Customer success is a method of determining performance and satisfaction based on results. It’s a way to demonstrate the real-world impact of your product. Instead of hypotheticals or projections about how your product will impact your customers, customer success initiatives seek to provide an answer to a simple question: Does your software help customers? Answering this question — and determining your customer’s successes — helps you retain customers, avoid churn, and attract new ones through referrals and goodwill.
Above all, customer success is about proactivity. Traditional customer service and satisfaction business models are reactive. A customer has a problem, and you take steps to make them happy. While ensuring customer satisfaction is still an important goal for any company, the subscription model of SaaS companies means that customers are not tied to your product. If it doesn’t deliver, customers can decide not to renew. So, you have to be prepared to sell your customers on continued use of your software every month, instead of annually or less frequently. Customer success is one way to ensure that your customers will happily remain subscribers. It is an ongoing process that can involve many factors depending on your product and your customers’ needs. Here are the 5 key aspects of customer success that are most essential:
To know your customers’
goals, their progress, and their use of your product, you have to enable open
lines of communication. Proactive communication is crucial to customer success
management. Keeping in contact with customers through a well-managed process
that encourages a partnership with your company as a trusted source of
solutions for the customer’s needs.
Clear lines of communication help reduce frustration and highlight product areas that might hinder customer success. Communication also helps hedge against cancellation, since it brings issues to the surface that otherwise might go unanswered. Unhappy customers often don’t complain — they just move on to a competitor. It’s not that customers demand perfection; they simply want their issues to be minimal and quickly resolved. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, dissatisfied customers that received proactive communication were willing to buy again, even if their issue was not fully resolved. With open discussion as part of a proactive customer relationship, you increase opportunities to achieve greater customer success.
It should come as no surprise that communication is one of the key aspects of customer success. There are several moments when it’s expected that you will communicate with your customers, such as when they are onboarded, whenever they have problems, and when they are at risk of churning. However, what about the not-so-obvious times?
Customer marketing sometimes falls by the wayside in the sphere of communication. You always want to market to the customers you already have, so that you achieve increased adoption and use of your product. You can upsell, offer add-ons, and more. These are people who already like your product, so it will be easy to find greater success in selling them additional functionality or features.
You can also use either testimonials or case studies from your current customers to promote your product to your target audience. This can be a powerful marketing tool since people like to see social proof of a viable product. They trust a user of a product more than the company making it, which can boost your subscription rates. Communication should also be occurring internally. The team responsible for customer success in your company should communicate what it is learning from your customers.
Also, they should be uncovering what kind of impact your product is having on your customers. You also want to discover how your customers are bringing higher value by being subscribed for longer and upgrading. They will also be bringing value by being de-facto spokespersons for your company, given how much they love your product. With internal communication, you raise the level of data you have on your customers, which will identify how valuable a customer can be.
Planning and Onboarding
Customer success is highly individualized. The desired outcome for one customer might be a failure for another, even if the two are in the same industry. The first element of an impactful customer success initiative, then, is to have a planning and onboarding process that identifies goals and eases users to an optimal product experience. SaaS companies must invest time and resources into getting to know customer goals and then continuously work with your customers toward achieving these goals.
When customers have a lackluster onboarding experience, your business will undoubtedly suffer. The worst-case scenario is that your business won’t be able to continue operating. It can be that serious because the first experience your customers have with a product you provide sets the tone for the entire relationship going forward. If your product confuses them, makes them feel overwhelmed, or creates some other unnecessary barriers to them being successful, it spells trouble for your business.
A poor onboarding experience will lead to greater churn down the road. The free trial or initial experience with your product should be a seamless, simple, and enjoyable experience. If customers have a poor experience during onboarding, expect them to go elsewhere soon after that.
It should be understood that there is no specific universal metric that shows when a customer has been fully onboarded. This is especially true when it comes to SaaS. Often, customers will start using your product in a limited capacity, followed by expanding how much time they spend using it. Given this, a customer could be considered onboarded if they have reached initial success in your product’s use. While they not have benefited from any actual value yet, they will have seen the value potential if they continue forward with using your product.
The key here is to understand that what your company considers a successful onboarding of a customer will likely differ from what a customer would think it to be. You may see success achieved when they become paying customers, whereas they would see it as having value potential for their needs.
