It’s natural for startups to be laser-focused on product development in their early days, but research shows the sooner you start thinking about your customers and investing in a customer experience (CX) strategy, the better off you’ll be. Why? Because providing customer experience is an integral part of improving your product through feedback, driving retention, and reducing churn, which in turn drive growth. And if you’re not yet in the $1 billion revenue leagues, a five point improvement in your churn rate can still yield up to 30% improvement in revenue in one year.

While there’s no magic formula for startup success, those that come out on top often invest more in their CX strategies than their peers. In Zendesk’s latest Startups CX Benchmark Report 2020, which looked at more than 4,400 startups, there was a clear link between better CX and faster growth. Yet, 70% of startups said they don’t have a formal customer support strategy in place.

Here’s what they’re missing: Continuous engagement with customers creates opportunities for feedback, which then feeds into the product teams who can use that knowledge to create something that best fits the customers’ needs—resulting in greater brand loyalty and trust. While good customer service alone can’t guarantee success, there are a few CX axioms that every startup should heed.

Prioritize CX From the Start

Investing in the right tools to put customers at the center of your business should be near the top of your to-do list—and the sooner the better. According to results from our Benchmark, it’s best to invest in adding formal customer support within the first year and a half of your founding.

Elisa Reggiardo, chief brand officer of Tymeshift, a workforce management solution, makes a strong case for prioritizing customer support early-on.

“I like to say support agents are worth their weight in gold,” Reggiardo said recently on a podcast. “None of [our work] would happen if they weren’t there for our customers.” She continued: “It doesn’t sound super fun, but actually, it is so important for CX teams to have a tool that allows them to have the right person at the right place doing the right thing.”

Additionally, fast-growing startups are more likely to invest in tools that prioritize speed and convenience, for customers and for themselves. These tools include support service on live channels like chat, messaging, and self-service options.

Most fast-growing startups also invest early in APIs, apps, and automation tools to help manage tickets more efficiently. According to the CX practices of fast-growers, on average, you should aim to make your tools work better for you by adding a new app or integration every four to five months and having at least five in place by year two.

Enable Self-Service 

Customers want to help themselves, and technology and automation are increasingly helping customers find what they need. According to Gartner, having relevant and quick self-service solutions increases customer satisfaction by up to 11%. Successful startups often prioritize adding self-service features, like online help centers, sooner than most.

To start, companies should build up a repository of articles in a help center to help customers find what they need faster, with around eight to 10 articles to start based on existing contact reason trends. By committing to adding three new articles each month thereafter, customers can find the details they need on topics from product changes and new releases to how to manage their accounts. Once a robust, regularly accessed help center is in place, artificial intelligence can start powering it to deliver next-level customer experience.

Don’t Overlook Omnichannel

Customers may pick up their smartphones to contact you, but that does not mean they want to talk. With omnichannel support, they can communicate with a company across a number of different channels, including voice, email, chat, SMS, and social messaging. Integrated on the back-end, these offerings allow for a support experience that is consistent and informed. Overlooking omnichannel puts companies at a disadvantage because it means not meeting customers where they feel most comfortable interacting with your brand. To contrast, fast-growing startups were 33% more likely to provide omnichannel support in their first two years.

Taking an omnichannel approach means customers won’t have to repeat themselves each time they reach out, and service agents spend less time getting up to speed. It’s a win-win. When it comes to live channels—like phone and chat—companies should allocate a minimum of 25% of their agents to these channels in the first six months of funding. From our Benchmark research, “unicorns” were 38% more likely to have rolled out chat, and 48% more likely to have phone support than average startups in their first two years.

Putting It Into Practice

Investing early in CX best practices that put your customer at the heart of your business will go a long way in setting you up for sustained growth. The best part? There’s research out there that shows what works, and what doesn’t.

Here’s what does. Creating avenues for better customer service early on will help you build up a reputation as a brand that cares about its customers. Remember to meet your customers where they are, and adopt omnichannel support quickly to improve customer response times and solve issues more efficiently. Finally, don’t lose sight of self-service features like online help centers, which are incredibly helpful in addressing customer concerns. We know the stakes are high, but there are paths to success out there, and hopefully these strategies can help lead the way.

Kristen Durham is a vice president of startups at Zendesk.

CX stock photo by Makyzz/Shutterstock