How do you take on an industry giant and deliver innovative solutions? With a customer-first culture that becomes a competitive advantage.
Mike McDerment created FreshBooks when he couldn’t find a great accounting solution for his small design business. He designed the product for business owners, not accountants. Now, the company has over 10 million customers and is the #2 small business accounting software in America, after giant QuickBooks.
From the beginning, FreshBooks had a customer-first culture and focused on building close relationships with customers. McDerment and his team focus on building customer proximity where the people buying the product aren’t far-off numbers, but rather real people who are always the center of the company.
Every new FreshBooks employee spends their first month working in customer service. They learn about the products and then spend time answering phone calls and chatting with customers. McDerment says starting all employees with the customer service background helps them understand the products and keeps them close to the customers so they remember who they work for. The customer service team even designed and runs the onboarding process because it is that central to the culture for new employees.
FreshBooks has always invested money in customer service, even before many other companies caught on to the need to do so. McDerment says that customer service isn’t a cost center, but rather an opportunity. Some companies view investing in customer service as a necessary evil, but it should actually be viewed as a revenue generator because of all of the gold found in customer experience. McDerment says that if you listen carefully, the customers have all the answers, from where to focus the company’s effort to what products to design for the future. Customer service is a valuable feedback loop that helps FreshBooks get insights to pass on to the correct teams to put into action.
Aside from its unorthodox approach to customer service, FreshBooks also used a unique method to build the next version of its product. Knowing that competitors would be watching to see what FreshBooks would do next, the company built a seemingly competing product under a different brand name so that no one would steal its ideas. Once the new version was proven, it became the main FreshBooks product.
Building a successful company comes with its ups and downs, but McDerment says that focusing on innovation and remembering to put customers first makes all the difference. The biggest factor to success doesn’t show up on the balance sheet; it’s the culture that makes all the difference.