Related to the planning process, segmentation is central to customer success management. It is the process of assigning context to individual customers. This context can be in the form of revenue, such as identifying the long-term value or average revenue. Still, a smarter and more customer-success focused method is to segment according to the customer’s anticipated experience.
Grouping customers based on their goals and needs can help a SaaS business determine the level of individual support to apply to each account. Some customers do not wish to have their SaaS provider breathing down their necks all the time, and others need your helping hand frequently. Communication and planning help identify customer needs, and segmentation is how you efficiently manage multiple customers with these varying needs.
When your business grows and signs on more customers, it becomes necessary to segment them. Otherwise, you will be coming up against roadblocks to further success. Different customers have different needs and expectations. Not every one of your customers will have the same use-case, meaning the success of each one of them will be different. While it would be nice to provide each one of your customers with a personalized experience, it’s impracticable. The next best thing you can enact is customer segmentation.
When you segment your customers, you want to make sure you are deciding to use ideal factors for what your user base needs. Your customers will have a better user experience if you combine multiple factors when segmenting. However, if you pick the wrong ones, your churn rate will increase. This will happen regardless of how great your product is. This is why you will have to choose the factors carefully. Keep in mind the needs of your customers, on an individual level, when you are segmenting.
You should also ask for input from different departments within your company. You may receive valuable feedback and insight from people who you may not have considered as providing something of value. When your customer segmentation is well thought out, it will become highly effective and lead to greater customer success.
A pitfall that many SaaS businesses fall into is segmenting their customers depending on the amount they pay. Yes, it may appear to be a logical means of segmenting. Also, it’s been done for a long time. However, this does not make it an effective strategy for achieving customer success.
A better way of segmenting customers is by their Appropriate Experience. This will provide your customers with precisely what they require, along with the coverage levels needed to achieve it.
Customer success management also requires a well-orchestrated process that seamlessly addresses expectations, accountabilities, and future needs. Executing on a customer success management plan requires outlining what your customers can expect over different milestones. Customers benefit from knowing what your company or your product will do for them over the first 30 days, the first six months, the first year, and so on. This plan should be clearly communicated, but so should the relative accountabilities for your company and the customer.
Your customers need to know what they are buying into. After all, they are deciding to place their trust in your product fulfilling a need or want they have. They need to understand the long-term value of your product, in terms of what you will be providing them going forward.
Again, it’s most beneficial to cast the business relationship as a partnership with mutual benefits and shared goals. You are asking your customer for a new sale every month, so be sure to provide value and clarity at each step.
A final key customer success aspect involves measuring all of the elements that contribute to or reflect customer success. These can include use metrics, goal metrics, or those obtained through communication, such as Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a useful indicator of customer success, as it lets a company know whether or not a customer would refer you to others. Businesses value referrals as low cost, effective sources of leads, but when your customers’ likelihood to refer also sheds light on the experience of using your product and the value that it delivers. Customer success management requires identifying key metrics, such as NPS and others. Insight is the common denominator of each of these five customer success elements.
Several metrics can provide you with helpful insights into your customers and their user experience. One involved identifying whether your customers are getting value out of your product. Are your customers using it often? Is it helping them? Another metric you want to keep an eye on is the churn rate. The more satisfied your customers are with your product, the lower the churn rate will be. The monthly recurring revenue is another key metric, which will let you know how much money your customers spend every month. This metric is especially helpful for subscription-based business models. Finally, there is the customer lifetime value. This metric indicates to you how much revenue you can expect to receive from any single customer for the time they are using your product.
These 5 key aspects to customer success need a great deal of focus and attention if you are to ensure your company’s present and future success. You need to proactively communicate with them. You also have to be communicating internally. The onboarding process should be a simple and seamless experience that keeps customers using your product. Customer segmentation is central to making sure your customers are not all lumped together as if they were a homogeneous group. When it comes to execution, your customers need to know what value you are providing them at various intervals. Finally, you need to use metrics to measure elements leading to customer success.
SmartKarrot’s dashboard provides visibility into the customer success journey. With tools that encourage customer engagement and analytics that identify use issues, SmartKarrot helps SaaS businesses operationalize customer success.27
This blog has been last updated on 18 May 2020 to make it more comprehensive.
Rakhin has over 10 years of experience driving business development and client services. In his prior roles, he stayed close to customers to understand their requirements and help them achieve their business goals. He is passionate about customer success.
Published January 19, 2020, Updated May 27, 2020