…because some thoughts are worth remembering
I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have worked with co-founders with similar values. It is rare to have the vision quite clearly in our minds from the get-go, because there is usually an iteration process of having to articulate why you don’t want to do something a certain way and digging deep (like asking why 5 times) to realize what you stand for and what you want the company to be.
For LavaNet, we wanted to be the best Internet Service Provider (ISP), and not necessarily the biggest. That statement led to a bunch of other decisions, mixed with core personal values we brought to the table (we wanted to have fun with our jobs, we want the customers to be treated the way we would want to, we treat ourselves, our vendors, partners and customers with respect), which then led to further implementation decision, such as whether we should have dedicated phone lines for staff to log in from off site. The answer was no, because we should have sufficient phone lines to serve our customers and plan for that, so we should not need special lines dedicated for staff-only use.
Then we established the No Busy Policy. Back in the day, when you have to “dial” a phone number to get connected to a server at the ISP. Because the Internet was booming, our competitors all seemed to suffer from busy signals, where all of the ISP’s phone lines were jammed at peak period of use (e.g., Sunday night, right after dinner, etc.). Because we focused on the quality of our service, we had fiercely competent (that was one of our core values) and passionate (another one) alpha geeks who had the technical knowhow and the desire to keep our service humming. They came up with an algorithm and a set of procedures for what to measure, when to initiate the phone line capacity expansion, etc. Of course, there would be hiccups with our vendors unexpectedly unable to deliver on time, and the new customer sign up rate could be hard to predict.
So, we did the unthinkable: we declared that we would turn away new customers from signing up with our service if we thought it would jeopardize the quality of our service by giving busy signals. We showed our existing customers that we were prioritizing their experience over our profits, and we showed our potential customers that we would only want to offer them the service they deserved. We ended up having to create a waiting list of potential customers, who had completed their application forms all ready to go.
It turned out to be one of the best branding opportunity we created. We knew why it benefited the potential customers, and we communicated it carefully in our ads, when we took phone calls. They knew we had a vision, and it wasn’t just lip service. They were more than happy to wait to be part of the club that would prioritize the quality experience of the customers. The icing on the cake? Once part of our customer base, they were fiercely loyal (because they had to believe it was worth the wait), and their word-of-mouth advertising more than made up for the potential revenue from new customer signups.
It takes balls to not take in a new customer. We took that risk because when the founders, the sales staff and the system administrators, all believed in the vision of quality, our action didn’t feel like a gamble, but merely a bold realization of our shared vision.