The Case For Startups to Put CX at Their Core
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The Case For Startups to Put CX at Their Core

At eero, the Customer Experience (CX) team is known as the "truth squad." Here's how its CEO and Co-founder Nick Weaver and Head of CX Dana Lindsay built and scaled an essential — but often overlooked — discipline at startups.

Customers often want to call support representatives bad names, not praise them by name. Not so with WiFi system startup eero, thanks to its CEO and Co-founder Nick Weaver and Head of Customer Experience (CX) Dana Lindsay. While most founders tack on customer support as an afterthought, Weaver purposely created and integrated it from the start. That meant establishing a dedicated team to gather feedback for its beta and bringing aboard eero’s first CX hire at a stage when most startups are solely focused on engineering. Weaver understood that to get where it needed to go, eero needed service so superior that it rivaled its product.

Delighting customers in the traditionally confusing and irritating realm of WiFi networking is more easily said than done. Luckily, every organization in Weaver’s background reinforced that service is the product. Before starting and leading eero, Weaver co-founded incubator StartX, worked as analyst at McKinsey and alongside startups at Menlo Ventures. Before joining eero, Lindsay trained and scaled remote teams for digital publishing platform, Inkling. She also onboarded clients and new hires to the platform — skills which accelerated her ability to define and deploy eero’s Customer Experience operations.

In this exclusive interview, Weaver and Lindsay share the choices and practices that have established the CX team as eero’s “truth squad.” From the rationale behind the name “customer experience” to the timing behind building the CX team, they give thoughtful tips on starting and scaling an often overlooked discipline. They offer tactics and a rubric that will help any young company spin up its CX team and bring a better name to technical support. Let’s get started.

It’s Customer Experience, Not Customer Support

It’s not just semantics. Customer experience is the interaction — and relationship — people have with a brand. Customer support centers on resolution to specific customer issues. “We don’t want to wait until we’re contacted with an issue. We like to initiate the relationship with the customer as early as possible. For us, the most measurable milestone is the moment a customer purchases an eero,” says Weaver. “I started fixing routers in high school, so I know people often need help before they ask. If you can equip customers with what they need before they request it, you’ve not only tallied a win for your support team, but also for your brand. That’s why we have a customer experience — not support — team.”

This philosophy is baked into how eero helps customers set up, use and service the product. “From start to finish, eero is designed to be set up within minutes. The instructions in the eero app don’t begin with eero, but the product it’s replacing. It guides customers through the process of disconnecting the old router before connecting your first eero. It advises how to find the best locations for subsequent eeros for optimal performance,” says Weaver. “The app allows customers to easily share WiFi passwords with guests and manage children’s screen time. The system can auto-update to ensure the network is performing at its best without any customer effort. Customer experience is about serving and anticipating a customer’s entire experience, not just fixing pain points. The goal is the relationship — resolution to an issue is just one opportunity to strengthen it.”

Receipts are the first support tickets. Customers may not have asked for help yet, but the relationship has begun.

Hire for CX Before You Have Customers

Most startups front-load hiring engineers on their founding teams. As they build the “product” part that will lead to product/market fit, they often leave it to the founders to focus on the “market” component. “This is not Field of Dreams. Building it doesn’t mean they’ll come. Customers must be etched into the collective mentality of the team — and that’s a full time job. That’s why eero’s second hire was Sean [Harris], our Head of Marketing,” says Weaver. “It seems counterintuitive to build a customer base function before you have customers, but in order to be ready to go on Day One, someone needs to be in the office making decisions about the tools, infrastructure and hiring needed for launch.”

At the very beginning, the first CX hire should ask — and be guided by — five main questions:

  • How should people first experience our product?
  • How will they buy it?
  • How will they unbox the product and be onboarded to it?
  • How will they receive support for it?
  • What are the series of touchpoints they’ll receive along the way?

