Ask the Expert, Kristen Durham, Vice Presidents of Startups, Zendesk


This edition of “Ask the Expert” is brought to you by Zendesk for Startups. We asked Kristen Durham, Zendesk’s VP of Startups, about why it’s important to define your company’s customer experience as early as day one and the exact steps needed to take. Read on for her insights.

For founders, we know how important getting and keeping customers are, especially in today’s environment. Zendesk is a service-first CRM company that is passionate about the startup community and helping organizations like yours be there for their customers.

You may feel like there are a million things that you as founders are asked to do when building a company early on, and defining your customer experience (CX) can be one of those priorities. Here are some insights that you can take from our company’s own experience and learnings from working with thousands of fast-growing startups on their customer service.

Why should CX matter to startups?

The most obvious answer to this is that CX has a direct implication on revenue. Customers who have good experiences stay with your brand, which improves lifetime value. Customers who don’t will walk away, many after only one bad support experience. This is expensive (because you surely had some cost to acquire them) and throttles your potential for growth through expansion.

Beyond that, the benefits keep coming from investing in CX early. 1) It helps to build your brand and establish trust in the market, which is especially important when you’re a new company initially known by no one. 2) Listening to your customers through their support tickets will be one of many things to shape your product roadmap. With this feedback, you are receiving insight from users who should genuinely want you to succeed so that you can continue to create something that they will buy and consistently use. 3) You may identify cross-sell & up-sell opportunities with customers when they reach out about issues and you listen closely to their needs. 4) A great customer experience can showcase your company in the market in a way that creates an attractive pipeline for new recruits and talent, a win-win situation as you continue to grow down the line.

I haven’t really started on a plan for my company’s customer service yet – is there still time?

According to our 2020 CX Benchmark Report for Startups, 70% of young startups actually do not have a formal CX strategy in place. Thankfully, our experience shows that this is something where you can quickly make up ground if you’re not prioritizing it today.

The important thing is to just get started—in our Benchmark we looked at the past performance of more than 4,400 startups on our platform and saw a clear correlation between better customer experience and faster growth. Starting now will help you both build a better startup and stay ahead of your competition.

How do I get started with CX today?

There are six areas you can pursue operationally when first getting started:

  1. Get out of your inbox. Add a support platform within nine to ten months after raising funding so that you can service customers more effectively and while building a record of those customers.
  2. Make it easy for your customers to reach you (within reason). Customers expect more transparency and convenience in reaching you and will prefer doing business with brands that can provide it. Put a help widget on your homepage or build support directly into your app so customers don’t end up resorting to more public ways (e.g. Twitter) of reaching you.
  3. Build a plan for providing live support. In the early days, it can be hard to have people available to your customers in real-time. Have a plan for how you’ll work towards this, and when you roll out these tools initially take small steps that are based on your customers’ preferences or when it makes sense for your business, like in advance of the holiday season for e-commerce.
  4. Get that help center up! 61% of customers want to resolve as many issues on their own as possible, also known as self-service, so enable that while also bringing scale to distributing knowledge within and outside your organization. Our advice is to start with five frequently asked questions from your customers and build from there.
  5. Add apps and integrations that increase productivity and streamline workflows. Make your stack work together, and work for you. You can improve your productivity and streamline and automate workflows by tying your most important systems together, like Jira for product feedback/bug management or Slack for communicating across teams outside of support.
  6. Be relentless about driving down first reply times and resolution times. Simply put, help your customers as efficiently and quickly as possible.

What is “omnichannel support”?

Omnichannel support is a powerful CX strategy where you create connected and consistent customer interactions across the communication channels where your customers prefer to be, such as live chat, email, phone, and WhatsApp. This allows you to be more agile and responsive as a business, which is important as a startup that’s growing and undergoing change.

What are startups looking for in CX tools?

If you are considering a customer service or customer engagement solution, features like enabling omnichannel support and self-service are key elements. You’ll also want good, built-in automation and reporting so you can scale over time and determine whether what you’re doing is working. But we know that just as, if not more, important oftentimes is price, ease of deployment, and ease of use.

The Zendesk for Startups partnership with FFA is our commitment to your future. We understand what it’s like to be a startup because we’ve been there, and that’s why we’re passionate about helping you succeed.

Qualified startups get 6 months free of Zendesk customer support, engagement, and sales CRM solutions; access to onboarding resources; and connection to our community of founders and partners to help you grow and serve your customers. Check it out here today.

About Kristen:

Kristen Durham, VP of Startup Initiatives at Zendesk

Kristen Durham is VP of Startup Initiatives at Zendesk. She previously served as the Zendesk Chief of Staff, and prior to that, she spent four years at Silicon Valley Bank building its VC and technology banking practices in Latin America, China, and other emerging markets. Kristen holds an MS in Energy & Resources from UC Berkeley.