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Why CS is Critical in the Startup Phase

Early in the startup phase of a new business, you’re likely in the weeds of developing a great product, researching the market, securing investors, and hustling to make a sale. But during this critical phase, don’t forget about one of the most important strategic areas: customer success.

CS is critical to your success as a startup and sets the tone for scalable growth. Don’t wait until you have a large staff and more resources. Add CS structure early in the startup phase to boost your competitive advantage and growth potential.

Do More With Less With Strong Startup CS

The startup phase is between an idea and an actual product. In this phase, it’s critical to use all of your resources to build an effective product and viable business. You may not have a full customer experience program or Voice of the Customer (VOC) system in the early stages. But you can have customer success, which is a powerful tool for gaining customers and getting helpful insights.

By building relationships through CS efforts, you’ll be able to see your product in action and get insights from customers into what works well and what can be improved. Be loud in pushing what customers are saying to the Product team. That feedback is invaluable to building a lasting product and company.

CS also helps earn business. Customers know that purchasing from a startup comes with risks as the company finetunes its product and adjusts to the market. But delivering high-quality service that adds value helps startups overcome much of that risk to create a competitive advantage and secure new customers. Companies like Podium, AtlasRTX, and Qualtrics leveraged their CS focus to grow into industry powerhouses.

Starting your company with a CS focus sets the tone for putting customers first. Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than the competition. A dedicated CS strategy from the start creates a proactive culture and can build your company’s reputation and brand promise.

Building Your Initial CS Strategy

There isn’t one correct CS structure for startups because there are many variations of startup operations. But no matter how your CS efforts are organized, hiring the right people who can grow with you, be flexible with a fast-paced startup culture, and are willing to wear several hats during the early days is an absolute must.

Too often, startups hire for CS and tuck the team away in a corner. They see them as support and not as a strategic hive. Founders need to stay close to CS and understand the strategy of what a best-of-class CS organization can and should deliver. After all, churn is a company-wide metric, not just a CS metric, so it’s critical that leadership understands each stage of the customer journey and each business unit that impacts customer success. Every department and employee, especially in the startup stage, has a role to play in serving customers and helping them reach full value. That mindset starts with leaders and needs to permeate the entire company.

To structure your CS team, you need to understand how long it takes customers to reach first value. For a company with a short onboarding or implementation period that gets customers to first value within a few days, the CS team will likely need to be larger to move customers quickly through the condensed implementation process. But for a company with a longer time to first value, the CS team can likely be smaller because more steps are involved in the initial processes that may not require as much intensive hands-on work.

Flexibility in CS employee roles can also be beneficial as the company grows. In startup culture, employees expect to wear many hats and change responsibilities. This is especially true with CS efforts. As with everything in a startup, flexibility and agility are essential. But never forget that you hired people with specific skill sets; the changes you make should align with those skill sets and the product as it is today.

Scaling your CS Strategy

Prioritizing CS in the startup phase allows you to build best practices into the foundation of your company. Instead of piece-mailing customer service to your first customers, a strategic CS focus allows you to create solutions that can scale with the company so you don’t have to rebuild processes later on.

The most crucial aspect of customer success is implementation. If you don’t win at implementation, you don’t keep customers. There’s no point in creating a strong adoption or renewal effort if the implementation isn’t effective. But when you nail implementation, you can easily scale the process. Start your efforts in the first stage with simple but effective action steps. Focus on what brings value to the customer and the essentials they must know from the beginning. A simple but potent implementation puts customers on the path to adoption, engagement, and first-year renewal and becoming loyal, long-term customers. Remember, time isn’t everything, and quality is always the most important aspect of delivery. You have to find a way to move fast but keep quality top of mind.

Just like a startup, CS is constantly changing and evolving. Your first version of onboarding or customer journey mapping may require multiple iterations before you land on something that connects with employees and customers. Who you are as a company and what your product is in those early days may change often, in fact it should. But always remember it should change in a strategic, methodical way. Too many changes too quickly will cause chaos in your organization and your customer relationships.

What matters most is a customer-focused mindset that prioritizes CS and makes it a hallmark of your company as a startup and as you grow. Bring your customers to the conversation, get their feedback, and always share not just where you are but where you are going.

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Greg Lloyd

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