“Hire curious accountable intelligent individuals — hard skills can often be taught” with Mitch Russo & Lindsay Willott

Hire curious accountable intelligent individuals — hard skills can often be taught; the priority needs to be on hiring the right people that are a good cultural fit for the company I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsay Willott, CEO of Customer Thermometer. Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to […]

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Hire curious accountable intelligent individuals — hard skills can often be taught; the priority needs to be on hiring the right people that are a good cultural fit for the company

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsay Willott, CEO of Customer Thermometer.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Great to meet you too! Interestingly I didn’t come from a career in tech. I went to university to study English & American Literature, with the belief that I would pursue a career in publishing. However, due to the rise in digital publishing the book market was tough to enter. I looked at some tangential industries and started a graduate scheme in the marketing division at a listed software firm. It was a safe option — or so I thought. Then, after just 4 years there, at the tender age of 24 I had to take redundancy with zero warning as the firm I was working for became embroiled in a big accounting scandal.

An ex-colleague and I realised there was space in the market for a new kind of technology marketing agency. Whether I was naïve or brave I’m not sure, but I went for it and steadily we built one of the most successful B2B marketing agencies in the UK.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Whilst running my marketing agency I identified a key industry problem. Response rates for customer surveys were dismally low but the market need for customer insight had never been higher.

With billions of business emails being sent every year, I came up with an idea — an integrated one-click traffic-light survey that customers would happily click, which would then give organisations access to real-time customer sentiment across every interaction.

I sold my first company whilst on maternity leave and got to work, in the little spare time I had, on the new venture, which I called Customer Thermometer. Customers can embed our surveys into emails they already send or use our sending tool. Either way, no developers are required, and they can be up and running in under 10 minutes. For subscription businesses it’s a game-changer. Response rates are typically 70%+ and it enables them to seriously boost customer retention.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The Customer Thermometer business is based on as SaaS subscription model. SaaS was an emerging delivery and consumption model back then and the only SaaS vendor I knew much about was Salesforce.com. They were growing fast, with great content marketing and a clever departmental-oriented sales approach that allowed them to upsell across their customer accounts.

Because it’s subscription-based, SaaS is more affordable for customers to acquire than traditional software licensing and — crucially — removes barriers of access to the global customer market. SaaS was going to herald an addressable global market of millions for Customer Thermometer! Or so I thought…

Our very first release was the first 1-click survey on the market. It was good, really good. Certainly, worth the price tag. We put a lot of effort behind the marketing launch and… just two customers signed up. We were disappointed to say the least. And our carefully-thought out business plan of growing revenues by 5% every month felt meaningless.

I questioned whether we should just give up. What kept me going was the feedback from those first customers — they absolutely loved it and I drew immense strength from that. If ten people could love it, then a million customers could too!

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Our growth has been largely driven by microtargets we have set ourselves with each new customer. They are real people and they stay when you look after them. When each customer is affordably and sustainably won, it stands to reason that each should be very carefully and lovingly serviced.

We targeted ourselves on increasing our number of ’true fans’ (someone who will likely buy from you no matter what you next produce — customers whose faith you have earned). We targeted 1,000 true fans when we had only around 200. Setting out to create fans, not just sales, has been critical to our growth and culture. We finally hit the 1,000 true fans in December the following year and, as direct consequence, reached $1m ARR a month later.

We now have customers across 60+ countries. Our customers range from startups to the biggest brands in the world, including Fortune 500 and FTSE100 companies and brands such as Glossier, Catbird, Lands’ End, ParentPay and Leica.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Ah we have definitely learnt some interesting lessons in cultural nuances, being a British company, whose biggest market is North America. Not all of our sayings translate across the pond! I remember a particularly funny misunderstanding in the early days.

