Instigating dialogue with your customers

New WordPress build, new theme (said bye, bye to the IA theme cause it has not been updated in ages and it is too painful to customize), and a new post.

I am not sure how to follow a theme or flow for my blog. I am all over the place but I guess this largely reflects my hectic life. I thought for this post I would share more about something we tried at Spuul that I think is working well. There are lots of things at Spuul working well but I can’t talk about everything cause we have too many copycats that are trying to emulate everything from our design, apps and so on that I don’t want to give them too much of a head start.

As with every company one hopes to build a direct line of communication with their customers. I am getting tired of the term user. Every since we shipped I have been amazed at how much email we get from people complaining, praising, asking for tech support help, requesting movies, requesting more apps, requesting TV apps, offering to send dvd’s that we could upload to our servers and so on and so forth. However we wanted to figure out how to delight our users by sending something out that might elicit some sort or response – either good or bad but hopefully more good than bad. In my mind though I was thinking that any response, even if negative, at least would mean people were reading the emails.

Before I go any further I want to give credit where credit is due. This idea is not of my doing – first off, maybe we can get a shout out, is to Derek Sivers, now residing in Singapore who lead the way with his work at CD Baby. Derek was known for sending out humorous and engaging order confirmation emails. This idea I had read years ago but was never in a position to act upon it – fortunately my pal, ex yahoo intern and Spuul online marketing guru, Thomas – lover of all things related to Japanese school girl outfits (I won’t link to it but just google Thomas koprol Japanese schoolgirl for reference ) , brought up using the idea for our Spuul welcome emails. This is the email we send to all users when they have signed up for Spuul. The hope was we could delight our customers from the first email communication in hopes that it encouraged them to read subsequent emails and of course remember Spuul.

Once we decided to do this Thomas took a crack at writing one and I took a crack at editing it. Basically radically altering it. Then we shared it with our founder who is also a playwright, lover of all things cricket and our guiding light at Spuul for the nuances in Bollywood dance scenes and the proper way to wear a polo shirt – collar straight up in case you were wondering.

He of course laughed at how pathetic our email attempt was and took it upon himself to write one. I should have assigned him the task in asana cause it took many weeks longer than anticipated but the end result was spectacular. I will include the email below – good luck with the Hindi.

Another part of the Spuul team, our creative guys Eric and Marvin, took a crack at creating artwork for Diva and Pundit which we use for all the emails that include the characters. The idea here was to bring them to life and create a deeper attraction to the theme.

Welcome email:

I am The Diva. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but you are our ONLY customer.

I am not kidding. No mazaaq! Believe me, all the others are just made up numbers to impress the public. Now, first let me compliment you – you have shown great taste and the good sense to come to Spuul . Arrey, you could have easily clicked on to some cheesy, cheapo, crappy pirate site run by God knows who and for God knows what. But nahin! You knew that that would be like watching movies in a cow shed to the sounds of buffalo belching, the smell of gobar gas and in the company of the farmer, not his wife. I can be ruder in my description but I will leave that until we are better friends. Sach bolo toh, I just needed to get into your head with a genuine expression of delight that you made a jabardast choice in becoming a Spuuler. Here your manoranjan, your khushi, your entertainment is of paramount importance and for me to satisfy. I, The Diva, say – nothing else matters except, perhaps, a nice masala chai after.

I am The Pundit and I am sorry if The Diva has taken you off guard. Every time a client walks in the site, she gets into a Sheila ki Jawani, item girl, frenzy and then there is no holding her back. You can try if you want but it’s like trying to tame an emotional tsunami. Very Bollywood! Let me get things back on track in a seedha, down-to-earth way. You are the customer and Mahatma Gandhi said you are the most important person. So who are we to argue? Ya, I know this is a bit of a downer after The Diva’s seductive, almost lustful, allure but I mean, lets face it, she doesn’t even know if you are a guy or a girl. Not that it really matters these days, but still. Anyway be assured, that if you are, indeed, a lady or even working on becoming one, I have you covered. Yes, I, The Pundit, say – you are now in good hands – mine – and I will continue to fight for great content and for a delightful viewing experience.

Namaskar. Khuda Hafiz. Until next time!

The Pundit and The Diva at Spuul.

Essentially the idea was to introduce some characters we could use for customer dialogue, poke fun at a few things and most of all engage the users. Prior to this email I don’t think anyone ever replied to our welcome emails expect to complain about spam, ask a tech question or request a movie. As soon as we started to use our new welcome email the replies started pouring in. To this day they keep coming.

