Kickstarter Lesson #193: How to Respond to Happy Backers

15 July 2016 | 26 Comments

I receive approximately 500 e-mails from current or potential customers every week. About 80% are questions. 20% are complains, concerns, or requests. And if I’m lucky, I get 1-2 e-mails from happy customers.

That isn’t to say that fewer than 1% of my customers are happy with Stonemaier Games. Based on what I see online, that number is much higher.

But it’s exceptionally rare for a happy customer to take the time to write an e-mail telling me they’re happy. It’s special when they do, and I want to respond to those e-mails the right way.

So for a while now I’ve been thinking about the best way to respond to those messages. I’ve talked to several people about it, including Steve at The Company Bard and my parents at The Stegmaier Household. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Any response is good, but gauge the intent of the original message. If someone sends me a happy e-mail, while they don’t need a response, there’s a pretty good chance they would appreciate a response. My sense is that most of these people aren’t looking to start a conversation, though, so I keep my response pretty short: I thank them and say a few other things appropriate to their message. But unless they ask me a question, I don’t ask them a question, effectively closing the loop on the conversation.
  2. Lower the barrier to entry for the person to explore other products. Sometimes a customer will contact me to say something like, “I just wanted to let you know that I love Viticulture. I haven’t played your other games, but I can’t wait to try them!” When it feels right to me, in my response I may recommend one of our other games to the person and offer them a discount if they purchase the game from us. The intent is to make a happy person even happier while potentially turning a one-time customer into a long-term customer.
  3. Ask if you can quote the customer on your website. I’m kind of on the fence about this one. The idea behind it is that if a customer has taken the time to carefully craft a compliment, they might like the idea of seeing their words in print elsewhere (and it might benefit the company to have a wall of quotes from happy customers). So you could ask for their permission to do that. My hesitancy comes from the fact that the customer chose to send a private message instead of posting their happy thoughts on social media. Also, it turns a selfless gesture into a self-serving benefit for the company, which feels a little odd to me.

My thoughts on this subject are still evolving, so I’d really love to hear your opinions. If you hear from a happy customer, how do you respond? If you’re a happy customer who has every taken the time to e-mail a company, how do you like for them to respond (if at all)?

Endnote: I also want to clarify that I’m definitely not fishing for happy customer e-mails. They’re wonderful to get, but my inbox is enough of an uphill climb as it is. :)

26 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #193: How to Respond to Happy Backers

  1. I will forego sending you a happy email and instead leave a happy comment here. I played Scythe recently with my family and they all enjoyed it. Often I regret regret kickstarting games for one reason or another, but not so here. Everyone enjoyed the game, especially my 13 year old daughter. My wife has been talking about ordering a print of Jakub’s work after having seen the beautiful art. Great job on this game and keep up the good work.

  2. I am generally not one to sent positive feedback, but I definitely feel that that asking me to use my comments in promotional material would put me off a bit. I don’t want to be seen as a shill for a product, even if its a product that I really like. (Sidenote, Scythe is great!)

    I think your points 1 and 2 are both good as well in that they aren’t necessary but often a nice to have. The best experiences that I have with any company are when a human responds as a human, not as the face of a company, especially when that human is also the owner/manager. Little niceties make loyal customers.

  3. Hey Jamey,

    Thanks so much for developing this idea. Handling positive customer feedback is a super personal and delicate thing. Its SO hard to talk about it and develop “rules or guidelines” for basically being an authentic human being. Talking about business goals as it relates to personal interaction can, as you say- “turns a selfless gesture into a self-serving benefit”.

    I think the balance is the challenge. I like how you say you try to gauge the intent of email. You don’t want to make a withdrawal from the relationship- especially after they have just given of themselves by taking the time to tell you something nice.

    The thing I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on is on the topic of Customer Champions. Customer champions are the people that passionately talk about your brand and products- almost as well and as passionately as you do. In my opinion they are your most prized partners in the industry.

    In my experience, more than 80% of those customer champions come from personal interactions. Chatting with you at conventions, having an amazing customer service experience, or possible a conversation that came out from them reaching out to say something nice to you via email.

