With the evolution of the information age, specially in the last 5 years, where knowledge about any field is at fingertips, the competition for keeping the customers loyal to your brand has increased rapidly. Customers are demanding more from the business in terms of services they can avail and with the month to month subscription plans, it has become much easier for them to switch vendors if their expectations are not met.
Hence, businesses are getting keen on building effective customer success strategies and the customer success managers (CSMs) are on the spree of honing their skills with the experiences and learnings of their work life. While dealing with different customers and based on the experience they get, the successful CSMs often design a customer success renewal playbook which comprises the best practices they can apply to their job roles.
Customer success as a function in a business has undergone a vast evolution in itself, especially in the last decade, when more and more companies have realized the benefits of customer retention and loyalty. And the evolution is still under the process with more and more software vendors switching to subscription based business models. In fact, it has been predicted by Gartner that by 2020, 80% of software providers will have migrated to a subscription-based business model.
But instead of drilling further into customer success let us look at a brief history of this function and how it has evolved in the past few decades to become what it is today.
Before 2000: Call-center, Emails and World Wide Web
It was during the 1980’s when the concept of call center was introduced to give post-sale support to the customers. It was mostly a reactive approach when customers used to call the customer support staff of an organization to fix the issues they would face while using their product or service. This was the first segment of customer-facing professionals and would interact with the customers through phone lines.
They later evolved into using emails and instant messaging with the advent of internet technologies becoming more widespread in the 90’s. But still, these later technologies didn’t replace the call-centers and only became an add-on to the existing service to provide support to the customers. They are still in operation in today’s world because companies widely need them to fix issues with their products or services faced by the customers. The advent of online ticketing systems made it more feasible for both the customers and companies to raise tickets and execute processes of resolving them in a more systematic and accountable way.
Between 2000 to 2010: CRM, Web Channels, Mobile App
With the evolution of customer management software built prior to the 2000’s, the Customer Relationship Management software came into existence in this new decade. The CRM software was designed with taking a more comprehensive approach of giving service to the customers. It would take into account the customer history and would help the customer relationship officers to understand the customer satisfaction level. Companies by now had realized the importance of customer retention and expanding their business with them, hence they started coming up with the ways to improve customer relationships through software like these. It would mainly integrate the sales, marketing and customer support into one platform so that a holistic view can be attained by the software users to gain useful insights around customer retention and business expansion.
Through web channels companies were able to streamline their customer service by reducing the size of their support staff and giving platforms to the customers to access help and resources online. The invention of smartphones made it even more easy for the companies to bring efficiency to their customer support activities. The customers could gain online help articles, tutorials to use the company products. Some companies even created online support apps which customers could operate from their smartphones to access help online through automated phone operators for live service requests.
2010: SaaS, 2013: Customer Success
The decade beginning from 2010 brought widespread adoption of the subscription based distribution model of software and hence the SaaS industry started booming in this period. Companies became more qualified in the field of retaining customers and started using metrics like retention rates or upsell quotas and maintaining customer success renewal playbook. SaaS companies began to realize that the traditional business model can no longer serve the new on-premise models. The subscription business model started increasing the sales numbers rapidly due to lower initial investment of the customer while at the same time bringing rise in the customer churn if their satisfaction was not met.
The primary concern for the SaaS companies was to retain customers hence companies started looking for the ways through which they can maintain a successful business relationship with their customers and help them derive value from their products. Hence, the Customer Success as a business process was introduced somewhere around 2013 by the early adopters.
Unlike previous customer relationship managers, the customer success managers should know their product inside-out. The CSM should be able to guide customers through their journey of product adoption by continuously demonstrating the value of the product in the context of the customer’s business. They should be well versed with the software their company is providing and should possess the technical as well as the domain knowledge of the product. Their playbook should comprise of all the stages of customer life cycle and cover points around:
- Provide a great customer experience during customer onboarding:
The customer should be faced with a manual help of giving orientation to the product if possible. The more personalized you make the onboarding experience the more easily they start building trust towards your brand.
- Facilitate their initial adoption of the product:
The customer business should be able to drive value from your product and hence it becomes prominent for your customers to quickly adapt to the major features of your product for the initial adoption to take place. The CSM should be able to achieve that within a couple of weeks of customer onboarding.
- Achieve long-term adoption goals:
Based on the usage patterns of the product, the CSM should be able to identify which areas of the product are still not being used by the customer. Through this knowledge they should take steps to introduce those unused features to the customers and recommend them to use it.
- Expand business:
An expert CSM knows beforehand when is the right time for recommending the customers for upsell or cross-selling of the related products and should be able to execute it with much efficacy.
A comprehensive customer success playbook noting down all the experiences and learnings of the CSM can prove out to be very helpful in the long run and should be made by taking reference from existing customer success renewal playbook available online. With more than seven years in the last decade, the customer success function has evolved immensely and is still under the process as more and more businesses are realizing the need to retain their customers for increasing their revenue is directly proportional to the customer’s lifetime value.