Choosing the Right Software Partners for Long-Term CX Success
“Build vs. buy” is the age-old question for scaling companies. But like the proverb says: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
There are as many software partners and solutions as there are customer problems to solve and business roadblocks to overcome, which can be overwhelming for founders and small teams in the thick of startup life. Still, investing in the right partnership can make life much easier, and bottom lines healthier, in the short- and long term.
A strong CX partnership especially makes sense for startups, as it helps fuel early-stage revenue growth and makes a habit of focusing on customers. Among the many other benefits:
Time and money savings. Small teams that are budget and resource-constrained don’t have the luxury of hiring a large team of developers to build bespoke solutions for them. Low-code solutions from vendors who are experts in their category can deliver value faster—especially as venture capital firms examine how dollars are spent.
It keeps leaders' eyes on the prize. Startup teams are close to their initial brand promise–their "why." An integrated tech stack of third-party vendors helps startups maintain focus on the problem they set out to solve for customers, while ensuring other key operations, such as customer support, are scaling smartly alongside the main product.
But, first things first: you have to choose the right vendor.
How to choose the right software vendor for your startup
Choosing the right software vendor is a challenge for startups and enterprise companies alike, spanning verticals and regions. It can feel a lot like a mix of must-haves and “I’ll know when I know” qualitative analysis. But here are some big-ticket items for startups to consider when evaluating who makes the inner circle.
Flexibility is key for software vendors, says Zendesk CTO Adrian McDermott, speaking on In Depth, a podcast by VC firm First Round Capital. For example, software should work out of the box, but also be customizable for companies with more bespoke needs. There is a need for both low-code and high-code solutions; as more business specialists turn into citizen developers, companies can focus on making the product the best it can be within its category.
Ease of use
When evaluating a CX solution, Brian Kale, Director of Customer Success at Novo, says that he was looking for ease of use and scalability.
“When starting out as a small and scrappy team, you prioritize tools and processes that are easy to implement, easy to use, and easy to build efficiencies on top of through automating customer and agent-facing items.”
Ease of use is related to flexibility, and it’s essential for scalability. A solution that isn’t easy to use defeats the purpose of the investment in the first place. And if the solution is not able to scale with a startup, it doesn’t set the groundwork for either party’s long-term success. Continuing the example of customer service, a vendor should be able to scale with their startup whether there are 100 support tickets per month, or 10,000.
In-depth understanding of your pain points
Find a vendor who understands their own category—many of them might be scaling startups or started as one with ever-growing footholds in their industry—and also understands yours. Seek customer references and testimony from peers in the same industry or segment, and research how well their platform scales with growing businesses.
Building your CX story together
Once you’ve found a vendor for, hopefully, the long haul, it’s time to help them help you scale CX.
Sam Chandler, Director of Customer Success at Zendesk, advises startups on building their CX tech stack. Before anyone starts thinking about hiring customer service agents or incorporating integrations, Chandler advises founders and vendors ask themselves three key questions from the customer perspective:
Who are you serving?
What should their journey look like?
How will you measure success?
…as well as three questions from the agent perspective:
How many people are in your org?
What resources and tools are available to your team?
How will you measure success?
Then, you can direct energy to building the experience together. There are many ways to do it, but these are some common solutions for scaling teams.
AI, automations, and self-service
Automating manual processes are key for small operations, which is why those solutions often bring value to startups. For customer support, AI-supported help centers, a robust self-service experience, and automations that help agents work more efficiently are hallmarks of how technology can support human teams. AI is only as good as the knowledge it’s drawing from, so use support data to create help center content around frequently asked questions or simple queries that don’t require 1:1 support.
But that’s just the tip of the spear. Even more advanced AI capabilities in customer support software can analyze a ticket’s language, predict intent, and, if the right course of action, automatically triage the tickets based on that information.
APIs and integrations
The friendlier the solution is with other tools in the sandbox, the better.
Kale, from Novo, notes that the ability to build custom workflows through API and other custom apps helped Novo scale its customer base “while not needing to scale our team members as aggressively. Which plays right into scalability: If you know the potential of your product can be big, implementing a tool that can support ‘big’ without taking on significant costs is always a good bet to make.”
Any software provider should provide a dashboard for analysis and reporting. For a customer support solution, that means:
Providing essential data and insights, such as support ticket volume, ticket deflection rate, or help center adoption, and
Providing guidance into how this data can inform other areas of the business. For example, maybe a customer support ticket uncovered insights about a persistent bug or problematic downtime, which can help product developers get ahead of the issue.
One pro tip from Chandler: don't rely only or overly on CSAT (customer satisfaction) scores to evaluate teams. If you're measuring customer loyalty, for example, it won't paint a complete picture.
Another pro tip: take it from enterprise companies dealing with the unsavory task of untangling siloed solutions, or companies of any size that sank too much time, energy, and money on home-grown or manual processes. The best vendors in your CX tech stack realize that they win when everybody, including your customers, wins. So choose ones that are as invested in your success as you are.
Get access to Zendesk Service Suite, free for six months for up to $25,000 in savings, and dive into a scalable CX solution that grows with your business.