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Startups are known for creative thinking, trying new things, doing things differently. Yet they often fall prey to a fundamental mistake: forgetting to serve the customer. It’s not easy to launch a product, manage everything from IT to accounting, fend off the competition, and grow a customer base — all at the same time — so it’s hardly surprising that half of small businesses fail within the first five years. At, we work with many fast-growing startups, so we’ve learned a lot about the journey. Here are six ways some of those amazing companies are using customer support to ‘think different’ and beat the competition.

1. Make every employee an agent

Startups have no time for specialized roles. Every employee — from the CEO to the receptionist — must be part of your support team. When everyone spends time on the frontlines, it’s easier to stay aligned around customers and maintain service levels when things get busy. (And nothing helps you understand the ins-and-outs of a product like answering service calls.) Just look at Charitybuzz, which brings together celebrities and top brands for auctions supporting nonprofits. “Every interaction that we have with celebrities, charities, bidders, and auction winners needs to be amazing,” says Dwayne David, a Charitybuzz Customer Service Manager. So while the company has an official concierge team of three, everyone jumps in to help during the busy times.

2. Offer wicked-fast response times

Customer service has come a long way since the old days, when you had to call a company between 9-5 Eastern Standard Time to get help. Most companies today offer a knowledge base or basic self-service so customers can find answers 24/7, but of course, sometimes customers still need to reach a living, breathing person. Get a customer service solution that’s easy to use and optimized for mobile so you have consistently fast response times. HotelTonight offers last-minute hotel reservations for busy travelers who crave efficiency; a response time of < 10 minutes (incredible!) has been a key driver of the company’s explosive growth.

3. Add personality

No matter the size of your outfit, everyone wants to know that they’re heard — by an actual person, not a machine. So can the canned responses in favor of something different. Support has become an excellent way of creating a closer connection to your customers and showcasing your unique brand and personality. How? Just look at Susty Party, which makes compostable tableware and party supplies; the company uses its unique personality to make sure every customer feels like a VIPP (very important party person). Thanks in large part to this stellar approach to customer support, “Sales at Susty Party have tripled each year,” says Hailey Hayman, Susty Party’s Community Manager.

4. Make time

Companies often evaluate agents based on what percentage of cases they can close after the first email or phone call — and how quickly they can close them. Sure, that efficiency is great — but it also leaves a big opportunity on the table to impress your customers with deliberate, personal service. So consider encouraging your agents to spend more time with customers to ensure they feel valued. One Kings Lane — an ecommerce company for home decor with 10 million members — urges agents to take their time. “We want our agents to talk to customers as long and as often as it takes to make them happy,” says Alexis Chapman, Director, Customer Operations at One Kings Lane. The company doesn’t care if an agent stays on the phone for three hours… as long as the customer is thrilled at the end. Thanks to this royal treatment, satisfaction is through the roof.

5. Know your audience

Many startups spend a lot of time and money building products that ultimately customers don’t want. (Remember Clear Pepsi?) You can think different by using your customer support team as a channel for product innovation and customer feedback. Just look at meal delivery service Munchery. The company used its customer support app to track customer orders and preferences, as well as company mentions on social media. This helped Munchery spot and react to regional taste trends. Munchery’s Conrad Chu says, “In San Francisco, everybody loves kale, whereas in Seattle, there’s a real affinity for Italian food.” Pretty cool, eh?

6. Don’t be an island

Sharing service interactions, product insights, and support metrics across the company helps build an outstanding customer experience. Music service Spotify relies on customer support applications for everything from collaboration and helping customers to tracking progress against quarterly targets and recognizing individual achievements. 10+ million active users gives Spotify plenty of opportunities to shine via service interactions — and the company has a customized, collaborative solution and 360-degree customer views. “As we’ve become spread out geographically, we can still work as if we’re all still sitting in the same office,” says Jonathan Forster, Spotify’s VP of Sales. When you connect all the apps you use to run your business, you can be more productive in every way.

Use customer service to think different

A happy, loyal customer base can be a secret weapon for new and growing companies. Don’t let yours be one of the ones that doesn’t survive those first five years: Use customer service as your golden ticket for building loyalty, securing product feedback, and managing your brand — then watch your success grow.

head graphicDig deeper! See how companies are thinking differently about customers service with’s SMB Guide.

Leyla Seka is SVP and GM at

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