How to integrate customer service into 5 key startup business functions

The customer experience can be make or break for getting return clients and turning a profit. Benjamin Salisbury explains how to get it right.

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When launching a new startup an entrepreneur should dedicate time to fully consider the customer experience and the customer journey.

This informs the way the business operates, how it generates unique qualities and builds a distinct brand. It introduces high, consistent standards for all parts of the business.

Why is it important for customer service skills to permeate a business?

Some areas of a business naturally lend themselves to focus on customer service. For instance, sales, complaints and business development.

By integrating customer service qualities and traits into other areas such as finance, purchasing and logistics, businesses gain consistency across all customer and supplier touchpoints.

This helps build a good reputation. It also provides intangible goodwill. It means all stakeholders including external suppliers, delivery providers and banks, not just customers will have a positive view of dealing with your startup.

This is particularly important for a startup because it is operating from a standing start, whereby it is actually easier to build a consistent brand and earn a positive reputation.

Integrating quality customer service throughout the business can establish a positive DNA for a company.

What is the best strategy to do this?

Start immediately so the ethos you would like your business to represent is quickly established.

“It’s important to take a step back and look at the path a customer might take,” says Susannah Simmons, founder of The Software Adoption Doctor at ProductivIT.

‘Journey mapping’ helps startups understand who the customer has to deal with or for owners with multiple roles, common for startups, which of their ‘hats’ customers need to deal with.

Equally, if a function is outsourced, identify the external people who must be dealt with as there could be different groups of customers, not just the end customer who buys the product.

“It pays dividends for startup businesses to map the customer journey and think about how they want the customer to feel,” stresses Simmons.


A business aiming for a sale begins by marketing the product or service to win the customer. Excellent customer service can help.

Again, think of the customer path. “Can they get the information they want and need in a way they want and need?” explains Simmons. “Is your organisation able to provide information in a format the customer wants?”

This could be through data, images, video or plain text. Do they then know what the next step is on their path to a completed purchase?

Signposting is vital. A customer needs to know how to contact your business and what should be the next contact in the transaction process. Does it move to a salesperson or a website?

If they email you, what is the response time? Is someone available to follow up? If so, when? Startups need to be prepared or risk losing benefits gained from the first step.

Social media is an important marketing and customer service tool but can be used ineffectively or in a way that repels customers. “Be careful not to just keep pushing messages out there on multiple channels as startups need the resources to respond effectively,” warns Simmons.

Decide on the best channels linked to where your customers are and what they use and focus on them.


Once a customer responds positively to marketing messages, they may be ready to buy. You need to be ready to give them the information they need, have linked systems, clear pricing and accurate, fast payment systems to provide customers with a seamless transaction.

“Quotes and purchase orders need to be linked to the finance system, so they don’t act as a blocker,” advises Simmons. Ensure the next step is signposted to create a positive customer experience.

The sales role is key for any business, so salespeople must respond quickly and courteously to customer requests. This promotes repeat business and customer retention. It is an opportunity to install the brand qualities you want to permeate the business in a key area.


Logistics involves interactions with both suppliers and customers and an area where quality customer service is very important.

Startups should provide realistic expectations of delivery times. “This feeds into the psychology of customer wellbeing,” says Simmons. “Customers have expectations and need to know what is happening so they feel informed.”

Systems for delivery notifications and tracking must work properly and for online services, communication is vital. Make sure you provide the correct contact details.

Customers need to know what happens next. Clear timelines need to be set out; who will be in touch? When? “This helps customers feel empowered,” points out Simmons.

For startups with minimal resources mapping out the customer journey is vital and a worthwhile investment. Decide what you can implement as ‘minimum viable customer service levels.’ Then, as your resources grow, gradually add to this, aiming for high quality customer service throughout your business.


Integrating customer service into finance is a challenge, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis. Startups need to balance their own financial obligations with those of their customers.

“Organisations should take a flexible approach and focus on empathy with customers,” advises Simmons.

This is important for customer refunds as customers may face bank charges if authorised refunds are not processed quickly.

“Allow customers to be heard and feel understood,” Simmons continues. “Have flexible, mapped out frameworks in place and if you outsource finance functions such as credit control, communicate policies to external providers.”

Customer UX

The customer user experience should run through your entire business. By mapping different customer paths, a startup gets insight into the priorities and concerns of customers.

“If your customer is your user, at what point do you engage and who do you engage with?” asks Simmons. For example, with subscription services, if there is a query, who is authorised to speak to the company. Just the bill payer or also the registered users?

Other customer service challenges for startups

Startup founders often have amazing ideas. They find a gap in the market and aim to communicate their vision to as many customers as possible. It can become a passion project, but without a focus on customer service, business success can evaporate.

“They can see why consumers need the product or service,” says Simmons. “But without customers, there is no business.”

This is why customer service must be at the forefront of any startup business. “Don’t lose sight of customers and focus too much on the product,” Simmons concludes.

Avoid tunnel vision. In the software sector for instance, there is usually a technical side and a product side that needs communicating effectively to customers. It is important to get the balance of focus of the two within the business right.

Startups are often resource and time-poor, so spend time at the outset mapping out the customer experience and how your business will deal with it at all points.

“This is really worth it and helps businesses scale,” said Simmons. “If you get it right it means repeat revenues, customer retention and referrals which mean your customers do much of your marketing for you.”

Benjamin Salisbury - business journalist

Benjamin Salisbury is an experienced writer, editor and journalist who has worked for national newspapers, leading consumer websites like This Is Money and, business analysts including Environment Analyst, AIM Group and written articles for professional bodies and financial companies. He covers news, personal finance, business, startups and property.

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