SaaS companies rely on customer success, or CSM per se, for their own success. Customers have more choices and opportunities to move on to a competitor’s product or service, thanks to the SaaS subscription delivery model.
This relatively new way of selling and providing customer service makes it crucially important to remain completely in-step with customers. Not only are SaaS businesses effectively required to re-sell each account every month to ensure renewed or maintained subscriptions, but they also must know customer needs and goals.
A Customer Success Manager (CSM) is a company’s front line resource for communicating and connecting with customers in a way that creates and nurtures a proactive relationship. A good customer success manager remains in contact with the customer, but how can a SaaS company fully leverage the power of customer success?
A great CSM helps ensure a customer experience that provides ongoing value by listening first, communicating clearly, solving problems with technical know-how, and advocating for customers.
The CSM role
Not too long ago, the CSM job title was unheard of, however, the goals of this role have been embraced by successful salespeople and organizations for years. Customer success is a foundation of relationship-based sales. Many industries have focused on making customers happy, as it is a sure way to earn renewals.
In the past, these renewal dates were more widely spread, as a customer might have, for example, purchased a software license for three years. A thoughtful, proactive, and successful account representative would likely keep in touch with the customer to make sure that they are happy. But that was the extent of customer success overtures.
Today, with renewals — and the risk for cancellation — occurring at a more rapid pace, customer success is not optional. Organizations delivering products or services through a subscription need a proactive CSM who is well connected and in-tune with customers. So, a good CSM understands the technical aspects of a product, is a great communicator, with empathy for the customer, and the ability to identify problems and solve them, but what makes for a great CSM?
Drive customer success through a plan
As with many business activities — or life activities for that matter — the best results follow careful planning. A CSM has two different but related planning tasks that should be constantly in motion:
- An overall SaaS customer success plan: For an overall customer success plan, a CSM should target the right metrics, segment customers into categories, and create an onboarding experience that collects information while also providing guidance and optimal product experience to customers.
- Targeted success plans for each individual customer: This requires a deep understanding of the typical customer’s needs, all of your product’s capabilities, and the specific problems facing individual customers.
Choose what you measure wisely
The choice of metrics comes down to CSM’s communication and problem-solving skills. You can only measure success if you know what success means to your customer. Too many businesses make incorrect assumptions about their customer’s goals and create a plan that only carries customers partly to success.
What are your customer’s problems? Do they know, or do they need your company’s expert guidance? Are the customer’s problems outside of what your product can accomplish for them? Answers to these questions will help you focus on the right metrics to increase retention, sell upgrades, and improve customer experience.
It is easy for a CSM to use numerous vanity metrics and lose sight of the end goal. A great CSM should know the specific metric they should look for. For example, number of logins would give you a fair bit of idea about your product usage. But knowing the length of the log-in hours would enhance your understanding of the consumer behavior.
Segment customers for efficiency
Segmenting customers into categories creates an efficient way to broadcast common customer success activities. Some customers require more intervention than others. While the best CSMs keep in touch with all of their customers, no one can be engaged with all customers, all the time.
Use segments for different touchpoints
CSM must make the right use of both hi-touch and low-touch engagements with their customers. For the segment of high profile customers, they must ensure that they make an in-person touchpoint on a timely basis.
Avoid being too sales-oriented
They have to make the right judgment for the number of times they touch base with the customers. Customers can get put-off by an overbearing CSM and mistake success overtures for sales calls. Customers want their problems solved; they don’t want to be sold another product or feature. With a great CSM, the follow-up sales process is natural. They aim at delivering only what the customer needs.
Get customers off on the right foot
Onboarding can also lead to greater customer success, and in fact, maybe the most important stage set for customer experience. Does your product nurture a relationship with the customer? Does it provide all of the resources needed for success, or does it simply dump customers into the product? If your customer doesn’t know where to step next once they log in, it will be difficult for them to achieve success.
CSMs can optimize onboarding by focusing on product features that provide value. Avoid overwhelming customers with an extensive tutorial on all features. Rather, use the information gathered in your communication with the customer to identify their pain points. And deliver quick wins that will draw your customers into the product. Then, as your relationship grows and you identify secondary goals, you can upsell. Or simply connect your customer with those additional features as necessary.
Provide guidance and advocacy
It bears repeating; customers can confuse a CSM with a company’s sales department. While a CSM’s duties straddle service and sales, the role impacts a SaaS company much more than those functions combined.
Customers need guidance and advocacy to ensure that they reach their goals. Guidance helps customers make informed decisions and can help identify areas where certain product features may be most impactful. Advocacy can cut across several lines. From helping customers increase the adoption-rate among their users, to adding features in the product that might not be present.
As much as a CSM is tasked with ensuring a customer’s success, they also play a key role in ensuring a SaaS company’s success. It has been increasingly realized that business success and customer success is a symbiotic relationship. And CSMs are the key player in driving this success in both ends.
Through strong communication, product knowledge, individualized planning, management strategies and more, CSMs can deliver value to customers and SaaS companies.
Customer success in itself is an evolving field. There is no set standard available so far. Hence, CSMs have to experiment, learn and improvise on various strategies to perform their job well.