A common mistake that startups make is hiring one CX person and calling it a day. “The truth is, customer experience doesn’t only reflect how your customers experience your product, but also how your company experiences your customers. They’re both stakeholders for CX,” says Lindsay. “So as Sean focused on the best tactics to reach and communicate with future customers, Nick began building a CX team focused on establishing a feedback loop between existing users and the company.”

It’s never too early to have a customer advocate.

Customer Experience Begins At Home

Eager to define the pulse of the customer, it’s tempting to jump into the field with surveys. However, in eero’s experience, foundational work is key and starts with getting your house in order. Here’s what eero prioritized to make that happen:

Use a company-wide milestone to showcase what CX can do. When Lindsay joined eero just months before the company launched, she knew she had a unique opportunity to elevate CX as one of eero’s most critical functions. “The goal is to become the source of truth for your customer to everyone internally. It doesn’t happen overnight, but a company-wide inflection point — like a beta — can be an opportunity to show how CX can make big contributions to the broader team,” says Lindsay. “We focused on establishing ourselves as the voice the customer during our beta. We gathered, analyzed and aggregated feedback by manually tracking customer contacts and survey responses in Google spreadsheets.”

The CX team focused on finding answers to simple questions like:

  • What are people asking us about?
  • When and how are they contacting us?
  • How happy or unhappy do they appear to be?

The CX team categorized the feedback by trend and proposed recommendations for the company based on pressing themes. “At the start, this is a messy, time-consuming practice. But it’s vital. Automated tools and numerical surveys can miss the nuances in language that convey how customers really feel,” says Lindsay. “But that’s the insight you need to show your early users you’re listening — and to demonstrate to the rest of the team that you’re in the trenches with them. It wasn’t long until our engineering, product and marketing colleagues would turn to us to ask, ‘What’s the pulse now? What’s going on in the field?’”

If you’re going to ask for feedback, read it yourself and use it. Respect the time your customers took to share.

Get more ears — and minds — on the ground. In addition to leading the charge in San Francisco, Lindsay helped eero expand the team through a call center based in Austin, Texas. “Outsourcing gets a bad rap. It’s because most companies see it as an opportunity for delegation not augmentation,” says Lindsay. “There are significant benefits to working with an experienced call center. They’ve done it before, can quickly staff up or down depending on demand and can help you keep a personalized touch even as your customer base grows.”

The key is to stay involved. It sounds simple, but your CX leaders need to dedicate time to establishing an active partnership from the start. “In the last year, I’ve spent nearly two months on the ground in Austin doing check-ins, running training programs and shadowing our 25-person team,” says Lindsay. “The byproduct is that our work together is characterized by mutual respect and partnership rather than command-and-control. If I suggest something that sounds good from my seat in San Francisco but doesn’t make sense practically, the team knows they can—and should—push back. ”

For example, when Lindsay started working with the team, she saw each member as a Swiss Army knife: versatile representatives who could resolve any problem without redirecting customers to another specialist. “The team in Austin demonstrated — through their experience as well as metrics — that while a single-point-of-contact seemed appealing, it required specialists to master too many tools and solutions to be efficient. They noted this would only become more strained as eero’s products and services matured,” says Lindsay. “As a result, we established distinct functional roles between order management and technical support. This enabled team members to receive focused trainings and establish domain expertise.”

Dana Lindsay

This type of collaboration has allowed Lindsay to cut time-consuming steps — and trust her team to execute. “These call centers are already designed to quickly grow your team as you need added capacity. Given the relationship we’ve established, our remote team will recruit, vet and interview new team members,” says Lindsay. “This enables me to conduct final phone interviews with promising candidates once they’ve been approved by our managers in Austin. It’s a significant time saver.”

In addition to on-site visits and trainings, mind the smaller things. “Our team in Texas operates like a remote eero team, so it’s important that they feel that way. From company-wide CX overviews to weekly meetings, our CX leads in San Francisco acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of our teammates in Austin,” says Lindsay. “Whenever a new Austin-based team member asks ‘How do you do this at eero?’ I correct them by saying ‘You mean how we do this at eero?’ I don’t want there to be an outsourcing divide. We are one CX team. That’s how it’s designed and we work hard to make that clear.”

