Customer loyalty is magic

January 22, 2014
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H Café is my go-to neighborhood lunch spot. I’m there nearly every weekend for a sandwich, and not just because they taste great. H Café has become a part of my routine because of Husam, the owner and source of the “H” in the shop’s name. Husam knows what I’m going to order before I order it (he posted my regular order on the wall a few years ago) and never forgets to ask me about my wife and son, or tease me for not hitting the gym (we belong to the same one). Our interactions don’t make the sandwich taste any better (it’s already delicious), but they are highly personal.

It’s no secret that personal interactions like these create loyalty. And customer loyalty is conspicuously absent when we start to talk about our interactions with businesses online. Today, many Web and SaaS companies have tried to minimize customer interaction.  But we think that’s an outdated model. In fact, a focus on improved customer interaction is why Zappos won so many customers early on. The average consumer is begging to be treated well on the web!

Which takes me back to the phrase “Customer loyalty is magic”; it’s the vision of Eoghan McCabe (pronounced “Owen”), co-founder/CEO of Intercom – newest member of the BVP portfolio.  It was this powerful statement that inspired BVP’s investment. Eoghan’s belief is simple:  customer engagement is necessary to build loyalty online. Eoghan thinks that customer loyalty has largely been forgotten in the relationships we have with our software vendors, and I agree! Business users regularly groan at having to put up with the rigid, inflexible software applications of the past few decades rather than delighting in the prospect of the increased efficiency that software should afford its users. In today’s race to convert customers from on-premise installations to the cloud, vendors have simply not had the tools to justify spending energy on customer experience at the expense of sales and product development. Intercom is changing that.

Intercom makes a beautiful product that seamlessly integrates into a web or mobile application and provides visibility into a customer’s progress through the app. This allows personalized, authentic communication between businesses and their customers in the right context – within the app itself – eliminating the disjointed context switching normally required for this kind of engagement. Eoghan imagines making business communications as natural as those that happen at your local hangout—wherever that may be. Intercom empowers a whole host of business users in the enterprise to troubleshoot, support, engage (re-engage!), and enhance the experience of each customer. 

Bessemer has long been a proponent of the belief that the democratization of technology resources will be a central driver of technology change this decade. While there are 18 million developers in the world, there are 400 million information workers. These information workers are increasingly accustomed to using online and mobile software in their personal lives — as the meteoric rise of social media and mobile apps has shown. (Put another way: Snapchat.) However, these tech nativists cannot test or complete basic changes without the input of a developer, creating a massive bottleneck in the implementation of their ideas. When I was a young business analyst at The Wall Street Journal testing a hypothesis about Journal readers, I would submit a detailed data request to our IT group, answer inane questions about the business impact of getting that data, and then wait 2-3 weeks for an answer – assuming the data could be pulled at all – only to have to circle back again later if I wanted to take some action as a result. Intercom changes this paradigm meaningfully – and gives the business user, the marketer, the salesperson, the customer success associate, and the CEO the ability to gather customer insights and act on them – in both personal and automated ways – without IT involvement. 

It’s probably not surprising that a company so focused on customer loyalty has its own dedicated following. As we got to know Intercom, we heard customer after customer rave about how easy it is to use, how it doesn’t pull people away from their day jobs, how the results are immediate and how the impact gets better as more and more business users standardize their communications on the platform. One customer – who also happens to be the founder of a BVP portfolio company – spent so much time raving about the product at a recent meeting that I wondered if he was secretly working for Intercom on the side!

This didn’t happen by accident, as I would soon learn. Behind the scenes at Intercom, Eoghan and his co-founders Des, Ciaran and Dave have an all-star team of engineering and product managers that obsess about ease-of-use, user experience, and measurable business impact – many of them from consumer web exemplars like Facebook, Google and Amazon where success on these fronts is paramount. And they haven’t missed any chance to stack the decks with even more talented folks like Paul Adams, their VP Product from Facebook and Google, and Mark Woolway, who joined recently from Yammer and Paypal as COO.

There is a long road ahead for Eoghan and his team at Intercom. They are at the very beginning of the lofty and – to anyone who isn’t used to reality-distorting, entrepreneurial zeal – seemingly irrational goal of improving all interactions between businesses and their customers – and by extension making software delightful to use. I’m excited to be along for this ride. I’m also excited to visit Anseo, the company’s favorite local pub in Dublin. I hear the customer service is amazing.