It’s more common for tech startup leaders to hold an advanced degree in engineering than an MBA. While engineering intelligence is important, it’s not enough to launch you into the big leagues alongside Apple, Google and 3M.
As a startup executive with an engineering background, I know firsthand what it’s like to have holes in my knowledge base. I deeply understand product and systems design, but I’ll be the first to admit that most engineering curricula lack training in the customer experience – something that could be detrimental to a company.
A CEO who doesn’t focus on customer success is a huge liability. The consequences include poor performance, lackluster numbers and unhappy customers. A successful leader must self-educate in customer service at all stages of the company’s growth.
To tangibly connect leadership and customer service, I employed four strategies that helped my company decrease customer churn by 50 percent and increase engagement by 47 percent in just 90 days.
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1. Put the user experience first.
Poorly defined business requirements result in 70 percent of software projects failing; each year, the cost of reworking these projects tops $45 billion. I attribute this failure rate to engineering-oriented founders who spend too much time focused on optimizing the technology stack or improving features users don’t care about.
While product functionality is vital, founders need to stop whiteboarding and start observing how users experience their applications. When I took over managing our product team, I had our engineers take courses alongside me to get UX certification. We quickly realized we’d focused on the wrong things and spent R&D dollars on initiatives our customers didn’t want. Our updated process requires collaboration between one engineer and one UX team member to oversee live field usability studies.
2. Bend over backward for customer success.
Then, set your sights on customer success. Outline your customer journey and create key metrics to segment your customers into three categories: red (likely to churn), yellow (at risk of churning) and green (potential for upgrades). I suggest your red customers receive calls from executives to discuss and resolve problems. Have account managers contact yellow customers and give them a budget (ours was $200) to fix any problem a user may have encountered. Also, have them call green customers to ask them to consider upgrading their packages. My team aggregated the resulting data within our data warehouse to enable our leadership team to make informed decisions.
3. Use your training budget to foster important values.
Encourage specialists to learn more about fields outside their own. Cross-functional training creates T-shaped perspectives: fundamental knowledge in many areas in people with deep skills and insight in one or two areas.
For example, send your UX team members to a conference to achieve mastery of their craft, as well as an engineering workshop to better understand and appreciate their colleagues’ work. Our team received advanced certifications in UX, digital analytics, online marketing and finance.
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4. Make time for co-learning.
Ask each member to bring new knowledge back by having him or her teach others during a working lunch. Then, pair different departments to work on projects that break down silos and form new cross-functional teams. Gather the entire organization to share, evaluate and document the results to improve your company’s functionality.
It’s easy to assume that the best product and the best team will always win. But that’s not the case: Highly trained teams and well-designed products still fail. What really matters is that startup executives grow beyond their backgrounds to embrace their roles as educational leaders. Don’t blame employees for a lack of innovation. Take the reins and make a connection between leadership and customer success by implementing policies that unify and educate.
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