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How focusing on customer service early on can drive startup growth

Did you know that good customer service can be a driver for startup growth? Many startups are so focused on getting off the round with their products, they can forget the importance of their customer service to their first customer base. Small Business Connections sat down with Kan Kunimura, Director, Startups APAC, Zendesk, to learn how startups can harness the power of customer service to promote growth.

Read Zendesk’s CX Report: Learn how to improve your startups’ bottom line by putting customers at the top – gain insights here

How big of a role does training customer service staff play in startup growth? (And why?)

Customer service plays a crucial role in any startup, especially during the early stage of business as it can be the hub of customer feedback that helps the business understand what’s working and what’s not – information that’s critical to the business as it charts its growth plans. It’s naturally a fast-paced environment for startups and almost every role is likely to be juggling multiple responsibilities in the initial stages. Because of this, the customer service operation must also be agile and this is why it’s important that staff receive the appropriate training. Scalability also becomes important in startups as the growth in business can be exponential (hockey stick growth) over a short span of time, requiring frontline agents to be able to respond to more and varied customer needs.

How can positive customer service be a driver for startup growth?

The customer expectation standard is high and has grown over the pandemic as online transactions have increased. This expectation doesn’t change if the company is a startup or not. Customers are looking for more transparency and convenience and will exercise their choice to engage with brands that provide it.  Startups should be considerate of this expectation from the get-go as they are not only going to market competing with their disruptive service/product, but they have the opportunity for CX to become a key differentiator with the competitors. Our CX Trends 22 data shows that two-thirds of businesses believe that customer service has a positive impact on business growth. Customers overwhelmingly affirm this – 90% of Australian customers say they are willing to spend more with companies that personalise their customer service experience.

Startup leadership; whose responsibility is customer service leadership in a startup and why?

Especially in the early startup phase, everyone in the company should have responsibility for delivering an exceptional customer experience. CEO-founders and anyone who may have primary responsibilities in product development or business development as well as raising funds should see a natural intersection of those responsibilities with customer service. The customer service function is an important source of feedback and reviewing that across all business segments is the key to applying the customer voice to the business. For this reason, customer service should not only sit at the heart of business growth plans but stewardship of this should be across the organisation. We’ve been working with Slack and well after they have grown to a team of over one thousand, they ensured that everyone in the company spent time understanding the customer experience directly.

Your report notes how customer service software isn’t expensive, but investment remains low. Why is that?

As the report states, sadly the customer service function is still thought of as a cost center rather than as revenue-generating. Startups could share that mentality, and the investment in the customer service may not be an immediate priority – often competing for strategic mindshare and budget with other technical solutions that are viewed as “mission critical”. Startups tend to only consider investing in customer service technologies when they have taken their product to market and built a customer base. What we have seen from our customers though is that efficiency gains can be achieved from implementation on day one of operations and that early adoption of CX technologies can positively impact the business. So the first thing we need to do is reinforce the awareness that CX can be a driver for revenue and growth and that’s why we work closely with startups to weigh the efficiency gains they can achieve even with small investments in CX.

Your report says customer engagement is up 14% this year – this means more work for small teams, like startups. How can they resource best – especially on a budget?

Start by reviewing which channels customers are utilising most and ensure those are resourced well. Also, look for big impact from small investments in scaleable channels like help centers or FAQs. Our insights show that a lot of what your customers need are right there in the top 5 questions so investing in self-service lays the right foundation. Make sure teams have the right tools and solutions to scale and operate efficiently – and that these tools aren’t siloed. Siloed solutions generally make it harder to manage and to scale. More engagement is great but it doesn’t always mean heavy investments in adding more staff – leverage AI bots, and think of opening live channels like phone and chat only to select customers.

Customer quote :

“We just had this hodgepodge of systems. Someone might text us and then immediately call us, and then get upset when we didn’t have all of the context. Our information gaps impacted our ability to serve our customers and kept us from serving them the way we wanted to. It was really painful to have all these different sources of information.”

Gib Lopez, Co-Founder and COO, PayJoy

Your report notes an increase in future customer service needs, how should startups best address this influx? (Automation or better training or both?)

We believe it’s important to invest in both. Our research has shown that exceptional experiences are anchored in great service agents and also the technologies that enable customers to find their own solutions. Also, agents empowered with the right tools to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively have the power to unlock growth opportunities.

Better training is an important component of developing great customer relationships. Enabling team members to understand in-depth your startup’s mission, products, commercial practices, and brand voice will help them be efficient and effective in their service of customers, but also capable to react well when new situations or challenges are presented (and this will happen often!). Pairing this with a QA program in time is a must.

Automation and technology are the keys to scalability and better expense management in the face of growing demand. As your agents establish patterns in the requests from customers, and later as you may use machine learning to complement those insights, your startup can build more informed customer journeys, develop on-demand resources like a help centre for customers to help themselves, and find other ways to simply and quickly connect users with the answers they need. We see fast-growing startups use workflow tools 2.8x more than their peers, and this is part of what helps them drive better satisfaction results in the face of growing communication volumes.

Read Zendesk’s CX Report: Learn how to improve your startups’ bottom line by putting customers at the top – gain insights here

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