2014-20-October-Free-Advice.jpgAs more and more companies look to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) as a way to increase agility and control costs, many technology vendors are evolving their solution sets to include a SaaS offering. When vendors do this, they must recognize that their customer support organizations will become critical to customer satisfaction and retention. As the primary point of contact in an ongoing customer relationship, support must develop and maintain stronger and deeper relationships with customers. Failure to do so will inevitably result in higher churn.

To engage and support customers and increase customer retention, SaaS providers must completely reexamine their methodologies and ways of thinking. In this three-part series, I’ll break down the best practices of a truly integrated and comprehensive SaaS customer support program, exploring three key areas: creating an integrated, seamless and holistic support experience; developing trust and transparency; and providing proactive, passive and predictive support.

Successfully engaging and retaining SaaS customers requires delivering an integrated, seamless and holistic support experience. Achieving these characteristics involves changing the culture of the SaaS organization and taking concrete steps to develop the relationship between Customer Support and customers.

The following best practices -- five general strategies and six concrete steps -- will help SaaS organizations integrate their business practices, learn from the experiences of their Customer Support and Success teams, and develop the agile business automation they need to deliver exceptional support to their customers.


Foster a customer-centric attitude

A customer-centric attitude must be instilled throughout the SaaS organization -- including R&D, marketing, sales, services, support, and customer success—with a shared goal of customer retention and a focus on customer success.

Develop a 360-degree view of the customer

Implement tools that provide the entire SaaS organization with a 360-degree view of the customer’s journey. Such a tool could, for example, pull information from the sales and support systems to provide the Customer Success team with a detailed history of a customer’s interactions with the SaaS, from the initial sales conversations or trial period to the most current support-related issue. Integrating this information and making it available would enable Customer Success to provide superior service to the customer.

Conduct organization-wide education

Every employee who contributes to the development and delivery of the SaaS should be trained in all aspects of the SaaS in order to increase employee engagement and knowledge and to foster cross-team innovation. Employees who fully understand the SaaS organization can identify potential process enhancements that can drive efficiency over time.

Engage the entire team

A Customer Advocacy Team (CAT) that includes representatives from each functional unit of the SaaS should participate in solving customer experience challenges. Led by the Customer Success team, the CAT provides cross-functional problem solving to drive customer success and strengthen the customer-centric focus throughout the organization.

Tightly integrate the R&D, Customer Success and Customer Support teams

The Customer Support and Success teams should have a seat at the table when making product roadmap decisions. Because these teams get direct feedback from customers, they can provide valuable insight into the severity and priority of issues. This integration facilitates the development of product innovations for passive support, swift resolution of critical defects, and streamlined business processes.

Concrete Steps

Provide support from the beginning

Provide support to all users from their trial onward -- regardless of their subscription status -- for a holistic experience. This is the first opportunity a company gets to show the quality of support they can provide to their customers. The support experience should be more personal and helpful the longer the customer subscribes to the service.

Live where the customer lives

SaaS Support should be integrated into the application. Avoid directing customers outside their browser or the application for support. Email and phone contact information should be provided to reassure customers that people can be contacted if a discussion is necessary, but customers should never be required by the SaaS to use these alternatives.

Promote community-based and self-service resources

The form that support takes inside the browser or application is also very important. Customers expect community- and self-service-based support to be integrated with the SaaS, so make sure that knowledge base articles, documentation, and community resources are tightly integrated into and easily found in your solution. Emphasizing and promoting self-service capabilities can also reduce demand on the Customer Support team.

Request information once

Never request information more than once. Gather as much information as possible from the product itself so customers do not need to provide it. Customers expect that after their information is captured, the experience will be seamless, and this information will be readily available to Customer Support and Customer Success, as well as to anyone else representing the SaaS provider. A customer’s entire history with the SaaS organization should also be available to the Customer Support and Success teams.

See through the customer’s eyes

Provide the Customer Support and Success teams the ability to “impersonate” the customer in both the SaaS and the support tools. Customers expect members of the support organization to have full knowledge of their experience.

Allow customer-defined issue ratings

Customers need to be able to tell SaaS providers what issues are the most important to their business. The best way to do this is by giving them the ability to set the severity level of their issues within the online support tool. Automated alerts should notify the Customer Support team whenever a customer reports a serious impact to their business.

In the next part of this three-part series, I will provide a set of best practices for increasing trust and transparency in order to truly engage and support customers and increase customer retention.

In the mean time, please use the comment section below to provide feedback and describe your experiences with developing an integrated, seamless and holistic support experience.

Title image by ohad* (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license