A growing customer base is crucial for startups to survive. To help achieve this, startups must meet customer expectations and deliver a positive customer experience. Together, these two elements determine customer satisfaction.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines customer satisfaction as:

“…a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation. Also the number of customers, or percentage of total customers, whose reported experience with a firm, its products, or its services exceeds specified satisfaction goals.”

Why the customer experience matters

The AMA’s definition emphasizes surpassing customers’ expectations. Achieving an excellent customer experience helps you acquire and keep customers because:

  • Positive customer experiences make customers more likely to buy from you again and become loyal customers
  • Positive customer experiences can generate word-of-mouth marketing for your startup, which is both free and often more effective than traditional marketing

Meeting and exceeding expectations of your growing customer base

The key to a growing customer base is to satisfy your existing customers and win new ones. To do this, your startup needs to anticipate and deliver on the following stages of the customer experience.

1. Understanding customer expectations

For technology startups, your early adopters will have very different needs than your mainstream customers and those at the end of the technology adoption cycle. This difference will affect their consumer expectations. For example, in the case of a software problem, your early adopters will be keen to discuss the ins and outs of the program with the people who did the coding, whereas a mainstream customer will just want the problem resolved as quickly as possible. By recognizing these differences, you can better calibrate how to manage the customer experience.

2. Setting the expectations

Make it clear to your customers what you will deliver so that they know what to expect. The primary tools for setting and managing customer expectations are your sales and marketing activities—as they relate to your offering specifically, and to your organization as a whole. What you set as the expectations should align with your positioning statement.

3. Delivering on the expectations

Meeting expectations includes not only how well your product actually works, but the entire customer experience. How smoothly did the purchase transaction unfold? How easily did your customer receive the product? Note that even if your delivery falls short, if you respond to and manage the situation well, a satisfied customer is likely to emerge.

Additionally, use your messaging, your branding and your post-purchase communications to reinforce your customer’s decision to buy. Tune in to the emotions that accompany the purchase and address these through your marketing. Remember that buyer remorse is common. By targeting some of your messaging to customers who have already bought your product, you support their decision to have bought and provide them with the specialized vocabulary to effectively review and promote your product to new potential customers (i.e., word-of-mouth marketing).

4. Delivering on your product

Ensure your product performs as promised! Happy customers with a positive customer experience are more likely to give you a favourable review or referral.

It is worth keeping in mind that your product may not always deliver as the customer expected, often for reasons beyond your control. How you deal with service-related issues can often be more important that the product itself in shaping the overall customer experience.

Building a superior customer experience: Further resources

Customer experience and stages of startup development


Customer satisfaction. (2014). In American Marketing Association Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.ama.org/resources/Pages/Dictionary.aspx?dLetter=C