“Running a startup in today’s competitive world must be difficult, how do you manage?”
If I had a nickel for everytime someone has said something like this to me, I would be swimming in coins, Uncle Scrooge style. It’s an obvious question with an obvious answer, which sadly, skips most startups’ attention.
You win with a solid customer experience.
Think back to every call/chat/email conversation you’ve had with someone from customer service. How many of them do you remember? You won’t be alone if you only remember the ones that went horribly wrong or amazingly good. Let’s focus on the ones that went terrible. How many of those brands and companies are you still purchasing from or associated with? Not many, right?
That’s how the world works. Customers have way too many options, and as the market becomes bigger, the choice-base is only going to get bigger and more diverse. More and more choices will lead to wavering customer loyalty and less scope for customer retention. Why would a customer invest any more time and effort into a company (considering his/her experience is bad) when there are other fish in the ocean.
The Problem that Startups Face
Established companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, etc, understand the need for a good customer experience and have accordingly, mastered the art. Even if a customer has a bad experience using their service, these companies go the extra mile to ensure that it doesn’t drive the customer away.
From freebies to discounts, these companies have the means and resources to do whatever is necessary to turn that frown upside down. Unfortunately, startups don’t have that privilege. Most startups work with budgetary constraints and handling bitter customer experience with freebies and coupons isn’t an option for most.
Likewise, a customer’s expectation from an established enterprise and a startup differs. If I was to have a bad experience using Amazon, I’ll still be likely to return.
And yet, i wouldn’t extend that level of commitment if it was a startup instead. The big company promises credibility, reliability, accountability and perks. Most importantly, there’s a trust factor associated with established companies.
On the contrary, when a customer deals with a startup, he/she expects good service from the get go, with no room for failure. The relative inexperience and lack of credibility that a startup comes with, affect how customers see it. When customers associate with a new brand without any established credibility, even a single bad experience becomes the benchmark with which it is forever associated.
Customer Experience is Key to Growth
I had a very interesting conversation with an employee once which cemented the value of good experience. He was a loyal user of Uber and had been using the app for rides, since its launch in India. In fact, his loyalty is so unwavering that even if there’s a ride issue every once in a while, he continues using Uber.
He attests this to the fact that their service, and customer experience efforts have been impeccable. After years of usage, Uber has cemented itself in his consciousness and fostered a deep-rooted relationship, by delivering excellent service and experience.
Many startups make the mistake of equating branding and marketing as hallmarks of customer acquisition and retention. This idea is partially true. While branding and marketing do pull in customers, it is their interaction with a company that impacts retention.
No amount of branding and marketing can make up for a bad experience. Additionally, the traffic that you get after branding and marketing is mostly comprised of customers who can be best described as fickle-minded. They are like children: Your marketing and ads are a shiny new toy for them to play with until a new and shinier toy is placed in front of them.
Instead, your focus should be on improving customer experience. A stellar experience rewards in more ways than one. Not only does it make customer repeatability more likely, it also builds positive word-of-mouth leading to organic discovery.
If you form a positive brand-impression in a customer’s mind, he/she is likely to recommend your brand in his/ her social circle. This, in turn, will drive newer customers towards your brand who will require lesser incentives to be convinced. After all, they are aware of your company’s good customer service, thus fulfilling the reliability factor.
Companies like Zomato, Swiggy, Myntra, etc are some examples of startups that have internalised this idea into their everyday operation. When these companies develop a new update, upgrade and feature, they first ask the question “how does this impact our customer experience”.
A simple thought differentiates and elevates them from the myriad of other startups operating in India. And consequently, their financial numbers speak for themselves.
At the risk of sounding preachy, let me just wrap up by saying that it’s tough to run a startup. There’s a lot of verticals that need to be handled which is why, customer experience is often pushed back in the list of priorities. But, instead, it’s time to change that approach.
Instead of looking at customer experience as simply another “function”, start integrating the idea of good customer experience into everything. Before you make a decision related to your startup, look at it from the customer’s POV. Start simple and it’ll avalanche into something which is more than the sum of its parts.