Article | 13 min read

Founders are leaning in to service when launching customer-focused startups

Customer feedback is key to launching a customer-focused startup – but with data all over the place, where should you begin?

By Mark Smith, Staff Writer

Last updated January 3, 2022

You’ve spent hours upon hours coding in your apartment, in cafes, even while riding public transit. Now comes the nerve-wracking part: your first customers are about to take your product for a spin. You know that you need a customer service team, but you’ve never built one before. Where do you begin?

For founders of startups, passion for the product comes naturally, but customer service? Not so much. So while it’s easy to obsess over every product feature, startup founders need to prioritize building relationships with their customers from day one.

That said, cultivating a relationship with customers isn’t always top of mind for founders. Customer relationship technology is fast-changing – there’s a ton of thought, planning, and strategy that goes into the best customer experience. Hardest of all is making the commitment to listening to your customers. “Your product doesn’t yell at you. Your product is like a pet, mostly obedient and never complaining. Your customers are like your partner, though. They have expectations and feedback because you’re in a real relationship that may not always be easy,” says Mikkel Svane, Zendesk CEO. “You have to be vulnerable with your customers.”

This is tough. In the earliest stages of your startup, you will have fewer resources and processes in place. Customer support is an all-hands-on-deck affair for your team, and everyone in the organization, no matter how small, will probably find themselves pitching in. All of that being said, you don’t have to go about it alone. For founders and small startups, there already exists a plethora of intuitive tech to help you get started at growing a customer-focused company. Don’t get scared off by software trials and integrations – it’s easier than you think. Here are four crucial steps for laying the groundwork for your future customer service team.

“Your product doesn’t yell at you. Your product is like a pet, mostly obedient and never complaining. Your customers are like your partner, though. They have expectations and feedback.”
Mikkel Svane

1. Talk to every customer

As the face of the company, the founder should be personally available to early customers. Give customers your email address and respond in a timely fashion. Model this behavior in front of your team, however small or large.

Customer focus: Which questions should I ask?

There’s no single question that best serves all companies. SurveyMonkey, however, identified five categories of questions, including:

  • What can my company do to better serve your needs?
  • How satisfied are you with our products/services?
  • What value do we provide?
  • What are your biggest challenges?

For founders and startups, these questions might even be more granular: How do customers like the branding? How is our pricing, packaging, and our customer support? How would you rate the support you received?

2. Learn what makes customers happy—and what makes them angry

Take in customer feedback anywhere it comes – whether that’s social media, your inbox, or a punchy slack message. Your customers will have a lot to teach you. Dig into the details to find meaningful insights, and don’t ignore them because they tell a story you don’t want to hear, or because they’re hard. In building our a relationship with your customers, it’s also important to know which questions to ask.

Customer focus: When should I ask questions?

The best time to gather customer feedback is always – with a bit of strategy. Popping into your customers’ inbox on weekends, out of regular business hours, and apropos of nothing, is a bad idea if you want your questions to be impactful.

  • When reaching out individually: Early on, founders being accessible to their customers on a personal basis can help build trust and brand identity. To maintain this ongoing customer relationship, listen to what creates value for your customer. As Jerry Jao says in Inc, “most brand communications are based on broad assumptions instead of actual consumer behavior.” By treating customers like human beings – and by acting like a human – the act of reaching out with questions directly impacts your product health.
  • When sending customer surveys: Maximizing survey response rate involves being mindful of time. Some of our own data suggests surveys get high responses when they’re not lost among other work emails. “The prime time to send a survey would be Mondays at 4:00 AM when there’s little opportunity for the email to go unnoticed.”
  • When measuring CSAT (customer satisfaction): Predicting customer statisfaction helps prevent churn. If you’re managing customer conversations with software, you can often automatically send CSAT surveys 24 hours after closing a ticket. CSAT can also be garnered from web pages, in knowledge base articles, or in conversations on messaging channels.
  • When creating a Slack community: Many startups leverage tools like Slack and Discord to create customer communities. Slack is free to use, with different plans and pricing depending on your goals and the size of your organization. In the last decade, Slack has become emblematic of a certain type of company, according to the Atlantic. It encourages free expression, makes it possible to carry out work remotely, and stores its asynchronous threaded conversations so nothing gets lost. It’s a fantastic tool for relationship building in and outside the walls of your startup, and it can grow as much as you do.

