2014-03-November-Help.jpgAn essential part of creating a truly integrated and comprehensive SaaS customer support program is developing the capability to provide customers with the type of support experience they need, when they need it. Because of the nature of the SaaS service -- customers constantly interacting with the SaaS provider’s software solution to accomplish often mission-critical and time-sensitive tasks -- the SaaS vendor should be able to provide three types of support: passive, proactive and predictive.

Passive and Proactive Support

Passive support is based on embedded in-app support features that help customers understand or resolve issues without intervention by customer support. Proactive support is primarily concerned with identifying and correcting issues before the customer has felt any impact from them -- before they contact support. Customer support identifies such problems by analyzing customer usage and account configuration data from within the SaaS, in combination with CRM data and support tools. The following best practices are required to successfully deliver passive and proactive support.

Integrate CRM and support tools into the SaaS

Build into the product roadmap integration between key CRM and support tools and the SaaS environment to provide customers an effortless support experience. For example, you may want to automatically present a contextually relevant explanation when a customer experiences a common issue, such as an error message. The information is typically dynamic and comes from a knowledge base or a product community.

Develop insight into customer usage

Develop reporting utilities that provide insight into customer usage and generate alerts as necessary. The reporting utilities guide proactive outreach for customer specific issues or widespread critical situations.

Develop a community-driven support experience

Use a community engineer to design and implement a community-driven and integrated support experience for customers. The pace of innovation and release frequency within the SaaS model requires a defined strategy around community-driven and self-service support to reduce reliance on customer support. The community engineer builds the strategy for proactive and passive support and drives customer adoption within the community.

Identify training and consulting needs

Enhance customer support soft skills to identify training and consulting opportunities that will improve the customer experience over the long term while helping to increase trust in the vendor. By identifying customers who need training or consulting, customer support can help prevent downstream impacts.

Predictive Support

Predictive support goes beyond proactive support, using SaaS customer usage metrics to identify at-risk customers before they reach a state that could cause them to abandon the service. Embedding predictive support into a process of customer outreach helps improve a customer’s return on investment and increases customer satisfaction. It also minimizes churn and can identify opportunities for upsell. Here are six predictive support best practices.

Identify at-risk customers

Develop a report that leverages metadata from the SaaS, CRM, and Support tool to identify “at-risk” customers. When you develop your first at-risk report, start small, using just two or three indicators, such as the customer hasn’t logged on or saved any data. As you experience additional issues, you can always add more indicators. For example, review churn each month and ask if you could have detected a lost customer by a predictive process (such as a change in the number of transactions or reduction in activity level). If you find such an indicator, add it to your report.

Automate the creation of customer success cases

Using an automated process to create customer success cases based on predictive at-risk customer data drives efficiency for the Customer Success team (discussed in Part 2) and increases its ability to scale. Analyze customer usage data and automatically integrate the results with your CRM solution in order to categorize healthy and at-risk customers. After the categorization, automatically create a customer success case for each at-risk customer. The Customer Success team can use the case to engage at-risk customers and help them develop a plan for success. Providing such predictive support can help customers maximize their success with the SaaS and experience a greater return on investment.

Develop a holistic view of the customer

Provide the Customer Success team with access to a case management tool that stores the customer’s roadmap and tracks the status of customer success cases. It should also provide capacity metrics to ensure the Customer Success team operates with optimal efficiency. This should be the same tool used by the rest of the SaaS organization, and it should provide the Customer Success team with a holistic view of the customer to ensure that any engagement fully aligns with the customer’s needs.

Develop a Customer Success Playbook

The Customer Success Playbook is executed by the Customer Success team and should include the rules the Customer Success team will use to engage other internal teams (e.g. R&D, Product Management, and Sales) as well as the customer. The customer engagement rules should assist the Customer Success team in navigating through common customer discussions and detail any concessions that could be offered to compensate for the experience. Before executing on the Playbook, the Customer Success team should fully understand the customer’s roadmap and the SaaS product in order to better identify customer needs and build a deeper and more lasting relationship.

Facilitate interaction between the Customer Support and Success teams

Develop a process that enables the Customer Support team to engage the Customer Success team on behalf of a customer. When Customer Support identifies training or a consulting engagement that could directly benefit a customer, the Customer Success team should be able to connect with other business teams and then interact directly with the customer to soft sell the solution.

Conduct regular “Moment of Truth” analysis and review

A Moment of Truth (MoT) is the intersection point between the company and the customer at which a measurable experience has occurred. Driven by the Customer Success team, MoT review meetings involve the entire SaaS organization as a way to keep the focus on customer experience and uncover improvements that can drive customer success.

The SaaS support best practices laid out in these three blog posts can help you transform your support organizations by enabling teams to deliver the level of service and support that will create customer loyalty, and encourage broader adoption from the moment the customer first touches the SaaS.

Do you have additional ideas on SaaS support best practices? If so, please use the comment section below to share them.

Editor's Note: This is the final in a three part series. Read the full series here.

Title image by Patrick (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license