After e-mailing Freshbooks support for the 3rd time in two weeks, I find myself wondering: can a company be too friendly? Companies like Freshbooks and Zappos have built their business in large part around inspired, personal service. This is a key part of their strategy and is working by all accounts for them. Zappos is a $1B company and Freshbooks just hit the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine.
From a financial perspective – is there an optimal balance between personal service (which requires bodies and costs money) vs. do it yourself online service? If Freshbooks wasn’t so darned friendly, I’d probably look online for the answers I need. Or if they were on Get Satisfaction, I’d ask the community if I couldn’t find what I needed on their site directly. But since they are so bloody friendly (and quick), I don’t think twice about e-mailing them.
The Startup 101 playbook (especially for web companies that touch *many* users) says: get close to your users. Build a relationship. Engage them. So, personal touch certainly achieves that. Web businesses live and die by their per user economics. Do I earn more per user that it cost me to acquire him? It can certainly be argued that personal touch is a key element in retaining users. They stay with you longer, pay you more and refer more people if you give them lots of love. Also, that direct interaction should feed into your product planning, messaging / positioning, culture – essentially every aspect of your business. So, its definitely the way to go.
My only question is: is there an optimum mix of high cost / high touch vs. low cost / low touch that still allows a business to keep users happy and paying while lowering the bodies needed to serve them?