How Fast-Growing Startups Can Scale Customer Service

Inadequate customer service can spell disaster for a budding business, so start fixing it today.

Written by Marlo Gudauskas
Published on Dec. 01, 2023
How Fast-Growing Startups Can Scale Customer Service
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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For startups, every customer matters and each can mean the difference between survival and failure. In fact, recent research from Zendesk shows that more than half of customers will switch to a competitor after only one bad experience. Startups simply cannot afford to risk a high churn rate due to poor customer service.

3 Steps for Better Customer Service

  1. Create an effective information-gathering system.
  2. Get buy-in from key teams.
  3. Make sure communication is clear and concise.

When I took the helm of customer service at Highnote, a fintech startup on the fast track, our growth was exciting and also challenging. Each new customer added fresh demands, and the playbook for impeccable service was yet to be written.

Two years later, my team has aligned customer service with our startup’s rapid growth. We’ve slashed issue resolution time from an average of 16.5 hours last year to just 1.1 hours in 2023 and are maintaining top-notch customer reviews. Here are the three steps we took to achieve this goal. 

more happy customersWant to Serve Your Customers Better? Give ‘Em a Nudge.


Create an Effective Information-Gathering System

The first and probably most important strategy for nailing fast-growth startup customer service is thinking carefully about the information-gathering process.

Startups often are building the plane as they’re flying it, meaning careful documentation and effective communication systems aren’t always in place right from the start. This can be especially challenging for. customer service representatives, who rarely initially possess all the information they need to resolve a customer issue. Typically, they’re either trying to get that info from somewhere or someone. But if they don’t know where to look or whom to ask, they can’t get very far.

To address this, we streamlined communication, documenting learnings from issue resolutions and storing them in easily accessible places. We created a protocol for record-keeping and file storage, ensuring shared knowledge was easily accessible. Establishing a central DM channel for all service-related questions and implementing an on-call rotation with the engineering team eliminated the dead time that would sometimes happen between us posing a question and receiving our answer.

This is how it looked for us. It might look slightly different for your organization. Think of the points of information your customer service team needs to access the most often. Think about ways to better organize and document that information. Then, make sure there is a clear process for your team to go to outside sources or team members to access information if they don’t already have it.


Get Buy-In From Key Teams

Often, customer service can be seen as an afterthought to a team’s core duties, especially at startups where dozens of priorities need to be tackled at once. As our platform scaled, Highnote had a couple of instances of this. But to get ourselves to avoid it, we made it our mission to get the people critical to getting our job done on our side. For an engineering-heavy organization like ours, that meant getting our engineers to see and support our customer-obsessed mission as an extension of their own.

Again, for your organization, this might look slightly different. Maybe you interface more with writers or finance teams or direct consumers. But the principle still remains the same. A customer issue is almost never solved by the customer service representative alone. Figure out what other people or groups you rely on to resolve challenges customers face, and then get them to see the that work supporting the customer service team is indistinguishable from the work they do for their own team.

There are a few ways this can be done. First, get leadership to rally around customer service. If your C-suite isn’t already convinced of the value of customer service, show them data like this that demonstrates just how vital customer service is to a brand’s overall perception. 

Our product managers and engineers spend a lot of time shadowing our team and reviewing tickets, which helps to see customers’ pain points firsthand.

Then, have a conversation about how their sponsorship and championship of the customer service team’s mission is required for the broader company-wide adoption of a culture of customer service. For us, our leadership team was brought in from the start, so when we approached them about the idea of designating an on-call engineer for customer service inquiries, their first response was, “What support do you need from us?”

Another helpful approach? Invite teams that directly affect the work of customer service teams to take some time to see that work being done firsthand. Have them walk through the process of completing the task themself, or at least a simulation of it. Point out the areas where there might be gaps in what’s being delivered and make a plan together to address how you’ll fill in those gaps. Our product managers and engineers spend a lot of time shadowing our team and reviewing tickets, which helps to see the customer’s pain points firsthand.

this helps tons5 Steps to a Better Customer Feedback Loop


Communicate Clearly

The final area that was hindering our issue resolution times? We didn’t use communication strategically. What do I mean by that? Our communications did not have the highest impact they could have.

There were two major examples of this. My team, in an effort to be thorough and precise, would often write long descriptions of customer issues, often burying the lede or the question midway through the issue description. Our engineers would often struggle to pick their way through the chunks of text, and misunderstandings often arose between our two groups.

The second challenge is that customer service team members, not wishing to overwhelm our engineers, would often receive overly technical and unclear answers to questions they had. They would come away from interactions with murky ideas of what to do but would hesitate to ask follow-up clarifying questions.

Our first rule now when writing customer issue descriptions is this: If the word can be dropped and the sentence still makes sense, then drop it.

For both of these problems, not prioritizing clear communication was hampering our efforts. To resolve the first issue, I worked with my customer service teammates to establish a new writing framework in their minds. Our first rule now when writing customer issue descriptions is this: If the word can be dropped and the sentence still makes sense, drop it.

To fix the second issue, I worked with my team to get them to see the importance of their own work and how asking clarifying questions and potentially annoying someone internally was far better than getting something wrong and annoying someone externally.

Customer service is a tough job. At a high-growth startup, it’s tougher still. But following some key best practices that empower your team helps create an experience that can elevate your brand beyond the competition. After all, as the saying goes, nobody remembers what you did, but they always remember how you made them feel. As customer service managers, our mission is to own how our customers feel, and by adapting these concepts to your organization, you can do just that.

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