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Three Customer-Experience Lessons Most Startups Overlook

Great concepts aren’t worth much if you don’t build an exceptional experience around them.

Three Customer-Experience Lessons Most Startups Overlook
[Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images]

Entrepreneurs often hear about successful startups and breakthrough products and think, “Ugh, why didn’t I think of that?”

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If that’s you, let yourself off the hook a little. Your own business won’t succeed simply because it’s got a good idea. Great concepts aren’t worth much if you can’t build an exceptional experience around them. In fact, a great customer experience is at the core of every successful business, and it’s especially critical for new businesses that don’t have the brand recognition or resources of the competitors they’re looking to go head to head with.

The best products and services on the market today share a few key ingredients of great customer experiences: They’re accessible from anywhere at any time, give real-time feedback, and offer frictionless payment. Any entrepreneur who internalizes these lessons maximizes their company’s chance for success in the long run.

Lesson 1: You’re Always Your First Customer

“I mostly built stuff that I liked,” Mark Zuckerberg told The Washington Post when he was asked how he developed Facebook. It should go without saying, but entrepreneurs can get so focused on making the deal that they develop products they’re more interested in selling than they are in actually buying themselves.

On the flip side, of course, not every product you want as a consumer will be successful, and that’s where market research comes in. Personally, I’ve always wanted to buy spices packaged by the teaspoon or tablespoon, but there might not be a market need that can viably support such an idea. Building a company around a product you want to buy, backed by market research, is the first step towards identifying and understanding your target customers.

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Lesson 2: Bring Customers On Board, Then Keep Them There

As a startup grows, it needs to continue to deliver the same level of personalized attention to customers as it did from day one. One company that epitomizes this is Surf Air. Its mission is to solve the traditional hassles of flying—delays, poor customer communication, inconvenient flight times—by offering unlimited private flights within California for a flat monthly fee. No lines or hidden fees, just a first-rate, super-convenient experience.

Surf Air’s membership base has more than doubled in the past year alone–impressive growth for a company that had its first flight only two years ago. But as it’s grown, Surf Air hasn’t lost its focus on customers. For example, in 2014, the company responded to users’ requests, and offered round-trip flights to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The promotion was such a success that Surf Air is planning to run more limited-time routes for special events. Once you’ve established a customer base, your company needs to listen–and respond–to its feedback continuously.

Lesson 3: Keep It Personal

Continuous (but not overwhelming), personalized engagement is the foundation for a great customer experience. Yet for startups with limited resources, it can be difficult to maintain that kind of outreach. Customer relationship management (CRM) technology is all the more crucial as a result. Take Belly, for instance, a loyalty rewards program with more than 12,000 participating businesses. Companies that use Belly can launch brand-specific rewards programs allowing customers to earn points for purchases. Users can then redeem them for something they want, whether that’s a discount on a product, or something a little zanier, like having a local deli name their favorite sandwich after them for a week.

Every business is unique and has different needs, but a great customer experience is essential for all startups. If you put the customer at the center of everything you do, you’ll be better prepared to change and adapt to their needs over the long term.

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Sara Varni leads marketing for Sales Cloud at Salesforce. Her nine years at Salesforce have provided her with the experience to become an instrumental guide for fast-growing companies.