what works and understand why it works.

If you can survive long enough, like if you can let it run enough where you see, Hey, if we can get ten more of this top performing person, like this would be a home run, this would be a massive success. You probably can get 10 more of those people. I think those are the things that you think about, and I know that I’m starting to deviate a little bit from the question, but to me, those are the ways where you can customize the content so to speak or the language so to speak is really seeing what the best performers are doing and using some of the tactics that they’ve used, because honestly a lot of times those people know their audience better than the company does. 

Margot Leong:  When I’ve run referral programs in the past, it’s very clear that there’s like, 20 people have like referred a crazy amount, start to identify those people and then interview them deeply and then use that to iterate on the next version.   So any patterns you’ve seen over what types of referral incentives work the best, for example, one-sided referrals, double-sided? I know people are gonna ask me. So I just wanted to hear from you.

Jeff Epstein:  This is a great question. And I would say, it’s, it’s not even close. Double-sided always is better. And there’s a really obvious answer, which is, I think very true. And psychologically, right? Like people don’t want to feel like they’re taking advantage of the friends, right? So like the best thing you can do is say we both win. We both get something that’s better than if I didn’t tell you that this existed. And I think that is so important. I think psychologically, for many people, they would say like, I don’t even want to refer because I don’t want people to even think I might be selling them something.

So double-sided, and by the end, by the end, when we, you know, when we sold ambassador, like I think almost like almost all of the riff, like we almost didn’t let people do one-sided. The one-sided ones are really more like affiliate relationships or relationships where like you’re an influencer where you just have such a wide audience that people are going to listen to you, and you will be open about, Hey, these are like affiliate things. These are brands that I recommend, et cetera, versus a true, like sort of what I would expect, like a one-to-one referral of a business software or a specific product. When you’re really asking someone to refer someone and it’s like a very tight referral, like a personal one, you have to do that the two-sided referral. Like those perform so much better. 

Margot Leong: It feels good to me. Like I would much rather know that my friend is also getting a hundred dollars or something, so that’s great to hear. I feel better about human nature in general. 

Switching gears, what I wanted to spend a little bit of time on as well as is hearing a bit more about your passion for creating like an amazing customer experience. So I know with Onboard.io, you’re really interested in helping to optimize that onboarding process. If we think about the user journey as a whole, we talk about sales winning, like basically we’ve won the customer, but you actually haven’t really won the customer at all. It’s literally, the customers agreed to pay you for a certain amount of time, but you actually have to truly earn them in terms of using the product itself and making sure the product delivers on what it promises.

And so if you think about it, onboarding is the first moment that people get to interact with your product and really sets the tone for everything going forward. So it is really important. 

When it comes to thinking about creating amazing customer experiences, how do you think about onboarding as related to that piece of it? 

Jeff Epstein: It’s a great question. And I wholeheartedly agree, you know, at the end of the day, the thing that we learned about at Ambassador, which was why we were so successful was I think we treated our customers in such a way that we tried to make things easy for them. We listened to them. We tried to work with them and try to partner with them. But this is what’s happening across software, where I spent most of my professional life is, there are lots of choices out there. That yes, you can sell somebody. You can trick them into thinking this is the best solution, but quickly they’ll find out that it may not be if they are not treated well. Given the amount of information available, the amount of the ability of our networks to communicate with each other and how formed we are as customers and consumers in general, even across business and personal products, like you have to create an experience that’s amazing. 

Because like you said, you’re privileged to have the opportunity when they close a deal, but then you have to keep winning that deal or creating an experience, exceeding their expectations from that day forward to keep them excited and engaged and ultimately happy and motivated so they can refer, right?

Success, in my opinion, success generally, and also marketing really go hand in hand in a lot of ways, you know, like one of the biggest things we always talked about was like if people generally aren’t happy with your product or service, you’re going to have a really tough time with referrals because ultimately, like they’re not going to want to refer something they’re frustrated about. Like Comcast, I don’t know if they have a referral program. I don’t know if it does very well because they’re so freaking annoying to work with, you know? 

And so like, you know, like in those cases, onboarding is the first experience for many customers after they’ve agreed to pay and then you don’t have to be selling them promises, right? Like now it’s time to execute. And what we found is the bar was incredibly low, like the promises that sales made in terms of how long it would take, how easy it would be, how much work you’d have to do were completely flipped over when our amazing team of, success coaches, which were onboarding specialists would say, these are all the tasks that need to be completed.

And it wasn’t necessarily intentional. And we actually did a really great job. We surveyed our customers, I think it was like 90 to 95% of them said that it was the best software onboarding experience they ever had. So I think we always did a great job at Ambassador and that’s one reason why we won deals. We actually used that as a sales benefit, those survey stats. But what you need to ultimately do is create a process to be intentional and thoughtful about customer onboarding, just like you are about every other part of your organization. And so, unfortunately, the bar has been really low. think onboarding as a department has been underserved and underloved.