3. Amplify the voice of your users

Voice of Customer best practices aren’t just for giant enterprise companies. Keeping the voice of your customer at the center of your organization is crucial in building up a customer-centric startup. For example, using CRM (customer relationship management) software like Zendesk for startups, which allows you to capture, triage, and iterate on customer data with live dashboards, shared inboxes, and heaps of industry-specific integrations, is a great way to start. Consider building a dedicated channel in Slack that broadcasts customer issues to all employees—it’s a great way to get product managers, engineers, and other employees directly involved in the support process while creating a community conversation involving your customers.

Customer focus: How to analyze feedback?

Customer feedback analysis for startups starts when any information is tracked and organized. There are numerous tools that startups can leverage to analyze customer data, including Google Analytics tracking on web pages to get insights from traffic, ads, and bounce rates. Startups using a CRM will have insight into customer conversations and tickets in real-time, visual dashboards, which can tell you a lot about the state of your business. These insights can relay information about the customer journey, support and satisfaction, and churn metrics.

It’s advisable to use some kind of visual dashboard or software to track and analyze customer feedback as opposed to keeping everything in spreadsheets. Messy spreadsheets make it harder than necessary to view and understand your customer data. There are many affordable – or free – customer relationship management tools available to startups. Most of which will save you time when looking at customer feedback while also integrating into your other business systems.

4. Base product iterations on customer feedback

When developing your product roadmap (and later, when you’re hashing out the product requirements), be sure to incorporate user feedback. Analyze how they’re using your product and embrace agile development so you can shift direction quickly without losing large amounts of development time.

No startup wants to cater to every customer’s whim, but by creating a customer-obsessed culture early on, you can be sure you’re developing in the right direction. “Startups need to think about support as a core company concept early on… One mistake that I’ve seen too often is that startups start thinking of support as an afterthought. One of your first hires should be on the support team,” says Jason Katz, a member support senior manager at Peloton.

“Startups need to think about support as a core concept early on… One of your first hires should be on the support team.”
Jason Katz, Peloton

The feedback is bad. What now?

It’s okay; put that feedback to use. Here’s how:

  • Follow up with users who give you a negative rating or review. This is a great way to build trust with customers and retain their business.
  • Analyze bad ratings or comments. Don’t overlook them in favor of the glowing reviews. Customers who are unhappy with your product or service are giving you actionable information—for free.
  • Meet every week to discuss customer satisfaction outcomes. Set aside time for the team to analyze and review the negative feedback together and brainstorm ways to remedy the underlying causes.
  • Group negative comments by cause—and look for trends. This will help you identify problem areas with your product, and also with your early support efforts or documentation.

So why is being vulnerable with your customers vital to your startup’s future? Simply because those conversations—as awkward and painful as some of them will be—generate invaluable feedback that will help you build a product that truly serves your customers’ needs.

FAQs and additional resources: Customer feedback for startups & founders

How do I get customer feedback for my startup?

Here are four ways startups can collect customer feedback:

1. Surveys
Data is power. Sending out surveys early on is a great way to understand your customer base. According to SurveyMonkey, surveys allow startups to get insights and validation from their earliest customers. Then, as your startup scales, they suggest, “Continually [tracking] customer sentiment so you can see trends over time and benchmark against past performance.” By building data-driven best practices into your startup (and creating good habits around collecting customer feedback), you will set your business up for success in the long run. Surveys can be sent via a number of channels: Messaging, email, or even Slack. Here’s how to leverage SurveyMonkey in Zendesk with a simple integration.

2. Social listening
Even when they’re not engaging directly with your brand, customers have a lot to say. Social listening, or social media measurement, is the practice of monitoring, analyzing, and collecting data from comments, conversations, and content on social media. According to Sprout, “listening is about understanding the big picture.” This is extremely valuable for startups so they can get a sense of the landscape around their brand, but also around their competition and bigger brands. The goal of social listening is to gain insights into your consumer base and their perceptions of your business. To do so, you’ll want to track data points like mentions of your brand, your product, and your competition. These insights can also be plugged into your helpdesk with an out-of-the-box integration to collect this valuable, but indirect customer feedback.

