What Startups Teach Us about Improving the Customer Experience

As an academic, I have studied, taught, invented and evaluated customer experiences for almost 20 years. I have had the privilege and pleasure of diving deeply into research projects and employing a rigorous scientific method for understanding what makes technology experiences successful, usable, appealing, learnable, and enjoyable. But an academic research lens, while essential for peering into fundamental truths, can also miss important lessons from lived experience. Startups are nothing if not crucibles of lived experience, and in desperately trying to gain customer traction, startups teach us three essential lessons about what’s crucial for crafting great customer experiences.

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Lesson 1: Process is as important as product.

Startups necessarily focus on creating a great product, and there’s no question they need to nail their product-customer fit to survive. But it is just as important to realize, and is often overlooked, that when consumers or businesses adopt a new product, their processes of doing something inevitably change. These may be their processes for how they manage emails, share files, organize documents, track issues, configure systems, build websites, find vacation rentals, send cash, or a million other things. (We can all name a startup that does one of these things.)

While it is customary to focus on the products that enable these capabilities, it is just as important to focus on the process-changes that consumers or businesses undergo when adopting our solutions. Great products can fail if the processes they require for successful adoption are too far removed from the processes customers are willing to endure. How to know? Understand your customers’ current processes inside and out, where those processes are moveable and where they are not, and what the current pressures on those processes are. Design your product with not just its features in mind, but fully aware of the process-changes required to adopt your product successfully.

Key takeaway: New products mean new processes. The customer experience of your product is actually an experience of a new process. Understand current processes and the process-changes that adopting your product will require.

Lesson 2: Customers know their needs, but not necessarily how to best meet them.

Customers generally know the needs they experience, but they do not necessarily know how to best meet those needs. They have a hard time envisioning things they have not seen. They do not know or share your vision for where your product, or your business, should go. In a startup, you will continually hear feedback from customers requesting specific changes to your product. Only sometimes should you take it. But every time, you should find out why they’re asking for it, and then consider how to meet customers' needs the best way you can.

Key takeaway: Customers are not designers. You cannot expect them to create your product for you. But listen carefully to them reflect upon the needs that trying your product raises.

Lesson 3: When it comes to customer experience, “show” is better than “tell.”

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Every startup needs to draw the attention of its target customers. Most startups resort to a variety of marketing and sales techniques that tell customers about the benefits their product brings. But great experiences are rarely built upon being told about things. Instead, vivid, visceral, vital experiences can only be had by seeing something firsthand. In other words, show is much more powerful than tell. When kids in school get excited about Show ’n Tell, you can bet they are most excited about the “Show” part. Find ways to give your customers direct experiences by showing them your product rather than just telling them about it.

Key takeaway: Showing your product creates more powerful experiences for your potential customers than just telling them about it. Go the extra mile to “show” instead of “tell.”

How AnswerDash lives these lessons

At AnswerDash, we have capitalized on these three lessons to provide the best customer experience possible. (1) We have poured a great deal of time into understanding our customers’ processes for providing customer support to their website visitors. (2) We focus on our customers’ needs, stated and unstated. (3) And we build specific technologies to show our customers the value we provide, not just tell them about it. Taken together, these practices help explain why AnswerDash’s customer experience is more than academic, it’s lived.