A few years ago, I interviewed with several startups in various industries to lead their customer service/customer experience departments. I spoke with retail, transportation and rental companies. With all of them, I encountered the same approach to customer experience. They all thought that it was too early to invest in and prioritize end-to-end customer experience.
For these startups, the main strategic and operational focuses were product development and company growth. As a result, the roles called customer success/customer support/customer experience were diminished to IT Tech Support or Operational Support.
But accelerated growth usually means that not all possible user scenarios have been thought through, and companies this size often experience the volume of tickets quickly grow to unsustainable levels. When this happens, it’s easy to focus on triage and push customer experience to the back burner. But the consequences of this are dangerous to long-term success.
With the recent news about Away and Rent the Runaway, the customer experience conversation has become more top of mind for startups. These are two larger, more substantial companies, but with the current startup approach to customer experience, this could happen to anyone.
When should a startup focus on customer experience?
It’s never too early for a founder to start infusing their company with customer experience principles.
After establishing the core of your brand, align your organizational culture, processes, and technology with that core.
This means that you are actively building all of the pieces of your business around the core values of your brand. This takes the form of commitments that you deliver and track across the organization, both internally and externally.
Only when you connect who you want to be as a brand with the actions you take as a company are you truly on the path of customer-centricity. And for that, you do not have to be a big organization.
Understand what customer experience is
But before we continue, let’s clarify what we mean by customer experience. Customer experience is the intentional design of the experience of your customers. It means taking a holistic approach to building the interactions customers go through to find, assess, buy, use, and receive support for your product or service.
The biggest mistake a startup (or legacy company!) can make is to think of customer experience ONLY as customer support. Customer support is just one touchpoint on your customer journey.
The actual customer journey starts much earlier; and there are many touchpoints before that customer takes the step to email or call you. All of those are process or design moments. And if those processes are not built with the customer in mind, it will increase your customer support volume.
Develop holistic responses to support customers
Even if you decide to make customer support your only customer experience investment, do not reduce the job to scripts and technical training. If you want your employees to make judgement calls and deliver memorable customer service, you need written procedures and reimbursement guidelines.
You also could consider hiring a senior person who has managed a contact center for a reputable brand to motivate and inspire the team and to bring your culture and hospitality standards to life.
In other words, don’t make customer support an afterthought. Give it considerable thought and proper funding. These are the people who will bring your customers back. Or not.
When we apply The Petrova Experience holistic approach, we infuse your organization with customer experience best practices in the following ways:
Tie your brand purpose, values to the customer experience you want to deliver.
What do you want your customers to say when they mention your brand at the dinner table?
Collaborate with your team to build hospitality standards that you want frontline members to follow.
These standards are actual “behaviors” that reflect the values you have built in #1.
Let’s use the same value of “transparency” here. If transparency is one of your values, your customer service crew should never say “I don’t know.” So when you develop standards, and the behaviors that align with those standards, “Never say ‘I don’t know’ to a customer” and “Do whatever it takes to answer customer questions” become behaviors.
Look at your end-to-end customer journey.
From the marketing copy and materials that get them in your sales funnel to your
post-purchase emails, look at what are you promising the customer and how you are delivering on your promise.
For instance, if you say your product or service is “fast and easy,” do you offer self-service seamless experiences?
Let’s take billing. As a customer, can I go on your website to see my invoices (download if I want), and pay them, or do I need to wait to receive an invoice via email? Map all your processes as if you were your customer and rate your experience honestly. Then compare it to your marketing materials to see if it matches.
Evaluate your technology and prioritize investments in employee tools.
You are probably already investing in product development so that your customers are covered and loved. Likely, you have some work to do in enabling your employees to deliver on core values and brand promises.
For employees to be able to answer questions in a timely manner, they need to have one system that can provide all the answers.
When you buy or build software solutions, make sure there is only one interface with your customer support teams and that it’s easy for them to access the information they need to service your customers in a timely manner.
Maximize on the power of customer feedback.
Ask for feedback, especially at the touchpoints you know are most important for your target customer.
Importantly, once you take the feedback, extract customer insights and CONNECT the measure of customer satisfaction to the COMPENSATION of your leadership. This is crucial.
If you want to make customer experience part of the fabric of your company, you must tie compensation to the quality of your customer experience. Only then will your organization march in the same direction and deliver great experiences.
Recognize that technical training is not enough.
If you want to deliver friendly service infused with hospitality, you need to train it.
Nobody is born knowing how to manage a difficult customer well or how to act in a stressful situation. We all need easy techniques we can apply in the moment to win all those amazing customer service awards. After you have trained your staff, come up with ways to maintain the vigor around standards of HOW they interact with your customers.
As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, but will never forget how you made them feel.”
So, start producing positive feelings and your business will boom!