Even without big budgets and dedicated customer service staff, startups can nonetheless provide the kind of customer experience (CX) that more established companies dream of.
Startups are fortunate not to have the outdated bureaucracy and processes that get in the way of providing great customer service in large organisations. This is even more fortunate considering the relative value of each customer to a startup – which likely has fewer customers than a big, old business in the same industry.
It’s imperative startups offer an outstanding experience to every customer, from marketing to the point of purchase and long afterwards, but as well as avoiding the shackles of processes and bureaucracy, startups are generally light on precious resources. They don’t have the budgets that large organisations have to staff a huge customer support team, and staff likely split their time across functions.
Customers don’t care about any of that – their expectations about how companies treat them don’t vary by the size or age of the business, especially when they have questions about or challenges with purchases.
So startups have to punch well above their weight on service, delivering more with less. Here are seven simple best practices and techniques to help a startup stand out from the crowd and make a deep impression with early customers.
1. Make customer service everyone’s job
Even in startups, there can be hierarchies and hoops customers may feel they need to jump through before they can find someone to address their issues. That’s what makes it such a pleasant (and astonishing) surprise when the head of the company rolls up his or her sleeves and shows they want to be connected to what customers care about.
When other members of the team are too busy, for instance, the best entrepreneurs tend to be quick to jump on customer calls and resolve things personally to demonstrate their commitment to an outstanding experience. It doesn’t just have to be the boss who does this, of course. Great startups – and even large companies, for that matter – thrive when customer service is everyone’s job.
2. Take the lead on escalation
It’s infuriating to be on a call or chat with a customer support agent, or immersed in an email or text exchange, and realise that the person you’re dealing with doesn’t quite have the training to solve your problem. This reaches its peak when the exasperated customer finally has to ask, “Is there someone else you can transfer me to?”.
Startups can take advantage of mobile technology and a small, tight-knit team to reach the right person right away and, if they encounter a roadblock, can bring colleagues into the conversation before a customer ever gets impatient. When you take the lead on escalating an issue, it shows you care and that you’re acting in the same way a customer would themselves.
3. Use social media proactively
Nothing beats a startup that manages to be proactive, rather than reactive, in the customer service they offer. The rise of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as service channels means startups can gain unprecedented insight into conversations between customers.
Smart startups take advantage of this by using social listening tools to monitor hashtags related to their company, their products or services, and their industry, or even common words associated with their customers’ needs. Then, rather than waiting for the customer to reach out for help, they extend an offer to help first.
4. Personalise every interaction
In the old days, companies would send out the exact same brochure or flyer to every single customer, whether they were a new customer or someone who had been buying with them for years. Personalisation has already swept through marketing, and successful startups should start looking at service on a personal level, too.
As products age or need to be replaced, for instance, customer service teams can alert customers and make smart suggestions about what to buy next, along with complementary items based on what they know about a customer’s needs and preferences. This is when customer service becomes more concierge service or personal shopping adviser, rather than merely troubleshooter – and when service generates revenue.
5. Look for ways to improve in every encounter
Many service calls end with the agent asking if a customer needs anything else once their problem has been resolved, but fast-growing startups are always in learning mode.
They look for any opportunities – including when customers call in with complaints – to suss out other ways they could improve. They also make this process extremely easy, whether by taking comments by phone, texting feedback or even sharing through direct messaging on social media.
6. Be grateful
Big companies with entire teams devoted to customer satisfaction might pay their highest-value customers ongoing attention. Many smaller businesses contact their customers when they want to sell. Startups can find a middle ground.
Take the time and effort to send a personalised note – perhaps at the one-year anniversary of a partnership.
Include their name, look back on what products or services they use and how these have helped them, and share any educational content or knowledge that will help the customer.
7. Learn from the best
The ideas above are only the beginning. Going back to that lack of set-in-stone processes, the absence of bureaucracy – startups can change and adapt quickly to customer needs and new insights.
Find a community of entrepreneurs, and host meetups, hackathons and other networking events. Use these as opportunities to learn about sales growth, marketing strategies and customer service.
Find out more insights from startups and small to medium businesses in the Salesforce Small and Medium Business Trends Report.