Dear startup CEO, you need a best friend – CCO.

Before we get started, think about any decent size startup including the darling unicorns of the startup universe who are on the verge of filing their IPOs. Search in Google “that company’s name customer service”. Say for example, “Snapchat customer service”.

Look at all the search results in the first page. What did you find? One of the following?

  1. You end up in that company’s help center / self support page that keeps looping you back in the same help center page or at the maximum leads to an contact us email form.
  2. Company’s users / customers are enquiring on social media to know how to contact the startup’s support and seek help.
  3. you find nothing about how to contact their support when you need help

As always, there might be some exceptions but I bet your search results will match the above in most cases.

Without a doubt – Its the idea, the concept and the actual core product that will determine the success of a startup or for that matter any organization. We are not debating that here. But, we are discussing a missed opportunity that can give a unique competitive edge to any startup compared to competition in the early days of an organization’s journey or even after your successful IPO and become an integral part of the marketplace.

By now you should have figured out what I am talking about here. The missed opportunity in terms of talking to and serving as many users / customers as possible of your product. Building the trust of your users as your product builds its reputation in the market. Every live interaction with your customer base is an opportunity to build your brand and trust.

Even some of the most successful startup companies in the world including, Facebook, Twitter etc. completely missed out on the customer service aspect of business when they started which is required for long term success. As you can see from their recent press releases and hiring patterns, these companies are now reactively trying to build their customer centric mindset integrated in to their culture by rapidly building their customer service organization internally. In case of FB & TWTR it might not be too late. They have built a great product, have grown significantly but their long term success lies equally on how they build their customer support infrastructure as much as building new revenue streams.

A couple of months back, I was talking to a senior executive of one of the largest PC manufacturer in the world. She said that her 2014-16 goal is to get rid of as many customer service calls as possible and direct all that volume to self-support help centers and if the customers still need help, use chat as the most preferred medium since it helps reduce cost by 30%-40% from their support cost. While I am obsessed with customer service and sometimes can be biased towards customer service being the most critical piece of an organization, in this case – I understood the context and made sense to me as to why she was doing that. Computing industry has matured over the years and these companies have a totally different challenge in terms of reducing their warranty cost per revenue dollar which is determining their survival. Agreed that all companies are focused on cost optimization but the computer manufactures are in a different phase of the industry’s life cycle all together. But still, customer service is going to be a make or break aspect for them as well and as long as she is able to do the balancing act, good for her and the brand.

On the other hand, It is unfortunate that some of the industries have completely missed out on the fact that customer service can be a competitive advantage. For example, cloud storage companies. Their so much of competition going on with Box, Dropbox, iCloud etc to capture the market share in both consumer as well as commercial space and these folks are trying to figure out their unique offering in terms of free additional storage, add on features of collaboration etc. but it seems (as an outsider) that none of these companies realize how customer service can build that uniqueness and loyalty in the market place which can give these folks the competitive edge that the are longing for.

Its the same foundation that Zappos and Amazon have build their organizational culture on. Get obsessed with your customer and use every single opportunity to talk to your customers to build the loyalty, brand & trust.

The startup CEOs are world class engineers and are great business leaders as well but I don’t get a feeling that customer service and the competitiveness it brings to their organization is a part pf their day to day conversations. User experience within the product is a key topic for all of these startups and millions are spent in ensuring a great user experience inside the product but very little is spoken or said about what happens when a user needs help and wants to talk to the organization. And my personal opinion is because of the start CEOs mindset in terms of “Build the best product and you don’t support” which is a conventional thought. “Build the best product and a customer centric support system” is the mantra to success.

With the startup CEO’s and his/her coder army focused on building their product uniqueness and offerings, every startup CEO needs a chief customer officer (CCO) who can ensure that serving the customers and establishing a best in class support ecosystem is integrated in to the overall organization’s strategy right from day 1 and customer centricity is ingrained in the organization’s culture. One can argue that a chief operating officer can dual hat. Maybe so. But the focus CCO will bring in to customer centricity aspect is invaluable while the COO has multiple hats to wear and worry about.

These startups are SUPER FOCUSED on employee engagement and employee centricity and thats how they have been able to attract some of the smartest talent in the industry. It’s the people operations teams in these startups with laser focus on every aspect of employee’s well being that has made these startups a dream workplace for everyone around the world. It’s the same logic for customer service and support as well.

Lastly, lets end this where we started. Earlier you Googled “Startup company name customer service”. Now Google for “Zappos customer service”. Review all the search results in the first page. What did you find? Why? THINK!

About the Author: For more information, contact Balakarthik Venkataramanan at LinkedIn Profile:

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