Customer Experience Best Practices for Startups

What is the one mistake that could make or break the chances your startup will survive its first three years? Neglecting your customer experience program.

When starting a new entrepreneurial challenge, especially in e-commerce, my clients (almost always) focus on marketing and sales with little attention given to customer experience. That is … until the first emails come in from customers with questions or complaints.

In this article I want to tell you how to incorporate a winning customer experience program from the very start.

Table of contents: Customer experience best practices

A positive customer experience defines and supports your brand

As an entrepreneur at heart, nothing will get your adrenaline flowing like the challenge of starting a new business. But if you want your venture to survive beyond the startup phase, you will need to set up your customer service program at the same time.

Creating a pleasing customer experience may not excite you, but by incorporating this part of your business as you set up, your customer service can actually define your image and brand in a positive way with benefits beyond the product or service you offer.

Learn the basics of setting up a customer service department

As a startup, if you offer a service or you’re hoping to sell products, you will need to create a full customer service experience program. A full customer experience program is important to your brand, your marketing and your sales. There are five steps to creating a complete customer experience program:

  1. Identify your ideal customer
  2. Streamline your purchasing process
  3. Unify information at all sell points
  4. Use social media
  5. Support your CS department

In this article I’ll focus on step number five: How to develop and support your customer service department. A startup must at least cover the customer experience basics. Whether we’re talking about a single freelancer handling these queries, or a whole department, the principles of good customer service always remain the same.

Prioritize your customer service needs

Sales is usually the biggest need when setting up and growing a new business. In order to create sales you must provide an effective customer experience, while also creating and maintaining a good marketing strategy.

If you think this seems like a lot, it is!

Start-up teams usually include one to two individuals who have a vision. You can develop expertise by delegating tasks to the person with the most experience in each field … but there are only so many hours in a day.

If you are a sole business owner, all the work lands with you. In this case, you will definitely need to create a priority list to avoid being overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks that await you each morning.

In both cases,  an experienced customer service freelancer can help you set up the customer service part of the business and free you to focus on tasks like sales, marketing, fulfillment, and logistics. Here are areas where a customer service agent can help:

1. Finding the right customer relation management program (CRM) If you’re really new to any form of entrepreneurship, this is not something you might even be aware of. If you’ve been in the business longer, you know that a good CRM system will save loads of time, both for the customer and your agents.

2. Recruiting customer service colleagues Startup entrepreneurs are often ambitious and looking to expand the CS department once they get off the ground. An experienced customer service freelancer will know what to look for in future colleagues and what traits you do and don’t want in a customer service agent.

3. Organizing the different information streams In this day and age you must have a social media presence. The bigger your presence, the higher the chances you will receive questions, requests and complaints through different forms of communication (email, whatsapp, instagram, etc). Your customer service employee can inventory these points of contact and organize and streamline how and where it’s best to answer these questions.

4. Setting up a first response program In customer service, 75% of all questions that you will encounter relate to the same issues. For example, problems with shipping, returns, or defects. No matter the email system or CRM program you’re using, a first line of canned responses—a message template called macros—will make life a lot easier for both the customers and the agents.  

Think through if customer experience is an area to scrimp

With startups, I often see that money is the deciding factor when it comes to hiring a customer service freelancer. A lot of entrepreneurs will try to handle customer service on their own. But this is not an area in which to economize. A poorly supported customer experience can also severely dampen the perception of your brand.

A more affordable mid-level customer service freelancer will be able to handle basic questions, but don’t expect more than that. They may come to you often with repeat questions. In the end, this will take up more of your time, in which case you might decide to do customer service yourself.

When an entrepreneur handles their own customer service, unless they have experience, this will be the first task dropped from the list when it gets busy. It takes a specific skill to do it well, and most entrepreneurs will not have the time, the patience, or the motivation it takes to create happy customers.  

Decide which key goals to focus on

Let’s say you have found your skilled customer experience freelancer and the business side of customer service has been set up to your satisfaction. The next thing to decide is which two to three key goals to focus on when dealing with your customers. A couple of examples are:

  1. Punctuality Punctuality usually means the customer will get a first response within a certain amount of hours. Whether that is 2 hours or 24 hours is completely up to you of course. However, if this is a key focus for you, you need to make sure to have adequate coverage to achieve this goal.
  2. Friendliness Friendliness in customer service is usually a key quality to strive for, but the way you go about it can vary quite a bit. If you decide that a customer needs to be happy at all times, this will have consequences for your business, for example, in terms of replacement orders. If this is something you aim for, you will need to train your CS agents and give them the leeway to make such decisions themselves. (Otherwise you are creating more work for yourself.)
  3. Personalization Personalization goes a step beyond friendliness. This kind of approach will work well if you are selling a high-end exclusive item with a small, dedicated clientbase. Note keeping details about the customer in your CRM system (and incorporating them into your messages), for example. Sending them a message on their birthday or creating a loyalty program with gifts when hitting a certain milestone. These are all touchpoints that will create a deeper, more personalized bond with your customer.
  4. Brand language Brand language is one of the lesser known key features in a customer service program, but can be very effective. Just look at Apple. An Apple advertisement is easy to spot due to consistent brand language and imaging. If you do decide on a brand language, please remember to be consistent and concise across all your platforms and to incorporate that same language into the responses from customer service.
  5. KPIs The reason I mention Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) further down the list is because, while it is still very important, it should not be your top focus for customer service. If you set a goal that your freelancers need to answer, let’s say for example, 50 emails an hour, this will cause your service level to drop. Not in the case of the simple one answer requests, but with the complicated cases that could help you really shine and, if handled correctly, gain you a customer for life.

The above list covers only a few of the options you have to direct your customer service. You can also think about omnichannel support, which offers the same type of support and resolution no matter the platform, including lots of self help options for the customer to arrange things themselves. For example, prioritizing focus on empathy and understanding (very important!) and so on.

No matter which features you choose, you will need to make sure that the customer service department is aware of these priorities and provides the necessary training and software to allow team members to work independently.

Check to make sure customers are happy

So now you have your set up, and your key features and the first contact queries are coming in. How will you know if your program is doing what you intend and creating happy customers?

The easiest way to get feedback on this is by asking your customers! This can be done through one of the many feedback survey options, such as Yotpo, SurveyMonkey or Trustpilot. There are also many CRM systems that include a customer feedback option. Finally, you can request feedback through social media channels, or by personally contacting a selection of customers to ask them about their experience.

Survey results will make it easier for you to make real time adjustments, either by changing your focus or further training agents.

A happy customer will share their positive experience with others roughly seven times, but an unhappy customer will share their negative experience with others about 15 times. This is something to definitely keep in mind, as unhappy customers, especially on social media, can do major damage to your brand (and therefore your sales etc).

You can prevent unhappy customer experiences by checking in on customer satisfaction and investing in improving your customer service program, based on the feedback.  

Why should new companies invest in a customer experience program?

A great customer experience program is a key tool when launching a new brand.

The first three years are crucial for a new company. Investing in the right people and tools from the get-go to build out your customer service program will not only help you retain customers. It will, in time, help you gain customers. Your customer service department is definitely a part of your business that is worth investing in!

I help businesses begin and maintain their customer experience programs. If you’d like some help with your program, send an inquiry through my Upwork profile and we can discuss the best options for your needs.

This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the independent freelancer listed as the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
Article Author
Linda V.
Customer Service Manager
Roosendaal, Netherlands
Customer Service

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