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Rocking “Customer Success” with a simple onboarding survey

Today customers are flooded with options on products and services, be it range, quality or price. In such a competitive world, sales and marketing alone are not adequate to ensure and sustain growth, neither are annual contracts reliable methods of ensuring customer loyalty.

customer success customer advocacy

So, what can businesses do to succeed in the long run? This is where the “Customer Success” methodology is crucial. Customer success aims at providing maximum gains to customers along with boosting the company’s proven value. It is the process of predicting customer’s challenges or doubtful questions and proactively providing solutions and answers prior to their arising or ensuring that a problem if it exists, is quickly detected and fixed before it causes any damage. It is a strategy that helps enhance customer satisfaction and thereby retention, increasing the company’s revenue and customer loyalty. Hence, customer success provides an opportunity for customer advocacy.

How does it work?

Today, more than ever, customer satisfaction is inevitable for a business to flourish when competitions have become stark. A study “Customer Satisfaction, Competition, and Firm Performance: An Empirical Investigation” by Daniel H. Simon and Miguel I. Gomez (2013), reveals that rivals’ customer satisfaction influences a firm’s own customer satisfaction and also own and rival customer satisfaction affects the firm’s sales, as the figure below shows:

Conceptual Model Linking Own and Rival Customer Satisfaction, and Sales (Simon and Gomez 2013)

Organizations have different types of customers. Customers vary in their extent of dependence on the company, the products and services they use, and how much they spend on these products and services. In recent times, it has become increasingly expensive for businesses to obtain new customers. This is one of the main reasons why existing customers need to be kept happy. Satisfied customers become the company’s benefactors. In other words, if businesses have customers, they should focus on customer success.

Customer success is much more astute and penetrating than the well-known customer support. That is, customer support is “reactive” in approach, helping customers if they ask for help or reach out with a problem or question. On the other hand, customer success is “proactive”, focusing on helping identify possible query and facilitate customers to obtain the highest value, as the chart demonstrates:

Source: Hubspot

Some of the most successful emerging and growing companies are already investing in customer success. HubSpot found growing companies are 21% more likely than their stagnant counterparts to say customer success is “very important”.

The spearhead of the process—the customer success manager is responsible for day-to-day engagement with clients because involved customers are more likely to renew and purchase more. The nature of engagement includes ensuring clients’ “onboarding”, quarterly check-ins, and for many organizations, pursuing renewals and additional sales opportunities. Though the customer success manager’s role and responsibilities vary across organizations and industries, nevertheless, customer success is graded on a few areas; retention rate, the percentage of customers that are sustained over a period of time, upsell, when a customer upgrades to a better or costlier service, cross-sell when a customer purchases a different type of service from the company and overall satisfaction, satisfaction of the customer in their overall experience with the company. These responses are often acquired through surveys that ask the Net Promoter question.

According to business strategist and best-selling author Fred Reichheld (2001) known for his research and writing on the loyalty business model and loyalty marketing, a company’s profit can improve by 25% just by improving customer retention merely by 5%. The reason being, return customers tend to buy more from a company over time. As they do, the operating costs to serve them decline. There are also more chances that return customers would refer the company to others. They would often pay a premium to continue to do business with the same company rather than switch to a competitor with whom they are neither familiar nor comfortable. Acquiring a new customer is up to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. The strong correlation between retention and profitability is very evident.

The three infallible questions

Early on, Abbott (1955) and Alderson (1957) focused on the broad idea that “what people really desire are not products but satisfying experiences”. Furthering this path, experiential theorists in the 1980s like Hirschman and Holbrook (1982) and Thompson, Locander and Pollio (1989) put forward a wider view on human behavior, especially recognizing the importance of the emotional aspects of decision making and experience. Pine and Gilmore (1998) conceptualized the idea of “experiences” as distinct from goods and services, noting that a consumer purchases an experience to “spend time enjoying a series of memorable events that a company stages … to engage him in an inherently personal way”. This expansive perspective considers the customer’s experience holistically, incorporating the customer’s cognitive, emotional sensory, social, and spiritual responses to all interactions with a firm.

Another similar study by Frederick Hong-Kit Yim, Rolph E. Anderson and Srinivasan Swaminathan titled “Customer Relationship Management: Its Dimensions and Effect on Customer Outcomes” (2004) indicates that customer relationship managers need to think more than the technological components of customer relationship management and focus on four key dimensions to significantly enhance customer loyalty and sales growth:  focus on customers, organize around customer relationship management, manage knowledge and incorporate customer relationship management technology.

All these studies point out that to ensure that customers achieve their desired solution; the customer success team must actively engage with the customers and ask them the right questions to make sure that the product or the service is meeting their expectations. Along with it, improve the product or the service, onboarding processes, customer support, and overall business enhancement. Moreover, if the business is developing a new product or updating an existing one, customers can provide valuable feedback about design and functionality to help enhance it further. Customers often help identify problems that would have otherwise been overlooked. But what do the right questions entail? The “right” and “effective” questions should be revealing at the same time must be useful for the team to procure accurate and complete information about the product or the service.

Questions posed by customer surveys should be able to provide certain answers fruitfully in order to achieve the desired goal. These goals can be listed as:

  • Understand product/service performance
  • Collect feedback
  • Aid in developing new products
  • Ascertain customer loyalty
  • Enhance customer’s experience
  • Set up performance goals
  • Management reporting
  • Keep customers engaged

For achieving these, few pinpointed and effective questions should be designed for the survey, one must be careful that too many questions and queries can be an impediment. The long lists often are put-offs due to people’s lack of time and interest span. Therefore, the questions must be few and precisely directed towards collecting full and relevant information. The three top-most survey questions can be identified as follows, along with them, the effective action that should be taken based on the answers are briefly discussed: 

1) “What made you try/buy the product/service?”

This question will reveal not only the requirement of the customers but also why they chose the company. It also tells where the success of the product or the service lies. After understanding clearly what prompted the customers to the product or service, the marketing department should prominently enumerate these as strengths of the product or the service.  If customers are trying to attain some specific necessity, they must be focussed upon. Care should be taken that the specificity of each customer is individually addressed.

2) “How can the product/service be enhanced to suit you better?”

Customers are attracted by the ability of the company to provide them with the easiest solutions. Therefore, if there are one or more challenges in the product or service that stops them from the best possible experience, it must be immediately addressed. This not only ensures customer loyalty but also provides the company with an extra edge over the competitors. There is a great possibility that the product or service already has the capability of addressing the requirements but might not be underscored, they must be emphasized. Even if it presently does not, this question will provide the information on whether a new feature should be added, a fix is needed or an additional product or service has to be designed. This question aids in upselling and cross-selling the product or service along with building a better rapport with existing customers.

3) “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend the product/service to a friend or colleague? Why?”

This question is an emphatic way to assess customer’s satisfaction with the company. The gradation lets the company gauge exactly where they stand in terms of customer happiness. It also lets them set goals for the future. Because of the effectiveness of this question, it is one of the two questions that make up the Net Promoter Score, one of the most trusted management tool that is used to gauge the loyalty of a firm’s customer relationships. The companies can ask customers for testimonials and referrals for promotion. The ones who mark lesser scores should be individually reached out to and checked if they need personalized guidance or assistance. These three questions contain great potential for enabling self-assessment and feedback for enhancement. These survey questions are almost indispensable for the companies to understand their customers in order to effect customer success and promote customer advocacy. 

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