This article was originally published in Entrepreneur.
There’s a certain speed and audacity required to truly remake whole industries with an idea and some code. Too often ignored, however, is what that speed-for-speed’s-sake attitude does to the most important person in any business: the customer. And while Facebook, a.k.a. Meta, had world-shaking success, there have been many more startups that have flamed out because they didn’t land their products or services just right with their customers.
Take a budding streaming service, for example. At the outset, the mantra is going to be simple: Get as many signups as possible, as fast as possible. After all, little can be accomplished — including the next round of venture capital fundraising — without a growing base of revenue.
What happens, however, when those customers start asking questions? When those customers have more service or billing issues than you could have possibly imagined at the outset? And what happens if you aren’t gathering data on usage patterns and don’t come to grips with exactly which content is driving adoption or cancellations?
Aggressive customer acquisition strategies often mislead management to think they are succeeding when they are actually driving blind at full speed right toward the edge of a cliff. They see a growing customer base and don’t get ahead of the next big problem — how to satisfy and retain those customers and how to know what is working for them and what isn’t — never mind how to offboard them in a way that leaves the door open for them to return, rather than leaving a scathing Yelp review or tweet that’ll scare off the next 1,000 potential customers.
To be sure, there are huge advantages in moving fast. Market share and the compounding network effects that come from it are essential for any company looking to get big fast and stay at the top. Put simply: Growth is necessary, but insufficient.
Can your tech stack meet the challenge?
Imagine a hypergrowth ecommerce company managing hundreds, then thousands and then tens of thousands, of SKUs. That company might find itself outgrowing its systems in a matter of months. It might start in a small office with Google Docs, Basecamp, Slack chats … who knows? Customer service people need to ask questions of logistics teams who need to speak with the warehouse. Customer service reps need to watch delivery service tracking numbers. They set up ad hoc systems to track conversations about certain SKUs, but those conversations aren’t in any database where there can be a structured analysis. They may need to migrate (quickly) to a CRM platform that is built for scale (or scales as their business scales), establish custom databases and more.
Let’s say there’s a certain set of dishes — one SKU among those tens of thousands — that always arrive broken. Without visibility to spot trends, no one will be able to track that back to the warehouse and a problem with the packaging. Or there may be certain items that, when sold, always lead to repeat purchases. A company that misses that will miss a big opportunity to build on success. They could promote sales of that product that tends to delight customers, leading to goodwill and repeat purchases.
Understanding that customer journey while your company is in the midst of hypergrowth (as complicated as it is), in some ways, is the easy part. Having a tech stack ready to be deployed at each stage and that can grow with your business is where things get intense.
This is true of established companies, too. I was once witness to a massive ecommerce company that asked its reps to navigate as many as 12 different business applications to answer the simplest possible customer question: Where’s my package? These apps may grow along with your business but can’t be expected to produce solid customer or employee experiences. And wouldn’t it be far better if customers were able to get the answer to that question themselves via a single click from an email, app or website?
Press 4 to speak with a bot
There are times when those customers are going to want nothing more than the simplest digital solution. Even more important: They don’t want to talk to a human, they want their question answered as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Then there are other moments when a chatbot just won’t do. A highly sensitive issue, for example, like an insurance claim, will require that blend of expertise and empathy best offered by humans.
It isn’t just having a full suite of tech available. It’s having the right tech at the right time that’s so difficult. Yet the payoff is worth it. After all, how do the hypergrowth companies of yesterday that are today’s established winners stay on top? They leverage the massive amounts of data and information coming to them from their customers to their greatest possible advantage. This approach can enable a company to know what the customer needs long before the customer knows it themselves. This amounts to the crucial move from reactive to proactive customer experience. And I would argue that those companies ended up on top because they were doing it all along.
Empathy can be templatized
Leveraging data to create proactive responses is one of the big opportunities of viewing hypergrowth through the prism of the customer journey. That is the promise of artificial intelligence that is already being realized in many customer service applications. But that presupposes a company actually has a plan for collecting — let alone leveraging — that data with machine learning and algorithms.
In this new world of AI, solid tech support without an AI-powered knowledge management system working in the background can mean the difference between success and failure. Imagine it taking four weeks to train an associate versus one. It can also mean the difference between thousands of customers who’ve had their questions answered quickly and competently versus a frustrating experience that takes multiple stars off any review.
Believe it or not, empathy can be templatized and served up by AI. If you provide proposed empathetic responses for your customer services team, it will make it much easier for them to manage the thorniest customer interactions.