In the weeks leading up to eero’s public launch, Lindsay personally ran a training program for the entire team in Austin. Here are a few key attributes of an effective CX training:

  • Thorough, but flexible. “Our initial training program ran for two weeks prior to launch. While that was a busy time for eero, it was the right moment to expand the CX team and our training material was most resonant and relevant then. Consider a mix of classroom sessions, exercises and knowledge checks. We scatter various learning formats throughout the day to keep things interesting and engaging. We introduce the team to eero’s values and CX approach, do deep dives on our hardware and app, listen to support calls and review sample e-mail exchanges with customers.”
  • To the point. “Before creating any training material, draft an outline listing everything team members need to know about your product — from technical specifications to team procedures to soft skills. Under each topic, include a description: ‘In this lesson, you will learn _____. Our goal in providing this information is _____.’ This overview will keep you focused. It made our training program feel more cohesive and thoughtful.”
  • Groups of 15–20 people. “We’ve found this size to be the sweet spot. The groups are large enough to be efficient, but small enough that trainees feel comfortable asking questions.”
  • Test trainees and trainers. “End every training day with a knowledge check: a survey where team members are asked to share written answers to questions like: ‘How could today have been better?’ ‘What information confused you?’ Ask questions about topics trainees should have absorbed that day. For example, we ask: ‘What wireless networking standard does eero support?’ These types of questions help trainers identify problem areas so they can circle back the next day and review confusing material more thoroughly.”
  • Reconnect and rally the full team. “On one of our intro slides, we show a bulletin board in San Francisco that has a photo of every team member at the call center in Austin. We want new specialists to know we value them as individuals from day one. During training, all trainees create short presentations to introduce themselves to the team. This gives us a chance to get to know one another and prompts folks to unveil hidden talents or hobbies. In that process, we learned that we had a skilled photographer and musician on our team. As it so happened, the musician ended up creating the call center’s hold music and the photographer took shots for eero’s blog.”
Your CX team can’t treat your customers well if they aren’t treated well.
Nick Weaver

Don’t Just Be Another Support Team

When eero launched its CX team, it kept a single question in mind: Tech support is everyone’s worst nightmare. How do we do it so differently that we reset expectations? Here are some of the key tactics, processes and definitions of success that can help guide CX teams through customer interactions:

Master a few channels before expanding more broadly. Prior to launch, eero chose email and phone as its support channels. “Don’t race to meet customers through every communication and social media channel under the sun. Start with the number of channels you can successfully manage so that every customer has a positive experience,” says Lindsay. “Having two channels didn’t limit our customers — or us. From the start, we put our support email address and phone number in as many places as possible so it’s easy for customers to find. We now have a Twitter handle, @eerosupport, a customer community where customers can ask and answer each other’s questions, and we offer chat support through our Help Center. Despite new additions, phone and email remain our most popular support channels today.”

Don’t be afraid to supplement and switch channels. eero responds via the same channel by which it received a customer's message with two exceptions. “First, phone calls are suggested when a challenge is too difficult to solve by email. If our specialists believe it may be easier to troubleshoot over the phone, they’ll ask the customer if it’s okay to call. After every call, we follow-up with a brief recap email detailing the topics covered, and encouraging the customer to reach out directly if they need more assistance. This gives customers an avenue back to the same person they already worked with,” says Lindsay. “Second, we send emails to customers after reviewing their survey responses, should we need to gather more information or offer additional assistance. These follow-ups reiterate that we’re listening and that we’re here to help.”

