Growing Your Startup Business in the Age of Disruption

Three strategies to scale your hypergrowth business.  

Startups have reinvented the status quo by adapting to today’s digital-first expectations. It is a thrilling time to shake up traditional markets, but you must first actually get there to do so.  

Many startups are still in their stage of infancy, but that won’t last very long. These fast-growing businesses are known as hypergrowth companies, and they are moving extremely fast to become the next unicorn, especially the smaller ones. Not only are these companies growing at a phenomenal pace, but their industries are changing just as rapidly, requiring them to adjust on the fly continuously.  

No matter how much these companies excel in product development and market innovation, many lack the sophistication needed for systems, tools, and processes to scale customer experiences at the same rate in areas such as CRM, workforce management, and Quality Assurance. Typically, hypergrowth companies have customer service departments operated by first-time managers who do not have extensive leadership experience to manage large customer care teams. These managers often need advice to figure out the right tools, their capabilities, and other innovative ideas to grow their support operations without blowing their budgets.  

For more than a decade, I have guided several startups through their very first outsourcing experience. For an organization to address its growing customer service needs, it must first understand the human element. Here are three tips I recommend for hypergrowth companies to scale their customer support operations.  

Tip 1: Find a CX partner that fits your company  

Startups are often run by true believers in the company, especially in their early days. Those first employees are passionate believers in the company’s mission and what they are trying to disrupt in their industry. They want to work with others who share that same level of passion.  

These are companies run by teams that are not constrained by red tape or preconceived ideas. They have employees who are empowered to make executive-level decisions and implement them quickly as well. Startups and their teams value agility, flexibility, and innovation more than anything else.  

With that said, startups need people and partners around them who have a genuine devotion for the work, along with a willingness to get the job done. Many startups must focus on doing more with less in the early years, as many can be budget-constrained during this phase.  

Look for a flexible outsourcing partner that can start small with you initially and scale quickly as you grow. Larger outsourcers are often more concerned with filling hundreds of seats when in reality, the need is much smaller and less defined for startups.  

Leaders need to find an outsourcing partner that is willing to start with fewer seats and be open to learning beside them and guiding them with the knowledge obtained from previous work for similar companies that have challenges. Just as a startup company needs to be quick and agile, your outsourcer needs to be nimble enough to progress just as quickly as the program evolves.  

In short, your partner needs to be able to move quickly as things break, as they surely will, but also need to scale quickly when your business takes off. I stress to my team that if you can be successful with startups on smaller and more challenging programs, you will build a foundation of trust as everyone grows.  

Tip 2: Start with empathy  

One of the advantages that new startups have is their ability to move quickly, including trying out new concepts such as developing different support channels. The ability to communicate with an ever-growing userbase through newer channels such as messaging, SMS, and other omnichannel methods like social media, is essential.  

With that said, empathy is likely the most overlooked characteristic of a startup’s customer support. Training your customer care associates on new technologies and platforms is easy, but empathy with the end-user is much more challenging to teach. Too often, many leaders will jump ahead and focus on technology first and forget about humanity – humans helping other humans.  

Associates who are uncaring can be just as destructive as faulty programming. A poor customer experience can end a business relationship, no matter how fantastic the product or service is.  

Remember that when you deal with customers, you are dealing with people who are buying your product or service, not robots. If you’re smart enough, you can leverage empathy with technology to create more genuine and effective relationships with your customers. The more driven and informative your customer service team is, the more customers will feel valued. Building a solid customer relationship can often lead to more forgiveness when an experience does not go as planned.  

Tip 3: Hire the right people  

It’s challenging to train people to care. That’s why empathy needs to start from the very beginning of the hiring process. I have often said the best customer support associates would be social workers because they understand how to connect with people, and their entire career is built around the concept of empathy.  

When recruiting new hires with your outsourcing partner, look for candidates who have relevant life experience to your product or service and those who can put themselves in the customer’s shoes. Finding candidates who share a common interest and passion for your brand will naturally make them better at providing service for your customers. For example, if your business is a direct-to-consumer food startup, recruit people who understand the stress and anxieties of first-time chefs dealing with new dishes and recipes. Look for foodies who are passionate about new cuisines and want to share that experience with your customers.  

Take an active role in recruiting associates who value the work. If they appreciate the work, they’ll be proud of the product and care even more about the end-user. This reminds me of a gaming company we’ve partnered with. Initially established in a small town, they were concerned they would not find suitable candidates for the job. Given the complexity of the hardware and peripherals they developed, it was crucial to have subject matter experts available for higher-tier customer support. Our original strategy was to hire people with a solid technical background and develop their soft skills later. It turned to be just the opposite. Training new hires to use the technology was easy, but teaching someone to care and express empathy was much more challenging. We had to rethink the hiring profile as the program scaled to find the right associates. Instead of focusing on recruiting associates with technical backgrounds, we recruited those who cared about their work and the customer on the other end of the phone, email, or chat. Empathy is a valuable skill set that all companies should look to recruit for first.  

Hypergrowth success is directly linked to CX expertise  

Startups and disruptors face many challenges in their early years. The more flexible, nimble, and innovative an outsourcer is, the more crucial they become to helping these companies succeed and reach the next step in their evolution. By matching the speed at which these companies grow, and at the same time bringing new ideas, learning, and capabilities to the table, the right outsourcing partner can often determine the future success of a company in the early years of being a “pre-unicorn” disruptor. 

This article originally appeared in TTEC's Customer Strategist Journal.