3. Solicit feedback
Besides sending surveys in emails, startups can solicit customer feedback by creating a space for their customers to sound off. This could be a custom-built community forum, or even a Slack community. Proactive customer engagement can act as a predecessor to building out a fully-functioning Voice of Customer (VoC) program, but it’s just as important early on to build a rapport with customers and understand their needs. By gathering feedback from different sources and actively engaging with customer feedback, startups can stay vigilant in preventing customer churn.

4. Stay on top of customer conversations
Don’t understand the value of messaging. With Meta’s Messenger API and business tools, startups can harness the power of Facebook to offer convenient and secure customer support while staying on top of the data in their customer conversations. Like social listening, staying on top of what your customers are saying in your DMs is an excellent way to collect customer feedback. It doesn’t have to be complicated, either. If your startup is using a helpdesk tool like Zendesk to manage customer interactions, all of your DMs can be viewed alongside your emails and other channels. From there, conversations can be analyzed and data can be pulled into dashboards to better understand your customer base.

What are examples of customer feedback?

Startups can leverage numerous forms of customer feedback, including but not limited to:

  • Forms
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Surveys
  • Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS®)
  • Ratings in Help Center articles
  • Customer reviews
  • Social media comments
  • Messaging and DMs
  • Support ticket spikes
  • Returns

The potential to collect customer feedback exists anywhere your customer is. For businesses of any size, check out these best practices for collecting customer feedback.

How can I get feedback from my customers?

Focus on three kinds of feedback: Given, requested, and observed feedback. Given feedback, when customer reach out unprompted, tend to come in the form of support tickets or conversations. Leveraging customer service technology, even for small startups, can help you make sense of the data. Requested feedback, like surveys or customer interviews, provides insight into your product that you may not have known had you not asked. Observed feedback comes from watching how your customers use your product or service. One example might be gathering insight into what documentation your customers are reading, and inferring how you can better support them by building out a knowledge base.

What is the best survey tool for customer feedback?

95 percent of customers are open to receiving some kind of survey. SurveyMonkey’s free templates are a great way to engage customers. When sending surveys to customers, best practices could include keeping surveys short, sending fewer than two per month, and capturing survey data for a holistic view of your customers’ experience.

What am I supposed to do with customer feedback?

Customer feedback is a data goldmine, and every startup can benefit from access to more data. Rather than relying on a cacophony of spreadsheets, like the cautionary tale of a company that scaled too quickly at the center of the Amazon documentary LulaRich, there are better ways to manage support data and customer feedback. According to the 2021 report on the state of CX Maturity, one key characteristic of a successful small business is “having visibility into all the service data needed to run the business.” For startups using Zendesk, these key data points can be accessed from their agent workspace in the form of visual dashboards that update in real-time.

What’s the difference between CSAT and customer feedback?

CSAT is a numerical value that acts as a KPI for measuring customer satisfaction. CSAT is measured through customer feedback initiatives, like surveys that follow a support conversation. You might ask the customer to rate their experience out of five to indicate their satisfaction, then look at CSAT scores over time to understand the state of your customer service efforts.

Customer feedback is comprised of more than just CSAT. It involves a holistic approach to customer service data and the customer experience. Feedback can be solicited, like through ratings in knowledge base articles or as a follow-up to customer service conversations, or unsolicited, like via social media comments.

Startups do not usually have a huge customer base from whom they can collect an infinite amount of feedback and data. That’s why it’s important to solicit and collect as much feedback as possible – and to practice good data hygiene by keeping it all in one place.

Zendesk for Startups

Are you a startup looking to level up your CX? Qualified startups can get Zendesk customer support, engagement, and sales CRM tools free for 6 months.

Zendesk for Startups

Are you a startup looking to level up your CX? Qualified startups can get Zendesk customer support, engagement, and sales CRM tools free for 6 months.

Learn more