We get replies asking for diva’s phone number, where she lives, is she single, does she work at Spuul and many other things I can’t post. We also get phone numbers sent in, photos from male Spuul customers, and emails from women stating they are women but still love the email. People tell me there are threads about the email on Facebook on personal pages – but I haven’t seen them myself.

We also get huge thank you letters, hate letters, and general letters say that the email was the bets thing they ever read and how it makes them love Spuul even more. We also get letters talking about how much they hate the email, the characters and now Spuul. However the general consensus is we get way more good emails than bad but it seems to never be in the middle. People love it or hate it. I actually think eliciting this response is a cool thing since you can never please everyone but actually eliciting a strong response from the getgo that opens up direct customer dialogue is priceless in my book. So the email has stayed to this day.

Given how well it was working we decided to extend it to our mailing list to see what we could do there. The thought was if people got used to reading something on the mailing list a part from movie information or new releases, that it might encourage them to stay on the list and open all the emails. This brought us to extending the premise to the Diva and Pundit show that we could tell in textual episodes.

The Diva says – Please kill me! No! No! No don’t hesitate my dear, just finish me off! Maar dalo mujhe! How to live if the net world conspires to come between you and me? Sachh, lets be honest – am I asking you for you for diamonds? No nah? Or gold? Arrey baba, I am not even asking you to gift me a pair of Prada sunglasses. Nahin, our rishta is toooooo pure for such cheap demands. I confess the truth, my deepest desire is only to be connected to you, to be close to you, really kareeb – so please, I beg you ji, just get a good 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connection. That’s all I ask. Then we can truly live together happily ever after – the perfect jodi sanctified by a holy band (width). I promise you, kasam se, from my side I am also really pushing Frog Face Pundit (don’t tell him I call him that) to do something clever, some tech jadoo, to make the experience pleasurable but you have also be on top of things. Fair nah? Otherwise as they say in the movies, I will have to suicide myself, because I will not be able to bear our separation. The grief would reduce me to tears and I would definitely need those Prada sunglasses to hide the pain.

The Pundit says — That Diva woman was always difficult to satisfy!!!! From the beginning she never liked buffering! Or interruptions! Or action without audio! Or worse – audio without action! Actually, there is nothing strange or ajeeb about that unless you are a really kinky lady, right? I mean if you are watching a movie online you want it to be a nice, continuous, smooth rendition until it reaches it’s ultimate climax. Bas, what more can you ask for hah? The Diva and I have had a lot of mara mari about a lot of things but I concede that she is right about connectivity being the key to the whole affair. I tell you her constant kit-kit is paying off because the woman has me working on a special technology that will make “ the experience”, as she calls it, seamless and “pleasurable”. My sincere apologies that I can’t reveal it to you right now otherwise she will say, sala promise bahut karta hai lakin delivery dheela hai! But solid work is being done on that front. Until then, my dear, please help to keep that nag off my back – just make sure you have a good, solid internet connection and I promise your movie Spuuling will be perfect. In return I will buy her the dammed Prada sunglasses she is trying to squeeze out of you!

Namaskar! Khuda Hafiz! Until next time!

The Diva and The Pundit

This purpose of this dialogue was to bring out the characters more and to start talking about issues customers may have with Spuul – in particular the premise that if you don’t have a decent Internet connection it will be hard to enjoy Spuul. We get so many emails with users practically using a high speed line with dial up speeds complaining that nothing works. We can only tell them that a 100kbps connection will never stream video – ever. We wanted to poke some fun at the issue and carry the story on.

The cool thing was this email, compared to our normal newsletter or movie announcements, had a higher than normal open rate.

We are already planning episode 2 and are looking at other ways to use the characters as well – maybe as the lead in to our help center and customer service channels to try and make it more human and engaging. There are other ideas planned as well but they get too techy and secret so I can’t address them here. Maybe after we roll them out.

All in all I think the general idea has worked and it reminds me of how complex product management is at it’s core. It is not just about building things but about how to market them, service them and build a long term conversation with the people who are using your products. I love how running product is such a multi-faceted gig. Makes it all the more fun.

I also love how I work with a bunch of talented people from a multitude of backgrounds who band together to create something truly creative and engaging. This is not typically what people think online or digital companies do but I think it is stuff like this that will power Spuul over our competitors.

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