In 2007 I met the CEO and co-founder of Jigsaw, Jim Fowler. He had just closed his C-round of financing and was considering the next phase of growth. He had heard great things about this new department called Customer Success and asked me to help him scale his sales team.

One the key challenges this early SaaS company faced was one faced by many — balancing the needs of customer retention while simultaneously driving net new growth. Sales spent more time managing customer issues and preventing cancellations than selling new subscriptions. The company wouldn’t meet its sales targets if sales had to manage the customer.

On the support front, customers flooded the queue with “how do I” questions. Support spent more time on the phone training and explaining the value of the subscription rather than solving break-fix issues. Case queue would overwhelm the company if support had to manage the customer.

It was from this business pain that the customer success manager (CSM) role at Jigsaw was created.

Tackling SaaS Customer Churn

Jim Fowler, like many early SaaS leaders, realized that the traditional software model of sales, services and support would not work. What made solutions easy to buy and install also made them easy to uninstall. Customers needed to see business value in the first 30 days or they would move to the next cloud vendor. There was a big need for a new post-sales model across the business.

Early days of customer success focused on keeping customer churn under control. This required significant time investment from CSMs as they sorted out the product issues and escalated when necessary. While this strategy managed to improve customer retention rates, this high-touch effort was not going to scale.

In an effort to improve this approach, customer success teams turned to a more investigative approach to identify the biggest signs of customer churn. The proactive approach of noting these red flags through customer data certainly helped cut down on it, but too often mounds of data go unused versus using it to intelligently manage a customer’s journey.

The Advent of the Customer Success Technologist

Which brings us to today’s customer success strategies. A data-empowered CSM stays ahead of issues by leveraging customer intelligence to help drive business outcomes with her customer. However, with the evolution of customer success comes the realization that simply hiring people to proactively manage customers won’t scale. 

While a high-touch model may still make sense for customers that pay six or seven figures, it certainly doesn’t if they only pay three or four. It is time to marry customer data with programs, technology and automation.

We're entering a new era of customer success: the Age of the Technologist. We now have not only the data, but also the technology that allows us to score risk and flag issues that could lead to churn or identify early signals of customer advocacy. 

Customer usage or non-usage can be fed into digital programs. These programs are much more intelligent as new information — such as if a customer has logged in after training — are designed to drive a different intervention depending on the highs and lows of the customer journey.

Customer Satisfaction, At Scale

We can now maintain customer intimacy with all segments of customers without having to hire hundreds of CSMs. Coverage ratios can increase without impacting retention rates or CSAT scores. Customer success technologists can now act proactively and shift their efforts to not just churn prevention, but growing customer advocacy, revenue and customer lifetime value. 

The SaaS economy demanded a new way of managing customer relationships. The democratization of the cloud shifted the financial risk away from the customer, to rest squarely on the shoulders of the vendor. 

Customer success emerged as a new department and profession in the last decade to address this need. 

But creating a customer success department isn't enough. To meet the demands of our customers for greater personalization, successfully mine the mounds of customer data, master the emerging technology, and embrace scale, customer success needs to evolve. 

We must learn how to scale with data and technology to deliver true business outcomes for every customer segment.

Title image "Happy" (CC BY 2.0) by  jwerkman