Understand where your customer’s culture and values meet your product

While you may know and understand your own company’s values and culture, it’s unlikely that you have spent time trying to understand your customer’s culture and values.

Within Expensify, for example, understanding our culture helps us to make better decisions about our product, recruiting employees, creating our office spaces, and every other area of our business.

And yet, we make recommendations to our customers without understanding their company.

So, try and tease out what their company values, and identify their goals. Do they need to drive down costs, and can you support your customer to see where their money is being spent? Do they place huge value on the language they use, and can you make sure that this is reflected in our product? Do they thrive to create a great new hire experience, and can you support that?

Let’s take an example, shall we? Buffer is a well-known company. Apart from their products, the Buffer is well-known for their radical transparency. They publish their salaries and equity earnings, talk in detail about their processes, and show revenue online.

Silly revenue graph GIF

Buffer became an Expensify customer via a happy coincidence. One of their Happiness Heroes, Dave, joined the London Support Breakfast. After jokingly pitching Expensify (I do this in every cafe), he started using the product as a free user.

We’ve designed Expensify to be sticky, and to have a bottom-up adoption model. With Dave as a free user, Expensify spread to the rest of Buffer, and Dave put me in touch with their finance team. During the setup process, we identified a cost of switching to Expensify.

Before Expensify, the process of getting paid back for spend was: spend money, email the finance team, and get paid back. Archaic af, right? True, but it was also simple. There was a bonus: due to their transparency, the email address acted as a distribution group. So, when you emailed an expense claim in, everyone in the company saw that claim.

The theory was that by being open, Bufferoos were being provided with context on how much they should spend, and what was acceptable. By switching to Expensify, they were losing that transparency, and thus losing a little bit of their culture.

By understanding Buffer’s culture and values, we understood this cost. We can also think through creative solutions to this problem. In this case, there’s a role in Expensify that will allow people read-only access to all reports. By putting all employees in this role, you can give everyone access to all reports. The result is that Buffer can keep their transparency.

Understanding the value of transparency in Buffer allows me to give them a better experience with Expensify. A better experience means more value, and more value means a customer for a longer period of time.


So, take the time to understand your customer’s values and culture. Here are some specific starting questions that you can use:

  • When new hires start, what is the story that you tell them about your company?
  • What’s the most important thing for employees to learn about working on your team when they start?
  • Do you have an underlying and general framework for making decisions that will impact on other employees?
  • What would you say differentiates between the values at your company, compared with your competitors?
  • Are there differences in the values that your team has, compared to other teams in your company?

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