My hypothesis is truly that sort of the roaring twenties is going to be a time where the customer success teams are going to become the heroes.  So I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sort of rise up a little bit and have a little bit more notoriety across the organization, because they really are the unsung heroes in many ways, along with marketers too, right. Like marketers don’t get enough credit. Usually it’s all sales and engineering, especially in startup companies. 

Margot Leong: With marketers. Right? A lot of the focus has been on the growth side of things. So from a customer marketing standpoint, it’s such a blend of success and marketing, honestly, because you’re so tied with really just trying to make the customer happy. And that is like your golden rule, but something that you said really resonated, which is there’s so many choices out there, every company is fighting for every single freaking advantage over every other company. 

If you analyze every single portion of your user journey, what is the thing that keeps customers loyal? It is obviously everything that goes into their experience going forward. And so is there anything thematically that stands out to you when it comes to thinking about crafting these best in class types of experiences. 

Jeff Epstein: It was really about making things easy, right. It’s transparency. It’s being able to view all the things that need to be completed and understanding why and when, for example, right. Giving them the tools to be successful, just like, you want from a referral perspective, you want to give them maybe like the tweetable blurb as easy as possible. You also want to give the instructions for the person implementing software, like all the directions in one place, right. Instead of saying like, oh yeah, we have a knowledge base. So like there are things that companies can do. 

Like the modern consumer, right? Like we’re used to consuming on our phones, short, accurate snippets of information. Like we don’t want to sit through 10 emails back and forth to go through onboarding, right? Like that’s not the way we should be onboarded as people. We should see a list of things we need to do and we can attack them on our own time with all the resources that we know we need, right. So I think what generally companies have been lacking is really, sadly some is process, right? I think when you’re a smaller company, it’s that you just don’t have process and you’re just winging it. But once you start building out a repeatable, scalable process, it’s applying that process consistently across your team, so you’re giving it consistent quality, first-class onboarding experience or really customer experience across the board. 

And so that’s what we’ve found, giving transparency, treating the customer with the ability to see what’s happening in real time, right? Like doing the things that make working easier and those things allow us to exceed or hit expectations instead of dragging our feet and making excuses. And that’s a really painful first step for a new customer to say, oh, this took 10 times longer than I thought. 

Margot Leong: When it comes to creating the right experience from an onboarding perspective, how has that influenced your thinking when it comes to customer engagement as a whole? 

Jeff Epstein: So the biggest learning that I had at Ambassador, it was this realization that the customers are actually on your side. You know, it’s not this like adversarial battle of trying to convince them to use something and they don’t want to use it and you have to sort of get their money, right. 

But ultimately you’re solving a problem and you’re helping this person. In a sort of cheesy way, you’re helping this person’s life become better, right. At least professionally, right. If not, holistically, right. And so that idea really changed my entire mindset about like business and selling software and what we realized and how this even applies into marketing too, is that when your customers are successful and they’re happy, they are willing to share so much with you and your team about the way that they think about buying, the way that they think about your product, the things that resonate with them. That information is gold. And you can use that in so many ways, whether they’re willing to do a video, to write a testimonial on a website, refer people, right? All of these things, it really is so closely interconnected, the customer marketing and the customer success. I mean, truly there should be a really tight bond there because that is where I think the magic happens. Like if you can, truly, from a marketing perspective, sound like you’re speaking literally the voice of the customer, that is so incredibly powerful to get more people like them, right. 

And ultimately, targeting the best performing referral people, you also want to target the best, most happiest customers. There’s so much overlap. And I think it does come down to sort of like treating people well, respecting them, being transparent and honest and giving them an experience that they deserve. And those things are universal and they should be universal across your company. 

But very much, I think the two most customer facing roles, I think sales is always going to be a little bit of a cat and mouse game, but success and marketing, that’s where you’re really speaking to them hopefully like as authentically as possible and really by learning how they’re thinking about it, their engagement levels, how they’re acting and what they’re communicating back to you, like that’s super valuable. You can even use the same words and things like that. So tons to learn, I think from the actual customers who are successful themselves and setting them up to be successful is how you get them there. 

Margot Leong: Well, I think that is a perfect place to wrap up. I mean, it’s great for my customer marketing ego to hear this, but yeah, I do think that there is a shift happening, partly because companies are realizing there’s nowhere left to turn, except for investing in your existing customers.

I really enjoyed the conversation, Jeff. Last question is, you know, if people would like to connect with you, find out more about what you working on, what’s the best place for them to reach out?

Jeff Epstein: Sure. People can reach out via email: jeff@onboard.io. Also on LinkedIn or Twitter. Twitter, I’m @Jeff_Epstein. So happy to connect with anybody who’s interested or has questions or wants to learn more or interested in any more feedback. I’d love to hear it as well, and I really appreciate it. 

Margot Leong: Fantastic. I will put all of that information to the show notes and thank you again for coming on. 

  Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody. 

 

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