    My world changed when I made an offhand comment to one of my customers on the phone about why he wanted to know so much about my life while I was solving his product problem. He said- ” Oh, I talk to other people about your company all the time. I share these personal conversations with my colleagues as an example of why you are the superior vendor in the market”. It really blew my mind… he was actually using “small talk” as a value add for the company.

    So in conclusion I would say- It’s super tough to gauge the intent of a positive email, but I want to create an environment that serves my customer and helps him or her connect with me and my brand in the way they want. If they possibly see themselves becoming a customer champion, I want to give him or her every opportunity. When I told my customer “you don’t need to do that-its part of our service:)” he said “why wouldn’t you want me to talk about it. I consider you part of my team. I want to do everything I can to help you succeed”.

    Thanks again for this article and all you add to the community.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    1. Steve: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Your comment is a great addition to this blog entry. I particularly like your example about how small talk can “stick” in peoples’ minds for future conversations.

  4. This may be a bit unique, as I don’t experience other companies doing it, but when I get an email, especially a positive one, I attempt to engage in the discussion as often as I can. “Oh, that’s wonderful to hear, thank you. If you get a chance to play it this week I’d love to hear what your wife ends up saying about it.” ..or what have you. – I love my backers and treat them like friends. Often they respond in kind and we develop a nice chat over the coming weeks, sometimes customers respectfully aren’t looking for more, and I don’t hear back from them. And that’s ok too.

  5. Hi Jamey,

    Have you tried SaneBox? I helped set it up for someone who got thousands of emails everyday in real estate. It works really well, and you can “train it” almost like an AI software.

    Regarding your points, I feel like #1 is the most important. These are the customers that are going to advocate your brand for you. When I really like a brand enough to thank someone and tell them how great it is, I often refer all my friends there. For example, Cilo Gear, hand made backpacks in Portland. They are awesome!

    I feel like closing the loop on the conversation with them, might not be ideal. I would look for ways to engage them more, and maybe even work out a trade where they get some cool gear in return for sending referrals. For example, if Cilo Gear were to engage with me, I would give them an “in” to market to an entire organization of 500 international students that travel and have money for backpacks. But, they haven’t really followed up with me, and almost acted like they didn’t want my referrals.

    Recently, for my game “The Mountaineer”, I was demoing the project at an artist Dribble event. One of the attendants really liked my game and gave me compliments. I asked him if he would like me to attend his local friends game night and let them play? A couple emails later, I was demoing at his friends house. This resulted in 3 future customers, two people telling me it was more fun than “ticket to ride” and about 12 people letting me put them in my email list, with them all wanting to play it again with other people.

    Regarding #3, I think it is ok to ask people to post their comments. If I have a game I really like, I want all my friends to know it and like it as well, so that we can play together more. I think it is possible to be “self serving” and helping out the customer (in this instance).

    Those are my thoughts. I’m obviously less experienced in board games than you, but in all the other jobs I’ve worked at, the people who liked the product/service and told us were the ones who were fine with us posting it and often sent us millions in gross sales.

    1. Corey: I haven’t tried Sanebox. Currently I get a lot of emails, but for the most part I have them under control. The only tough times are when I’m away from the computer for a day or more–they really start to pile up then.

      Thanks for your input about not closing the loop. That’s an interesting perspective, and I’ll keep it in mind the next time I get a happy e-mail.

  6. Jamey,

    Happy Customers are simply the BEST! Why? Because they trusted YOU to deliver something THEY wanted…and YOU delivered! This is their way of not only thanking you, but connecting with you in a way we didn’t get to do (even if we wanted to) with Hasbro, Parker Brothers (were they really brothers?) or MIlton Bradley (yes, both of them) for more than 50 years. We’re in an age where we can connect in a truly transformative, no longer just a transactional, way.

    When I heard from Backers and how happy they were, I would ask them to send me a picture. Almost without exception they sent pictures and not just of that which I delivered to them…but their happy, smiling faces, too!

