Foundation for customer success
Years ago, I sat in a conference room on the campus of a global technology company. The distance from one end of the room to the other was so great that people spoke to each other through table mics. In that room, leaders from commercial sales, marketing and IT debated how to drive customer usage of online services. At the time, one of my colleagues argued we should invest in field roles to drive usage for our customers, but her arguments failed to persuade leadership team who was more focused on revenue and a three-year renewal cycle. It took years for the organization to realign its vast field-based teams around the principle of customer success, while it ceded ground to competitors whose focus on customer value creation resulted in user-generated demand for adoption and purchase.
Fast forward to 2020—Customer Success Specialist is the 6th fastest-growing profession in the US, according to LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging jobs report. To quote Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen, “retention is the new growth.” Both traditional and born-in-the-cloud tech companies are investing in customer success initiatives to seek new ways to drive value for their customers. Yet many companies continue to focus on revenue and renewals instead of the moments that matter.
The Customer Success maturity model
If your company is like most technology firms, you have a Customer Success program supported by a dedicated team of specialists. How do you know that program drives retention and higher customer satisfaction, and what you could do to further improve your scores? To help, PK created a Customer Success maturity model defined by four components: Customer Engagement, Organizational Accountability, Measurement Approach and Foundational Capabilities.
Customer experience extends beyond product and into the ecosystem of marketing, technical support, services and how you engage your customers to provide the most value possible from your solutions. A strong customer engagement model leverages every touchpoint—whether human, digital or static—to propel the customer towards their desired outcome. Marketing figured out the connection between customer value and sales years ago, and many companies use sophisticated MarTech stacks to engage their customers in new and interesting ways prior to purchase. We need to expand this notion of thoughtful engagement to the full customer lifecycle.
Companies like HubSpot design their engagement model to drive behaviors that lead to success. They provide a number of free resources and certifications around inbound marketing, sales and service through their Hubspot Academy. Their content goes beyond use of their software to guide a customer to transform their digital business. They leverage their partner network to pair marketing agencies with customers-in-need to design and deliver campaigns.
Engaging a customer thoughtfully throughout the customer lifecycle does more than drive a given individual in a customer company to use more features—it helps form an impression of your brand.
A broad company culture of customer success is a hallmark of companies achieving high retention rates. When SaaS companies recognized the need to drive usage and adoption, most built narrowly defined organizations to pursue those metrics. “With teams focused on driving usage and adoption, our renewal motion will be simple,” they assumed. While these focused teams and organizations have been generally successful, they often operate without broader organizational alignment and shared priorities of customer success.
The impact of misaligned priorities across your sales and customer success organization is significant. To meet their quota, a seller can be motivated to sell a SKU that the customer doesn’t need, or overpromise the benefits of a given product—and then the customer success manager is left to fill that gap, trying to drive usage of a solution without true customer value. Compare this to a customer success motion dedicated to enabling that more basic offer, then building a value-based case for upsell. Which firm will enjoy greater long-term customer value?
It’s not just sales and post-sales teams that need to be aligned. The engineers building your product should also be aligned on driving customer success. Best practices in customer experience already show the impact of engineering teams that focus on customer needs first and foremost—this is what makes companies like Salesforce so successful. Their customer success teams care about how the customer is using their product and how to make it better—and the information that CSMs glean from direct interaction with customers in real-world scenarios directly helps developers build better features and fix existing problems. Each piece of internal feedback delivered on behalf of a customer is connected to an impacted account or opportunity. If your whole company is goaled on items that accrue to customer success, your business will be better for it.
When your business values one thing, and your customers another, dissonance and dissatisfaction aren’t far off. Customer success managers are often incented on renewal and retention alone. With portfolios of over 100 companies for your typical CSM, it’s little wonder why customers only hear from their “dedicated” customer success manager when your renewal is due.
Last year, I set up a CRM system for an entrepreneurial friend to manage his contacts and track his long sales cycles. He’s old school—handwriting pages and pages, appending sticky notes to remind him to follow up with prospects and partners. I hoped a CRM system would simplify his customer engagement process and enable him to eventually hand off this part of his business to a sales manager. His usage pattern is typical of unsupported entrepreneurs and employees: despite an initial flurry of activity, contact and meeting entry, the platform didn’t really change the way he tracked his opportunities, and after a while, he returned to his old routine.
A customer success manager from the CRM provider called me immediately after purchase, offering to help with onboarding and driving success with the product. I appreciated this at the time, but like my friend, the CSM’s engagement dropped off quickly (it’s unlikely he was incented or had the time to do much more). The next email I received—11 months and one week after purchase—was nothing more than a renewal reminder.
By refocusing measurement on key business objectives for your customer—and building motions around delivering that value—you’ll find increases in satisfaction and customer health alongside increases in revenue. Customers are likely to spend 140% more after a positive experience than customers who report negative experiences.
Engagement models, organizational alignment, and measurement strategies all depend on a strong foundation of processes, data and systems. Here are a few foundational capabilities we’ve observed in our work with market leaders that enable mature, effective, and valuable customer success motions.
Customer engagement. Systems that automate and personalize key touchpoints allow your field teams to focus on driving the most value out of their person-to-person touchpoints. Dashboards that benchmark successful customers help teams identify the best next step to help their customers achieve a return on their investment. And well-designed learning and community platforms help your customers self-serve key information to grow their skills while expanding their product usage.
Organizational accountability. The foundation of organizational accountability is systems and data that help each team understand and deliver on customer outcomes from the customer perspective. Processes should likewise be interconnected. Customer needs and business goals should be identified and documented during the sales cycle for new customers, and leveraged throughout the onboarding, support, and engagement cycles.
Measurement approach. Measurement is impossible without data—and measuring the right things can be difficult. Getting product telemetry right is critical to understanding the depth and breadth of usage at a given customer, and some levels of telemetry are impossible because they violate data privacy protections. Consider applying the same care to finding and highlighting metrics that matter across your business.
Great customer success is never finished—just as your business evolves and adapts, so should your efforts to help customers achieve the greatest value from your products and services. Customer success isn’t the responsibility of your customer success organization, it’s the core responsibility of your business.
If you’d like to see how your own customer success strategies, programs, and culture stack up against the best, check out our customer success webinar.
About the Author
Brooke Bors serves as Engagement Manager at PK. She has dedicated her 15+ year career to advocating for customers and building the infrastructure, tools, and strategies to help worldwide firms better connect with and serve those customers. She’s led global teams inside customer success and advocacy organizations, facilitated executive workshops and planning meetings, and built customer advocacy and feedback programs from scratch. At PK, she works with some of the world’s most customer-obsessed technology brands to build durable, differentiated customer strategies and programs.Tags: Customer Engagement, Customer Success, customer success model, SaaS, Tech