Engage, then Embed: CX for Start-Ups and Scale-Ups

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After 20 years directing customer experience strategies for complex global companies, I shifted my focus to working with start-ups and scale-ups. Here, founders and their small but mighty teams are rolling up their sleeves every day to disrupt industries and make the world, or at least some part of it, a little better. As an advisor with a background in CX and marketing, I bring unique and non-technical expertise to the conversation. One of the most common questions I’m asked is: When should I start to focus my business on customer experience?

There’s an idea that early-stage companies need to wait until they have hit some particular metric – 100 customers, or $20k in MRR, or a 5-person customer success team – before they start implementing a proactive customer experience strategy. These milestones can trigger the evolution of a CX program, but they shouldn’t determine when it starts.

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In fact, the founders who ask the question are often already deploying elements of a customer experience strategy. They intuitively understand the importance of customers to the success of their business, and so they are already paying attention to and integrating the customer’s voice.

CX for Start-Ups: Engage

Rishad Tobaccowala wrote, “Organizations exist to satisfy a customer’s stated or unstated needs with some combination of product (hardware or software) and service.”

As disruptors, start-ups are bringing new ideas to life and fighting for their existence. These ideas need the oxygen of customer perspective to grow and thrive.

At this stage, go deep and focus customer experience work on finding product-market fit.

– Engage in one-on-one open-ended conversations with early adopters and potential customers to understand the core problem you’re solving. Ask them about what they are trying to accomplish, why it’s currently hard for them, what outcomes they wish they could have, and how your product could help. Funnel this feedback into the product design. Learn more about their habits, attitudes and networks. Funnel this into the marketing plan.
Validate your ideal customer. This includes talking to churned customers and, as difficult as it might be, really listening to why they are leaving. What was missing? Did they find something better? Recognize that sometimes customers leave because they aren’t your target customer. But don’t chalk every lost customer up to being a bad fit – be brutally honest when aligning your product with the market. Balance the innovation that excites you with reaching the commercialization your business needs to keep existing.

CX for Scale-Ups: Embed

Once a company has product-market fit and starts to get traction with customers, it needs to systematize and embed more scalable versions of what it’s been doing in a high-touch way.

At this stage, the customer experience focus shifts to ensuring value and driving retention.

– Start with a basic customer journey map to identify the highest impact customer touchpoints, meaning those where improvement will increase value and/or reduce churn. Your map will also document the specific customer experience you want your customers to have, creating a reference and enabling consistency as your team expands.
Look at onboarding. It’s likely to be one of the biggest disconnects as so much energy has been going into getting the right product to market that the transition from sales to the ‘after-sales’ experience is likely under-resourced and undisciplined. Focus on smoothing this transition and establishing a clear process, so that customers can get value sooner.
– Bring some structure to customer success/customer support. Clarify roles and expectations, and shift energy towards proactively ensuring customer stickiness and expanded usage and away from troubleshooting.

What about metrics?

Measurement is important to help companies see where they’ve been and where they’re going. For start-ups and scale-ups who are fundraising, we know investors are going to want metrics. We can’t expect early-stage companies to have smooth trend lines – any metrics are likely to be bumpy, reflecting learning and pivots along the way. We can expect that they’ve started to track the key metrics and that those metrics informed the pivots. (reference: Starter Guide to CX Metrics)

Focus on customer, operational, and financial metrics in these key areas:
Indicators of product-market fit – Acquisition, retention, and churn will reveal when there is traction and momentum
Indicators of value – Introduce surveys to get feedback on the customer experiences that most critical to growth- often product or onboarding feedback
Indicators of loyalty – Net Promoter Score (NPS) is often used as a proxy for customer stickiness and growth

There’s no substitute for talking to your customers.

Whether you’re at the idea stage, finding traction, preparing for scale, or in a mature company, you can benefit from simply having a conversation with your customer and listening hard to what they’re telling you.

Republished with the author’s permission from the original post.


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