How to delight your raving fans through customer listening

By Nathan Isaacs | April 26, 2021

It doesn’t seem intuitive—from a design perspective—to add steps to a sign-up process, but that’s just what CookUnity did. As a result, they saw a 50% increase in conversions.

Sometimes opposing the status quo can reap big results

As the Wall Street Journal puts it, “CookUnity aims to be for food what Spotify is to music—offering an infinite selection of meals from an unlimited number of culinary artists.” 

The three-year-old startup is a direct-to-consumer meal delivery platform that allows its customers to choose a range of ready-to-eat meals from celebrity and up-and-coming chefs. It’s based in New York City, recently opened its second community kitchen in Los Angeles, and delivers to twenty-seven states. But back to how they made a big impact through their design decisions.

Of course, they didn’t just randomly add steps to their sign-up process. The decision was made following some extensive customer feedback from their best fans about why they loved the product.

“This is counter to the classic notion, simplify the sign-up experience to get as many people in,” said Dan Storms, CookUnity’s Chief Product Officer. “We added some steps. What it let us do was fine-tune the experience of the menu. When you have so much variety, working through [the menu] is actually quite difficult, but if we can tune it a little bit based on some early signals that you give us, it can be much better.”


In his Human Insight podcast interview with Janelle Estes, UserTesting’s Chief Insights Officer, Storms discusses: 

  • How they leveraged two bestsellers to create a framework for customer listening that they then applied to their product and market strategy
  • How to validate customer feedback with surveys
  • Insights on planning the NY Product Conference

Creating a framework for customer listening

Storms said that for him, as a product leader, he had struggled over the years on a handful of critical business questions: 

  • How do you understand what customers need?
  • What is the value that you offer?
  • How do you create something that’s differentiated?
  • How do you talk about that value in a way that the whole company consistently talks about and navigates around?

“It's incredibly hard,” he said, “because you want to be narrow enough that it's accessible for people, but not so narrow that you're talking in a super niche area.”

The answer for him came from combining concepts found in two business books. The first was “Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice,” by Clayton Christensen. And the other was “Obviously Awesome,” by April Dunford.

Storms likes the books because they offer concepts—jobs to be done by Christensen and positioning by Dunford—that he combined into a framework he could apply to CookUnity. “A lot of times when people talk about these things, it's like, ‘Oh, talk to your customers more, or talk to people more, and talk to users more,’” he said. “There are no details. There are no specifics around how you actually do that. And I think those specifics are really what makes the difference between doing it a little bit ok and having it make a meaningful impact.”

To leverage the books, he said, you have to know where you are in the journey of your business. If you consider startups, there are three main phases:

  • The value phase
  • The best-fit customer phase
  • And the growth phase

The value phase is where you’ve found some mission or purpose for existing and now you need to create something that is differentiated and meaningful to customers. And then you start getting those customers. 

At some point, you’ll have enough people using your product or service to do proper research on how they’re using your solution rather than just researching their needs. Storms calls this the “best-fit customer” phase.

“You're really trying to understand and tune for the best-fit customer,” he said.

The growth phase (third phase) is where you take what you’ve learned and scale those best-fit customers.

At CookUnity, they needed to better understand who their best-fit customers are. They knew they made and delivered delicious food. But was it for people who were busy? Or for people who love delicious food? Was it for families or singles?

Identify your best-fit customers and really understand them

In Obviously Awesome, Dunford talks about identifying the attributes of your raving fans. 

“And that might be customers that have a lifetime relationship with your brand, or are spending the most,” Storms said. “Or it may be the people who are telling their friends about you the most. Different industries have different approaches to measuring this.”

At CookUnity, they focused on those customers that spent the most, and who had the most referrals. From those two criteria, they created a list of the top 50 customers and wound up scheduling 45-minute interviews with 15 of them.

“It doesn't have to be a gigantic effort, but it needs to be very precise. And you need to ask just the right questions,” Storms said. 

They asked segmenting questions. Then they wanted to understand people's alternatives if for some reason their order wasn’t delivered. And then they wanted to know if there was some particular goal the customer was working toward by signing up with CookUnity—a classic jobs to be done question. Then they wanted to know why they were referring CookUnity to others. And for this, Storms said, he sought specificity, like what were the words they used the last time they made a referral.

With those answers, Storms said, came what he called the most interesting part of the process. 

“Because you can do a good job understanding what people say about your company or how they're thinking about it,” Storms said. “But turning it into action tends to be where I think a lot of these things fall over.”

From there, they synthesized all that information, identifying their unique attributes, as well as the key benefits they offered customers. 

Storms emphasized the importance of differentiated attributes and benefits. So, while customers appreciated that the meals were pre-made, it didn’t separate them from alternatives. 

“Where we felt we were differentiated was in high quality and variety,” Storms said. 

They put all that info into the job spec blueprint and validated their findings in a customer survey. From there, they had a breakthrough on how to describe their customer—a food lover who was busy and healthy-ish.

“Now we say that phrase over and over and over inside the company,” Storms said. 

They’ve leveraged those findings in their marketing and product development. That’s how they came to ask additional questions about dietary and taste preferences during the initial sign up. 

Storms would recommend the approach for others, especially for those companies that want to understand and describe their customers' experience or know what’s resonating with their customers. You may suspect you know the answers to these questions, but unless you hear it straight from your customers, you’re really just guessing. 

Now more than ever, it’s critical that marketers understand their customers’ attitudes, motivations, and reactions so they can understand what content will resonate with customers and what will drive them to convert.

“It worked really well for us,” Storms said. “We think that we work well for families and for single people. As long as they love food. That's what really works with them. And that's where we feel we’re able to deliver real value.”

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About the author(s)
Nathan Isaacs

Nathan is a Senior Content Producer at UserTesting. When he's not producing UserTesting's Human Insight podcast and other human-centered content, you can find him making beer, riding on Zwift, and fixing up his 110-year old Craftsman home.