The Origins of CS

In my last post, I explained the origins of the Customer Success vocation and why there is a need for a new business function. Since Customer Success managers fill the gap between sales and support teams, they can work cross-functionally across a business, collecting data from all sectors of the customer lifecycle. Once you’ve decided to invest in Customer Success, consider the following when putting together your team.

The Hub

The Customer Success team is designed to be the primary interface for your customers (and users) to ensure they are engaged with your product. The only way a CS team can be successful is if they pivot internally (with sales, marketing, finance, training, professional services, tech support, product management, and engineering) and become an independent entity working alongside the other teams.

The CS team acts as the “hub” for all things customer facing, monitoring all the internal interactions that vary during the lifecycle of a customer. The only caveat is that this is an unscalable model. It works great for a small to mid-size company until the user base grows beyond the scope of manual relationship maintenance. The solution?…a Customer Success Automation Platform.

Basic Customer Success Deliverables

In the simplest terms, the CS team is responsible for retaining existing customers, and proactively helping them reach their business goals. Whether this manifests in finding ways to increase their subscription numbers, or sell more units, the CS professional has to understand the business and think strategically about how to shape their customers’ experience. Customer Success automation makes this manageable by tracking usage, support tickets, and past CRM interactions, as well as creating emails/surveys and a customizable knowledge base.

By automating the repetitive actions like customer onboarding, CSMs are freed up to be more productive in their retention efforts. For efficiency’s sake, it’s important to have a framework of common processes that are triggered by defined milestones in the customer lifecycle. In addition to monitoring renewals and managing churn, the aggregation of customer data also makes CS professionals capable of targeting ideal upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

Basic Workflow

If you are investing in a CS team, these are the strategies to implement.

1.) Foundation: It is critical to build a base of knowledge upon which you can found a successful customer relationship. In order to construct a solid foundation, you need to investigate, do your research, and make sure you know the answers to their questions. Do you understand their use case in detail? Do you know when your customers have their busiest period? (maybe it’s holiday driven, seasonal etc.) When can you expect their use of your product to fluctuate? Do you need to provide more attention to your customers during this period? How can you ensure that they are successful in meeting their corporate goals? How many end users do they have? Identify power users, influencers, and advocates, and make sure to ask many questions, even after the onboarding.

2.) Internal Communications: Service-level agreements (SLAs) are defined in the terms of sale (ToS). If these contractual obligations differ from the standard ones, make sure your CS team is aware of it. Penalties can occur if the uptime SLA (of the SaaS platform) is not published or met. You must also have standard SLAs for technical support. These contractual obligations must be formally documented in a tool that is accessible by the support and engineering staff, not just the sales and customer success managers.

3.) Ongoing Communication: Keeping communication lines open is key, not only for sharing information, but also for ensuring your customer is getting the greatest value from your product. For example, there may be new features you release; are your clients aware of how to use these features to gain more efficiency in their use of your product? Newsletters are not enough, and as you growth your customer base, technical webinars are the best way to share new information en masse. Encourage follow-ups if personal training sessions are needed, and engage your product managers when appropriate.

4.) Cross-team Communication: Technical support provides reactive help to customers, after there has already been an issue. The information about these errors should be shared with the CS team so that they can prevent these issues, and follow up with the customers to make sure there aren’t irregularities in customer satisfaction. When done right, support issues should be logged into the Customer Success automation platform to provide a holistic view of the customers’ history. Sharing best practices, workflows, and solutions is beneficial to all parties involved.

5.) Celebrate Their Success: If your customers succeed, so does your company. The goal of the customer success team is to make sure that customers are happy with your product, and help them achieve their business goals using it. This is critical in a SaaS environment, and your bottom line is directly affected if success is not achieved. Your customers have many options, so if you make a positive impact on their business, they will be only too happy to continue the contractual agreement you have with them.

Outcomes

ROI (value add) for the customer must be measurable throughout the lifecycle of the engagement. As we move towards a subscription based, pay-as-you-go business model, the risk of not retaining a customer long term is extremely high, unless you continuously demonstrate how their ROI with you is significantly better than with your competition. It’s easier than ever to switch from one software solution to another, so don’t get complacent; you have to keep striving for greater and greater heights.

Relationship maintenance is a priority in Customer Success. Even if you have great meetings, and are continuously in contact, the rule of thumb is: if the customer is not using your product, or has minimal engagement with you – you have a major problem.

Assumption – A Bad Word

Everyone knows what people say about assuming; it places you at a disadvantage because you’re not certain about the state of affairs. The truth is, CS isn’t just a post-sales support function. You cannot assume the customer is using your product, and you can not assume the customer is going to renew their contract. Don’t assume, make certain by putting in the effort, and using a CSA platform to make the daily repeatable tasks easier and more time efficient. That way, you’re freed up to pursue proactive and predictive activities that benefit your clients.

CS Platforms to Help Scale

When the company is growing its user base, automation and event insights are critical to maintain productivity. Real human interactions are very much still required, but the CS team as a whole has to be as efficient as streamlined as possible. Customers cannot feel like a low priority, or they will take their business elsewhere. In the past few years, we have seen various companies emerge with Customer Success platforms to help manage the “outcomes” of increasing ROI and maintaining customer relationships more effectively.

Of these platforms, Strikedeck is unique in this space because it’s able to fulfill the analytics and CRM needs, in addition to providing capabilities for support, communication, and a knowledge base, all within the same system. Strikedeck also has the capability of tracking KPIs, churn rates, and renewals, and custom builds a solution for your needs that seamlessly integrates into your product. That way, customers are able to provide you with their data without feeling displaced, and your CS team can perform their job at optimal levels of productivity.

Conclusion

Your customers are the only people who can tell you whether or not your software is invaluable to them. Product usage is the most important metric, and must be treated as such. Your power users will actually take the time to help you be successful, improve your product, and share in your vision, Cultivate their expertise and harness their passion to help you advocate in their spheres. They see the true value because they’ve experienced it firsthand! These customers will partner with you, provide feedback to improve the functionality, and be an active part of the customer relationship.

They will enable the Customer Success team to set achievable targets and ensure your customers are getting the best value from your product or service. To implement this functionality, companies must invest in their CS organization. Customer Success managers hold a versatile skill set, not fulfilled by any other position. At a high level, they listen to customer feedback, proactively solve issues, and identify upsell opportunities. When they’re effective, desired business outcomes become predictable and entirely achievable. Predictable success and profit are important factors for any company, especially in the age of the cloud and subscription offerings. With a Customer Success team as part of your company, mutual success is inevitable.

Vipul Samat

Vipul Samat

Director, Customer Success & Tech Services at Ellie Mae

Over his 18 year career, Vipul has experienced enterprises ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies. He is now the Director of CS at Ellie Mae, with previous experience at Indix, Brocade, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape. As a Strategic Advisor to Strikedeck, he provides expertise in a variety of functions, ranging from CS and high touch programs, to traditional support centers around the globe.