A lot of entrepreneurs like to begin with the end in mind: that nirvana where you’ve not only achieved product-market fit but attracted a critical mass of happy customers who will lay the foundation for you to scale your startup. 

There’s nothing wrong with imagining what your business will look like once it’s successful. You may need that vision in your head in order to have the courage to begin launching a new company at all. 

Focusing solely on the destination, however, means you’re not fully preparing yourself for the journey ahead. 

Developing a startup is inevitably filled with occasional setbacks and challenges that aren’t always easy to foresee. That’s why it’s best to create a fully fleshed-out business plan as one of your first steps. 

A business plan will include everything from the reason your products and services are unique to the financial resources you’ll need to get started and how you’ll initially approach marketing and sales. 

These are all important decisions. None of them, however, represent the most important decision you’ll make. 

The most important decision to make before your first sale is what kind of customer experience you want to offer. 

How will customers want to be treated? 

What should the experience look like, sound like, feel like — from the moment they hear about your firm to the point of purchase and long afterwards?

This may not seem like a single decision but a series of decisions that require a lot of careful thought and planning. Ultimately, however, the way you define your customer experience will influence everything else your startup does. 

There will be pressure soon enough to find leads, convert them into prospects and win them over as customers. Do yourself a favour and take the time now to work through the details of your customer experience and you’ll likely find the rest falls much more readily into place: 

1. Create a customer journey map with plenty of alternate routes

When sales start to decline or brand reputations take a hit, large organizations often decide to step back and try to improve their customer experience by creating a customer journey map. 

In other words, what are all the steps and processes involved for a customer to do business with the firm, and where might there be points of friction or aggravation that lead them to buy elsewhere? 

Startups have an advantage in creating their journey maps in that it’s not a purely retroactive exercise. As a newer entity, you can try to be more deliberate about eliminating friction at the get-go, rather than dealing with it later.

Bear in mind, however, that any map you make will soon become part of your history, not your future. Customer journeys need to be managed on an ongoing basis. Your map is just one step in learning about what your experience is, and how you could enhance it.

2. Establish service and support resources

The excitement involved in growing a startup may lead to assumptions that customers will not only be happy with your products and services, but that they’ll find them easy to set up and use. 

Don’t make those assumptions. Instead, assume the opposite. 

What might be the most obvious mistakes a new customer might make? What kind of signposts (in the way of tutorial videos or tips delivered via chatbots, perhaps) could you set up to help them avoid those pitfalls? 

Next, think about the time that dealing with the most likely service and support issues might take. While this might vary a little from one customer to the next, determine a baseline period from the moment someone reaches out to the moment their issue has been resolved. Look for industry benchmarks to see if you can do better than the average. 

Finally, make sure there are ways to ease friction here, too. How often should you be personally involved in troubleshooting, versus offering self-service capabilities? 

Getting ahead of poor customer service experiences is the best way to make sure they don’t happen. 

3. Narrow down what you’ll need to know as you go

Technologies like a CRM help ensure that you begin to collect critical information about what customers say and do as you develop relationships with them. 

The data in a CRM acts as a reality check against your customer experience, helping tell you whether you’re delivering what you promised. 

More importantly, it gives you clues as to what should be remedied, in what order. Determining those priorities is gold when you’re dealing with all the other distractions of managing a business. 

Final thoughts

By the time you’re done all this, you may have to go back and revisit your original business plan. 

The customer experience you’ve decided upon may require more financial resources than you anticipated. It may affect who you’ll need to hire, or what kind of additional products and services you’ll need. It could even affect the timelines in terms of your first marketing campaigns and how you establish revenue goals. 

Adjusting your timelines and costs is worth it at this stage, because it increases the likelihood your startup will be able to weather the kinds of problems that cause others to fail within their first few years. 

When your customer experience is clear, you’re not only going to be ready to make your first sale — you’re going to be ready to establish your first customer relationships. And those relationships will make growing your startup more seamless, and worthwhile.