We sat down for dinner recently with Ryan and Jared Smith, the brothers behind Qualtrics, an enterprise software company in Provo, Utah.
Because it's based outside Silicon Valley and hadn't taken any outside funding until it accepted $70 million in financing from Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners in May, it does some things that go against conventional wisdom.
If calls go unanswered, a gong goes off and red sirens start blaring. And everyone's expected to pick up the phones.
Ryan and Jared experimented with different sounds and lights before they arrived at the current setup.
Jared told us he'll sometimes cajole engineers into answering the phone while he's walking past the cubicle. But for the most part, the gong—sadly, just a sound effect hooked up to the company's phone system, not a physical gong—drives employees just crazy enough that they usually take the calls voluntarily.
Qualtrics makes online-survey tools originally targeted at academic researchers. Its software is now in widespread use among businesses which use it to customize websites for particular groups of customers—for example, varying the discount offers a prospective guest sees on a hotel website.
So it can be a little complex. Hence the phone calls.
Business at Qualtrics is booming—it's more than doubled every year for the past five years. The company has 220 employees and it expects to hire another 200 over the next year, Ryan recently told us.
Sequoia Capital Bryan Schreier, a Qualtrics board member, told us his only concern was that the system may have raised customers' expectations too high. When researching the company, he said, one customer complained about a decline in customer service. Schreier asked him to elaborate: The customer said it sometimes took three rings to get a live human being.
Qualtrics isn't the only company that places a companywide priority on customers' phone calls.
FreshBooks, a Canadian maker of online accounting software, also has all of its phones ring at headquarters when call volume is high, chief marketing officer Stu MacDonald recently told us.
And every quarter, every FreshBooks employee works a full day in customer support.
And ShopKeep.com, a Chicago startup which makes cash-register software for small businesses, prominently advertises its phone number on its website. That's because small-business customers expect to be able to reach someone when they have a question, CEO Jason Richelson told Business Insider.
Nice to see that some tech companies can pick up the phone. Even if they have to ring a gong to get employees to go along.
Here's what it looks like at Qualtrics headquarters: