How startups can grow their customer experience with an efficient open source technology

Technology is a major stack in most startups even if they are into non-tech offerings. So it is important to decide where to invest in developing your own core platform, and where to use open source efficiently.

27th May 2019
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Customer experience is a powerful weapon that can scale a small business or revive a dead one. There is no denying the fact that businesses strive to achieve customer delight by all means. And open source software can help businesses achieve this objective.


In order to achieve a superlative customer experience, we have to understand the following pain-points that a business house suffers:


Confused business idea


Good customer experience can only be delivered if you are clear about what you are trying to achieve and who your customers are and what are their preferences. For example, people don’t expect five-star hotel service from any budget hotel or at a resort. Each of these businesses are clear about their customer segment and their respective preferences and provide amenities and services accordingly. Most startups fail to understand who fall in their customer segment.


This is where open source software can come in and help startups conserve their energy, time, and resources.


The role of technology


Technology is a major stack in most startups even if they are into non-tech offerings such as car repair and grocery deliveries. It’s highly important to decide the following points:


  • Focus on what matters

It only makes sense to develop the secret sauce (i.e. core platform) on your own and everything else can be sourced from the market (buy, rent, assemble using open source software)


  • What can you source?


Except the core platform a startup can practically source anything. Priorities are directly proportional to the current state of the company. If you want to invest in a rock solid platform first and then jump to customer acquisition efforts, then you can start sourcing backend applications like CRM, Contact Centre Application, Supply Chain Software, ERP, etc for managing customer experience backend story and then invest in developing front-end applications. This helps you go easy on initial investment in your technology.


  • Commercial open source give world-class service-level agreement (SLA) driven support on all the products that you source (similar to any proprietary software). Yet it gives you the flexibility to convert your CAPEX into OPEX since most commercial open source software today are available on a yearly subscription model. Also, you always have the flexibility to either terminate the subscription or switch to non-commercial open source version of the same product or to any other technology. However, most commercial open source companies have recorded 80 percent plus renewal ratios, which means the subscription services offered by vendors are meeting expectations, and even exceeding them at times.

Increased visibility:

Once you narrow down on the tech stack of your offerings you can put more focus/dollars into increasing the visibility of your organisation/product. Sometimes, even implementing technology in an innovative way can help you fetch a lot of attention, and open source software can help you do that because many times the kind of innovation you want to achieve is hard to achieve with closed source products simply because of their limited scope of customisation.

Excellent product idea but poor execution:

Many great startup ideas have amounted to nothing since the founders and promoters could not back them up with sound on-ground implementation. This is especially so when they fail to meet customer expectations by providing good customer experience.


As expressed earlier, focusing on what matters is the key essence for any startup to succeed:

  1. Absolute clarity on where you are, and where you want to be. Let’s take the example of a travel aggregator. If your business model revolves around high-volume, low-margin ticket bookings, you would need a different set of technologies to ensure you achieve the transaction scale and uninterrupted customer service, along with seamless integration with various data providers like GDS/NDC systems in case of airline bookings. Additionally, you should not be locked-in by any vendor-specific technology. In this case you should prefer not just to use popular open source tech but also be a community contributor to these tech so that you have better product roadmap visibility, and you can shape your strategy accordingly. Some of the classic tech examples by category are:

- Omnichannel Digital Experience Platform (Liferay, Drupal, etc)

- Web Server (Ngnix, Apache)  

- Application Server (JBoss, Glassfish),

- RDBMS & NoSQL Database (MySql, Postgres, MariaDB, MongoDB,  Couchbase, etc) and

- Search Stack (like Elastic, Solar, Lucen, etc)   


On the other hand, if your model is to provide customised luxury and exclusive travel packages to each individual, you need to invest in different types of technology to bring better customer experience:

  • Video Conference for F2f interaction with travel advisor. Eg, you can build your own VC system using open source tech like ‘Jitsi’, a collection of free and open-source multiplatform voice, videoconferencing and instant messaging applications.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML) based plug and play recommendation engine to make sure system adapts with the preferences of users and starts recommending options in similar segment. This can be powered by tensorflow and open-source based AI stack.
  • A highly personalised mobile app with a document vault for storing all travel related documents and even sharing pictures and videos of trips to personal family and friends. For this kind of use case you can consider an open-source-based ECM (enterprise content management system) or DXP provider.


2.List down the steps involved to execute the above point.

Investing in a technology for your business is not very different than buying any property for personal use. Oftentime we end up paying for amenities that we hardly use. Same logic applies in selecting technology (recalling the example of the travel aggregator) to decide what your short term and long term goals are and then invest in technology that is just sufficient for the present and has the flexibility to scale.


Open source is a great example of flexibility but remember it cannot be the answer to all your problems; you may have to make sure that you invest in the best of both worlds to retain the seamless experience. Eg. you may want to invest in a proprietary designing/3D modeling tool whose output will be consumed by an open source portal.   

 

3.There may be multiple routes which will help you to reach from point A to B. But you need to decide the optimal path given your resources, and that path will define the technology stack, go to market strategy and fall back strategy.


4.Focus your energies on the right thing. For example, in the travel industry, per transaction margins are low but high volume and retaining customers are the most important things for their sustained growth. Promoters of the company have to choose where they have to put more money for better customer experience or increasing momentary sales. For instance, hat would be wiser - to invest more in an in-bound calls centre to address the customer problems proactively or investing in an outbound call centre to sell some potential tickets?

Also, effective open-source software like “asterisk” can be used to even further reduce the cost per call and bring competitive advantages.


5.A few startups already use open source and I have seen them investing more time in maintaining the lifecycle of tool sets than focusing on enhancing the features of their own product. This is where they go wrong and I feel commercial open source can play a big role because the lifecycle of toolset is already taken care of by respective original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and you get to focus on what really matters.        


To conclude, it is safe to say an effective business can only be possible if there is a perfect mix of People, Process, and Technology. Hence, automate whatever you can by using efficient and scalable technology and put the time and energy of humans on big picture things that matter the most to your business.



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