Think safety net, not filter. Many CX or support teams elevate speed to resolution as their key metric, so they focus on how to better qualify and triage problems. For eero, every support interaction is an opportunity to make customers feel heard and to reinforce the team’s mission to be helpful, intelligent and approachable. “Issuing a fast resolution while also conveying these values requires breaking some common CX habits, like punishing representatives for long call times, refusing to apologize or acknowledge company mistakes, and retreating when a customer's problem isn’t directly related to your product,” says Lindsay. “Instead, view the CX function as a safety net. Your job is to catch these individuals who haven’t had the perfect experience, put them on the right path, and ensure that they feel positive about where they stand. How? Speak to them naturally. Take them seriously. Offer solutions. And conduct thorough troubleshooting to ensure they don’t face similar challenges in the future.”

Each interaction with a customer is an extension of your values.

Scrap the scripts. If you’ve made a choice to staff real people — not bots — as your customer experience team, give guidance and then allow them to be creative problem solvers. “We don't give scripts, because we want our specialists to be human. That’s the purpose of staffing real people. They can respond on the fly and use their judgement to determine the best way to handle a situation,” says Lindsay. “Especially when individuals have past CX experience, you must emphasize that you genuinely want them to have a voice. As a result, our specialists often discover and implement solutions that improve the company’s workflow. For example, the team added lots of new training material on advanced network troubleshooting based on interactions they’ve had with real customers.”

Identify metrics that matter to you. eero’s main CX metrics fall into two categories: operational efficiency and support quality. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Operational efficiency entails metrics such as call length, 90th percentile wait times, and abandon percentages — the number of people who hang up due to long hold times.
  • Quality metrics include customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS). While it can be difficult to decouple the two, eero uses CSAT to reflect the way people feel about their support experiences and NPS to reflect customer perception about the product holistically. Lastly, it also includes eero’s own internal Quality Assurance (QA) program.

eero’s CX team created a custom rubric to use as a guide for successful customer interactions. It’s simple to recreate this kind of tool in Google spreadsheets; it includes:

  • Four high-level goals and accompanying descriptions. eero’s are: “Drive toward resolution,” “Represent eero effectively,” “Demonstrate technical expertise,” and “Set our team up for future success.”
  • Keywords that describe the qualities of a successful eero Specialist such as committed, curious, instinctive, authentically empathetic and empowering. These guidelines provide the team with attributes to channel as they work with customers.
  • Three sub-buckets per topic with specific requirements to be evaluated during a QA review. For example: “Understood the customer's symptom. Displayed active listening, paying close attention to key details and clues. When necessary, asked clarifying follow-up questions and avoided jumping to unfounded conclusions. ” These are the specific criteria through which individual performance is measured.

Here’s an example of eero’s rubric:

An example of eero's rubric

eero has an analyst in Austin whose full-time job is to review a sample of CX calls and email exchanges from team members — especially new hires — every week. “This information is similarly stored on a Google spreadsheet. All team members are scored on each sub-bucket with a pass, fail, coach or N/A grade. Our analyst provides notes on every customer interaction and offers insight on what we could have done better,” says Lindsay. “Managers review this information and share it with their direct reports in 1:1s.”

The Give and Take Between CX and the Rest of the Organization

A change in a checkout flow. A tweak to shipping emails. An update to marketing language. Every company decision changes the frequency and way your customers reach out. “Customer experience teams are on the front lines, collecting bits of data and strands of conversations that relate to the changes a startup makes,” says Weaver. “This team has to know what’s going on in the company — and the rest of the company should know CX measures the pulse — and health — of the customer.”

Here’s how eero marries CX to other disciplines in the organization:

A rolling release process between CX and Product and Engineering. eero has developed a culture where CX works hand-in-hand with Product and Engineering to closely monitor early customer responses to new releases and features. “This is perhaps one of the most powerful alliances a CX team can form inside their organization. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you’ll know when it does,” says Lindsay. “You want a culture where teams run new ideas, features and updates by CX. I knew we were successful when Product or Engineering would ask themselves — and us: ‘When I make this tweak how might it impact the customer? Could it cause confusion at first?’”

