I have been a talking a lot with CEO's lately about their companies, their market opportunity, and about their competition. The competition thing has come up a lot lately, specifically when the competition is Google or Yahoo or 'insert other large company here'.
In every case the analysis has been the same, especially with regard to service based internet businesses. Customer service wins, and it's not the dirty word you have been taught to believe.
Let me give you a few examples.
First, I'll use Lijit. Lijit is winning a landslide of business these days and we are killing it. We are doing this while competing with Google and other more established companies in AdTech. In each case a large part of why we win is simply because we care and will talk to our customers. Our publisher base uses Google AdSense in nearly every case to deliver some portion of advertising on their sites and revenue to their pockets. It would seem that Google will or should - 'kill us'.
Quite the opposite, I liken it to going to a restaurant but rather than a waiter or a person to order from at the counter, you are only able to send notes to the kitchen. The chef may respond, but probably won't. If you are confused, there will be no help. If your food is bad – or in fact never shows up – sorry. You might get your food – or not. The FACT is, the restaurant you just walked into is Google and they actually don't care if you eat. Statistically, they know a lot of people will eat but if you don't you're just collateral damage, an unfortunate side effect of delivering a "Web Scale Business". But, rest assured they will, do no evil.
We see it every single day. Google simply doesn't care about you Mister Publisher. In fact, they reportedly are paying around $400M for AdMeld who did talk to their customers. Through this acquisition they will, for a short period of time, be able to feign interest in them. Eventually, when the AdMeld culture is synergized, it will be back to - "No Soup For You".
Another example, I just read this article about SendGrid. A few months ago they could have had an oh-shit moment on their hands when Amazon released their simple Email Service. In contrast however, SendGrid took off. If you read the article CEO Jim Franklin says, "SendGrid has a service culture Amazon doesn't have". I recognize what that means. There's a person to talk to. I'm sure Amazon read that and said, "Idiots, that business will never scale".
The Web world was built on an engineering centric thesis that if you did a good job building your service you never had to actually interact with your customers. If you push on this thesis, Web Scale companies will say – we are building a very large business, we can't possibly talk to all our customers. Maybe - but Apple talks to their customers a lot. In fact, they built physical stores to make sure they do it in person. The conventional thinking when they opened the Apple Stores was they were crazy. I believe Apple will do just fine.
I feel like we are just starting to see the phase of the internet where companies are realizing that talking with a customer is actually an important part of the business process. It's not a liability on your business, it's an opportunity to transcend the economics that may or may not be in your favor.
There are a lot of customers that want to be treated like people out there, and especially for startups it's your secret weapon.