    Cheers,
    Joe

  7. I always reply with something along the lines of “Your kind words are most appreciated.”, and, if it feels right, “If you have a moment, could you perhaps let me know if there was anything we could have done better?”

    I don’t try and upsell/recommend/ask for a testimonial.

    * They’re already sold. If they’re looking for another product, they’ll either find it themselves or ask you for a recommendation. You don’t need to push.

    * If a conversation ensues and you build a personal relationship, then you can ask for a testimonial. Or better, ask if they have a review source they really trust, so you can ensure *they* get a copy for review.

    Then when you send off the review copy, you can say “I was talking to one of my satisfied customers, and he said he really trusts your opinion.”

    1. Robert: Those are good points about how upselling/testimonial takes away from the personal nature of the conversation. It has the potential to make it feel like more of a transaction than a conversation.

      I really like the idea of asking about their review source of choice!

  8. Wow, there are so many great comments here! It’s hard to add anything. I just think it’s important to let your customer know that you appreciate that they are happy with the game and their message made you happy as well (as you said anyway). I think the customer is waiting for this kind of answer. When the author in his/her feedback express positive emotions, the customer feels like he made the author more happy! If you can buy a good game and make someone happy… it’s then more than just buying a game, isn’t?

    1. Mateusz: Thanks for adding your thoughts! I like the idea of sharing my happiness with the happy customer–I can see how that would make them feel good about the decision to send me the e-mail.

  9. I usually only send a happy customer e-mail if I am REALLY impressed, or the company is just so consistent that I want them to know how much I liked what they did. Most of the time it is the smaller companies who I want to encourage to keep up the good work. I never expect a response, I feel bad enough wasting their time on that e-mail, but, I know that most of their correspondence is someone unhappy or someone who needs something. So unless I ask something specific, I really don’t expect any response, and at most, a thanks for the message response. Anything else, is just a bonus from a company who probably got the e-mail because of their community engagement in the first place.

  10. As someone who has commented on one of your campaigns in the past, I can say that I was surprised and very much appreciated your response. It was shocking to have a “real” person respond and it continued to cement that you have run the best and most professional Kickstarter Campaign that I have ever been a part.

    1. Thanks! I can’t say I’ve always been the most professional, but I’m glad I was able to give you a personal response. That’s one of the biggest reasons I love Kickstarter–the direct interaction with people who share my passion for games.

  11. I’m wondering if it is time for you to hire an assistant. I have sent e-mails to larger companies and of course they have assistants to handle them. The important ones get filtered up and others may get a personal response or are handled by the assistant.

  12. Hey! I’d love to use these map clips – but I see no board extension in the store. Is that going to be another Kickstarter (Expansion #1) or what? I love this game, and would love to present it in all of it’s glory. I plan on running a Scythe event on July 31 at Dragon’s Hoard (17 East Johnson St) Staunton, VA 22601. I plan on running at least one go-thru with the quick start rules, and then open it up to the full rules on the 2nd run through.

    1. Thanks Bruce! The board extension is something we offered as a pre-order add-on, and we’re likely to have extra copies after fulfillment is complete (we’ll sell them on August 1). If you’re presenting the game at your local store–which is awesome, by the way–it’s probably best to just present the retail version of the game so people know that’s what they’re getting if they buy it.

  13. I find that I mostly get fans at conventions and questions via e-mail, and I agree its one of those odd things in life that happy comments get put off while complaints are immediate. Its like when driving, people constantly shout and complain at other drivers, but how often have you seen someone pull up at a filling station and compliment someone’s lane etiquette?
    Whether its in person or by E-mail though my first response to happy customers is to try and figure out exactly what bit they liked best so I can do it again, or more, or better next time. I’m constantly analysing my designs and while I’m sure they work mechanically I’m always nervous about the fun factor, so when someone says they were fun I want to know as much as possible why.
    Finding someone who has seen what I was trying to do in a game, someone for who it clicked enough for them to want to tell me how much they liked it is probably the best conversation I’ll ever have. I answered a question they didn’t know they were asking and there is no amount of that sort of conversation that is too much.

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