One of our team was helping a new US customer with a query on how to use a part of the app. He was conscious of not coming across as patronising when he emailed across the steps to resolve the problem, so he pre-empted the recommendation with “I’m not trying to teach you to suck eggs here” That phrase does not translate well across the pond and she was absolutely horrified and sent me a complaint. It was all quickly resolved when I was able to point out the history of the very British saying about teaching one’s grandmother to suck eggs. It taught all of us a valuable lesson about casual turns of phrase though!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Some people buy with very little knowledge of your product and some with loads. As it is impossible to pinpoint the buying “moment” now, so the onus must be on the service a potential customer receives. Service needs to wrap around the whole process and experience of doing business with you. If you think like this, it’s a real forcefield around your company.

Our entire customer service, sales and marketing team are all now in one place. They are nicknamed “The Ministry of Magic” and their role is to provide excellent service — be that to people enquiring, people wanting to buy, or people who want to up or downgrade or refer. Their particular point in the buying cycle is not a factor in how well we service them. We’ve seen a huge shift in our understanding of what our customer want to achieve and been able to help them be more successful as a result.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

You need to remember why you started your company in the first place and not forget to put yourself first. I use an app called Streaks on my iPhone where you can set up to 12 goals you want to regularly do, and it will remind you. Some of mine include reading for a minimum of 30 minutes every day, running two 5ks per week and set times for mindfulness meditation. I don’t always manage to do them but being constantly encouraged to think about things that aren’t work related is very healthy.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Yes, I am grateful every day for our Managing Director, Jim Turner. Jim has been responsible for developing and executing all aspect of the company’s operations. He is a true superstar. He took a good idea and good product and he turned it into a viable commercial operation.

He is one of the most talented operational minds I have ever had the joy to work with, not to mention incredibly insightful. Having an operational genius has enabled me to focus on the company culture and strategic direction of the business. We have very different but complementary skillsets and that’s essential in a small leadership team.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Our total number of commercial users is over 20,000 and our survey respondents is five million. We have deployed various ways to build our community, but part of the model from day one was to ensure that the survey was visible and fun — when people see it on emails they get in touch with us. They like being able to click on an emoji to express how they are feeling and our customers love that we are happy to let them use custom emoji — in fact, over a quarter of our customers have created a custom emoji.

I got a note from one of our customers confirming this — she told us: “we have customers contact us to get the name of the company we use for our ‘perception monitoring’ — so we have good feedback on our feedback — I can’t think of a more appropriate endorsement!”

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We charge a monthly fee per user. We have scaled via partnering with the world’s most innovative helpdesks, CRM and collaboration providers, including Salesforce, ServiceNow, Zendesk, Microsoft and Slack.

In addition, our 1-click email feedback solution is now available as an Outlook Add-In, via the Microsoft Office Store directory. This means that Office 365 users can now easily add a Customer Thermometer survey via Microsoft’s Outlook’s desktop and web apps and track the recipient’s sentiment in real time. We are thrilled to launch this as an option so that businesses of all sizes can enjoy a robust survey solution that enables them to sense and respond to customer feedback.

In a first to market, Customer Thermometer’s 1-click Outlook 365 signature survey is completely trackable, enabling the sender to see who clicked what, they feedback and comment they gave, the subject line and more, within Customer Thermometer’s reporting. This is a game-changer for the many businesses all over the world using Outlook 365 to communicate with and service their customers.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS?

· Enabling a superior service and customer experience is a huge differentiator

· You don’t ever fail until a customer leaves you — you can often take someone with negative feedback and turn them into an advocate, as long as you react quickly and efficiently to them

· Zero-touch on-boarding must be enabled — but not everyone wants that, and you need to allow for that

· Hire curious accountable intelligent individuals — hard skills can often be taught; the priority needs to be on hiring the right people that are a good cultural fit for the company

· SaaS sounds like the dream — a scalable business model that will grow organically. But it is harder than it looks, and nothing will happen overnight

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think kindness is very under rated. I remember being in my early twenties on my first business trip to New York. I was in a rush trying to buy a coffee and the barrister said he couldn’t break my $50 dollar note (all I had in my wallet and before people accepted credit cards for small purchases!). The person behind me just bought it for me and said “welcome to New York”. That act of kindness really stayed with me. Whether it’s just listening to people without judging, buying someone a sandwich who needs it, giving up a seat for someone that looks tired — I think it really matters.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Thank you for all of these great insights!

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