How did that alliance form? “Most startups will slowly roll out new features to specific subgroups of customers. Turns out that if the Customer Experience team is prepared to monitor feedback from that group, it provides an additional source of insight for catching bugs and eliminating issues before the release reaches more customers,” says Lindsay. “While it may seem rash to draw conclusions from a small number of early reports, even an initial data sample can uncover patterns or roadblocks worth addressing before broader release.”

CX inherits every decision every team in the company makes.

A ‘field report’ meeting. Every two weeks, the CX team leads a meeting with the company’s senior leaders as well as the Heads of Product, Engineering, Marketing and Sales to relay and address major customer concerns and requests. “We plan the agenda and provide the high-level customer insights that we feel team leads should consider. Topics can range from emerging trends, such as new support patterns, to more pressing concerns, such as the impact of a bug in a new release,” says Lindsay. “Our only goal is to accurately represent our customers’ needs through data. There is no other agenda. Whatever bubbles to the top is what we cover during that meeting.”

As soon as the CX team finishes presenting a field report, it starts on the next one. It’s this level of preparation that has made CX the go-to-resource for customer insights within eero. “Our team spends two weeks prior to the meeting analyzing data, assembling slides, and preparing for possible follow-up questions,” says Lindsay. “A typical slide may focus on a new feature release outlining the support contacts received and the usage stats from early adopters. We recommend pulling together all that disparate information into a platform like Looker so that you can form focused recommendations like: ‘Based on our testing period, we need to be prepared for X, Y and Z prior to broader release.” eero has a full-time data analyst on their San Francisco CX team who helps the company monitor customer trends, make sense of the data available, and focus team attention on the right priorities.

One time, Lindsay’s team noted a spike in questions related to setup. “Six weeks after launch, we reviewed every setup question received from customers. We identified patterns in how our specialists resolved setup issues and then shared our findings so bugs could be fixed and internal processes could be adjusted,” says Lindsay. “Turns out customers weren’t fully power-cycling their modems, even though we requested they do so in our instructions. We observed that customers would be more successful if we broke discrete instructions out onto separate app screens, extended the buffering period in the app by 15–30 seconds, and beefed up the troubleshooting suggestions in our Help Center.”

Curate company CX channels. Between product iterations and field reports, establish more ad hoc pathways to distribute information to the team. “Your work gathering and analyzing customer feedback is futile unless it can be relayed to the right people. Storing CX data in a general document that no one references provides no value to improving your product,” says Lindsay. “eero uses a series of Looker dashboards and Slack channels — each with its own definition and expectation for involvement — to distribute CX information. For example, every NPS response posts to a Slack channel so anybody who wants to can opt in to see them. And every comment added to the eero support community posts to a channel where CX team members can actively monitor, and participate in, the discussion. Looker dashboards relaying CX team performance against key metrics and trending customer issues are also open to all interested employees.”

Success is measured in happy customers, not product releases.

Tying it All Together

The moment people buy a product, they’ve initiated a relationship with your company and may seek answers for questions they haven’t yet asked. There may not be an immediate request for support, but that’s where the customer experience begins. CX is not only about how people experience your product, but also how your company experiences your customer. That is the critical bridge that must be formed early on, so hire someone focused on the customer experience before you have customers. Outsourced teams can be invaluable, but only if you train and treat them like a remote team. Don’t be just another tech support team. Track, but de-emphasize traditional CX metrics like call length. Use a custom rubric to channel the values of your company while you resolve customer issues. CX wins when the company integrates it into product development because it’s the source of truth for the customer.

“We’re in a world that’s increasingly intrigued by AI, bots and self-service models. Support interactions between humans will become increasingly rare — and even more atypical from those who deeply know and care about the product they represent,” Lindsay says. Weaver adds, “But the moment you have a genuine, kind and human interaction that resolves your problem, it’s surprising and delightful. I still remember the early days of Apple’s genius bar. When they asked, ‘Can I help you right now?’ it was a magical moment. When they said those six words, they were present. When I heard those six words, I knew it was a brand that would stand by its product. That’s powerful.”

Photography by Bonnie Rae Mills.