You wouldn't climb the highest mountain without a guide or take up parachuting without an instructor. So why expect your customers to succeedwithout some guidance?
Today, it's important to help your Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) customers to succeed by analyzing the way they use your product and step in when they need help. This approach, known as customer success, has grown rapidly over the past couple of years. It's a byproduct of the subscription economy that has turned the traditional sales model on its head.
This is Different
They explained that customer success complements your sales, marketing and supportefforts, but isn't the same as any of them. Sales depends on closing a deal.Marketing builds brand. Support solves customer problems. Customer successoffers proactive guidance that helps your customers succeed on an ongoing basis-- long after the ink dries on the sales contract and before it comes up for renewal.
"What they do with your product matters more than what they say aboutit," said Harry Hirschman, director of customer success at Totango."And in the SaaS world, we have the capacity for real time sensors toactually know. There's no need for anecdotal information or guessing orconversations with customers. You can actually see what they're doing."
That ability to monitor what the customer is doing offers insight into whatthey're doing right and what they may be doing wrong. And that, in turn, offersa framework for engagement where you can step in with helpful ideas, becoming atrusted advisor and building loyalty lasts through renewal time.
"When you engage with your customers at the right time, with the rightcontent, with the right message, with the right intervention, it's a verypowerful way of bonding them to you," said Hirschman.
Just as surely that the basic idea of customer success is the same in allcompanies, the way it is structured and applied will invariably vary. Somecompanies create a separate customer success department that reports to the CEO. Some make it part of sales or marketing. Some initiate one-on-one contact withcustomers. Some rely on email. Nobody is wrong, but the needs of onecompany are probably going to differ from those of another.
No matter how it's structured, Hirschman said it's important to build it as across-company effort. "When everyone contributes to adding value to thecustomer, then everybody wins," he said.
As Hirschman provided the big-picture view, Riley Gibson, vice president of customersuccess at Kapost, provided specific examples from his own company's CS program.
"We have it as its own department, so it's in line with sales, marketingand product," he said. "Actually the VPs of each of those departments... all have variable compensation that plays into how well we're doing inrenewal."
The two companies shared a common view of three critical CS processes:mapping the customer journey, monitoring the customer's health and acting on theearning warning signs that lead to churn.
Managing the Journey
"The approach to customer success is about managing the journey,"said Hirshman. "It's about understanding, it's about measuring, drivingcustomer value at every point across the journey."
Gibson said his company, which specializes in content marketing, varies thelength of sales cycles depending on the size of clients. But he offered a commonroadmap for how Kapost works with its customers over the life of theirrelationship. That journey starts in pre-sales and then includes onboarding,habit-building, value-building and renewals.
Along the way, a customer success team comprised of a CS manager and a salesconsultant works to build trust, develop relationships, gauge the depth andbreath of usage and measures how the customer is meeting its objectives.
The "tough part," according to Hirschman is measuring the value ofyour service to the customer. "How do you measure value? How do you reallyknow if a customer is getting value," he asked. "The most common wayto do this is through customer surveys, support tickets and other CRM-typemetrics.
"Then, with the emergence of customer success as a field, and with productslike ours to fill the need, I'd suggest there's another way, a better way,"he added. "It can include all those previous metrics, but fundamentallywhat we're adding to this is what customers are doing -- and not doing -- inyour product. That's the best gauge of value."
With CS tools like Totango, companies build dashboards that reflect exactly how theircustomers are doing against a set of predetermined metrics.
Gibson said that turned out to be a learning experience at Kapost, whichinitially took "a generic approach and looked for a few things that allcustomers should be doing." What was missing was the customizationthat could help Kapost "really get eyes on how customers were using thetool."
Timing is Everything
Kapost started over, identifying the one or two key tools that are critical tounlocking the value of its service. "We can monitor that usage, and if it startsto slip, that's the perfect time to come in and start coaching them with bestpractices, with content that can help them think about content marketingstrategy," Gibson said. "We really push coaching at them to help buildthat usage."
Customer success is also critical as software companies scale-up in growthbecause it only leads to interaction when it is needed.
"Really, to scale, you need to be proactive and time things right,"explained Hirschman. "And that means a data-driven approach so that youknow what's going on in an account and whether you're driving or not drivingvalue for your customers."
Without that approach, he said companies would just be adding another CSmanager every time it adds a new cluster of customers. "That's linearscaling," he said. "And we want to get beyond that as best wecan."
Title image by Germanskydiver / Shutterstock.