Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is the Chief Product Officer at Get Spiffy and the founder of teachingstartup.com. Joe has a long entrepreneurial history in the Triangle that includes Automated Insights, ExitEvent, and Intrepid Media. He writes a column about startups, management and innovation each Monday as an exclusive part of WRAL TechWire’s Startup Monday package.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The more you can tailor your product’s user experience to the individual customer, the more valuable your product, the more sales come to you faster.

Here’s the problem

It can be a very fine line between an awesome customer experience and a horrible customer experience. Most of the time, the difference comes down to whether or not you can get the information you need from the customer to be able to deliver what they want.

Joe Procopio (Photo courtesy of Joe Procopio)

The more information you need, the more difficult it is to get.

If the customer just needs a hammer, you sell them a hammer. If they need a screwdriver, you show them a Phillips and a flathead and let them choose. If the customer needs wedding photography, financial services, or a job, then suddenly there’s a ton of information you need from them just to be able to put the right options in front of them, let alone make the sale, let alone make them happy.

Here are the symptoms

There are all sorts of band-aid ways to get detailed information from your customers. You’re probably doing at least one of them. None of them work well because they all attack the symptoms of the problem instead of the cause.

These are the top four band-aids I usually see.

  1. Do it for them

This actually works, for a while, but it’s just a white-glove remedy for a symptom of the problem. You can definitely get the data you need by having your team talk to the customer and hand enter it or by asking the customer to point you to a place where that same team can scrape most of what you need. Not a terrible solution, until you try to scale it.

  1. Auto-bug them

What I’m about to say might seem against conventional wisdom, but I’ve learned that the more reminders you send to a customer to finish data entry, the more you push them away. They will see your second or third reminder, delete it immediately, then make a mental note to delete their account with you, which, to be honest, they usually never get around to either.

  1. Automate it

Yeah, you can write some really slick code to automate whatever manual or scraping process you’re using today, but it’s expensive and it’s usually just a technical band-aid that also attacks the symptom.

  1. Cure the symptom

If you want to get hardcore, you just turn off all staff access to customer data entry, stop sending reminders, and hope the customers realize that if they don’t give you some basic info, your product or service isn’t going to work as well as it should. Don’t do this. I guarantee you that the result will be less customers.

To solve the problem, understand that you’re not trying to cure customer apathy. Customer apathy is just a symptom of the problem, not the cause.

Here’s the cause

It’s not the customer, it’s your methods. You’re not exposing enough value to the customer to motivate them to work for that value.

And yes, you are asking them to work for it.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of your own business.

When you’ve got a big customer that you’re convinced will drop a windfall of revenue on you, you will work for that customer. If they need information from you, you’ll bend over backwards to get it to them as quickly as possible. However, if you think a customer is just fishing and likely won’t buy, you won’t put forth as much effort.

I know, we all like to think we give the same amount of attention to every customer, but we prioritize because we have to. Thus, we’ll go above and beyond when we clearly see the reward. Every time.

Your customers are no different. Your offering needs to show them all the value of your product and get them motivated enough to do whatever it takes to unlock that value.

Here’s the solution

Are you showing the full value of your product or just hinting at it? This is a classic product marketing issue.

When your company can reach a customer but not get information from them, that’s usually a sign that you’re giving hints about the product value (customers are interested) but not making your full case (customers aren’t interested enough to work for that value).

Corollary — If customers aren’t even giving you minimal information, i.e. they won’t give you an email address or phone number, your product probably doesn’t have value, let alone show it.

But once you have the customer “in the shop,” so to speak, there are a couple ways to address the value exposure problem.

First, think about your messaging in terms of hinting vs. showing. For example, there’s a huge difference between these two statements:

“Fill out this form to save on TVs”


“Fill out this form to save 50% on TVs.”

One hints at value, one shows value.

Then, think about the timing of your information gathering. No one ever walks into a retail store and is greeted by a sales associate like this:

“Welcome to Best Buy. Can I just see your credit card real quick?”

How much value is being shown before you start to ask for information?

Then, think about the information you need, prioritize it, and ask for it in chunks.

Here’s an example

I’ll use my current startup, Spiffy, mobile on-demand vehicle care and maintenance, where I’m head of product, as an example. We had quite a bit of internal debate about our method, but it works.

To get a mobile car wash, you download our app. When you first open our app, we don’t do the standard thing where we ask you to sign up or sign in first, then ask for your location and your vehicle and your credit card. No, you can go straight to our menu of services, with prices, and start ordering. Then we collect information as we go.

You selected mobile car wash? Well, we need to know where you are. Awesome. Now tell us about your car so we wash the right one. Great. Now what day and what time work for you? You’re all set, we’ll just need your credit card.

We’ll get a ton of other information along the way, but by then, the customer has already seen the value, because in their mind, we’re already on our way to wash their vehicle at their preferred location, date, and time.

We spread the information gathering process to make it less of a gate, more give-and-receive. This required a more complex app strategy, breaking our UX into logical parts that served the customer’s interest, not our own.

Here’s how to implement the solution

The implementation starts with one of my favorite strategies for anything to do with building and selling a product. Start asking why.

The only way to balance the value proposition with the request for information is to ask why the information is not being gathered. You can ask your customers directly, which is the ideal way, or if that’s not possible, start asking yourself.

Come into your offering as your customer, knowing nothing about your product, and ask yourself why you would do what you’re asking your customer to do.

Are you offering immediate access to value?

Are you prioritizing what information you need and when?

Are you making promises (“save”) or stating facts (“save 50%”)?

Then start asking why you’re doing it the way you’re doing it.

Are you expecting the product to sell itself?

Is your priority on closing the sale or showing the customer enough value to close the sale?

Are your competitors hiding a white-glove “do-it-for-them” model in their pricing?

Here’s the reward

This isn’t a panacea of a solution, and it takes experimentation, trial and error, and failure. The good news is once you find the right balance, and once you reshape your product and offering to be able to implement that balance, the processes will be totally repeatable.

And that’s where growth happens.


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