An Aggregation of Touchpoints
As we observe the development of the Customer Success discipline, it is becoming apparent that “Customer Success” from a customer’s perspective is essentially an aggregation of all the touchpoints the customer experiences as they progress through their life-cycle. A related notion is that creating success for customers is not restricted to Customer Success practitioners alone, but rather requires concerted effort from the rest of the vendor organization.
Customer Success is inherently a team effort that requires coordination between various customer-facing groups, coupled with a fundamental shift towards becoming a customer-centric organization. This shift is ideally defined by a charter that guides the organization’s mindset, and activities to consistently create and prioritize customer value.
This post elaborates on the concept of a shared approach to delivering customer success, and examines the value contributed by one of the most important elements of a SaaS organization – the Services group. I will present a different way of looking at Services delivery, as customers continue to seek increased value from their vendor interactions.
In my previous post, entitled Value Realization, a Customer Success Mantra, we evaluated Value Realization in a SaaS context. A significant part of value realization is delivered by the Services team, specifically as it engages with a customer during the onboarding phase of the customer journey, right after a contract is signed and up to the instance a customer goes live with a service.
This onboarding value delivery is similar to the traditional concept of Services delivery, wherein a services team is engaged to deliver complex, on-site deployments that may take days or weeks to implement. Once projects are deployed, the Services team withdraws, and the customer continues to operate under their own initiative. One can think of this on-premise style of delivery as building a train and getting it to motion on a fixed track – once the startup program is complete, the train runs under its own steam with occasional need for maintenance from the service provider.
The parallel analogy in a SaaS context is that onboarding success is not measured by simply getting a train in motion, but more so by how many passengers successfully complete the journey and reach their desired destinations. The number of SaaS passengers coming back for a repeat journey is another measure of continuing success. SaaS success isn’t measured so much in terms of integrations, as it is in terms of service usage and adoption.
Once a customer has been onboarded and is live, Customer Success engages and encourages maximum value realization by increasing service usage and adoption. Customer Success also starts exploring expansion opportunities with the customer, and starts to determine if any further value-add services will benefit the customer to help achieve their overall business objectives and outcomes. Professional Services, as a group is always focused on a for-profit activity, while Customer Success as a group, on the other hand, may or may not be a revenue generating but strives to be a trusted advisor.
As new business objectives surface through proactive, regular interactions between Customer Success and the customer, Services re-engages to help deliver the new outcomes. In this sense, the Services team becomes the technical execution wing of Customer Success. Their goals are always aligned with the customer, to maximize value by delivering successful outcomes. The question that Customer Success should ask the customer is straight-forward: In order to be successful with the technology, are there any additional services that can be delivered?
Due to this customer-centric focus, and the symbiotic partnership between the Customer Success and Services, the Services team can be now be thought of as “Success Services”. This group complements Customer Success on the one hand, and the customer on the other. By this classification, Success Services retains its technical expertise and delivery orientation, while taking on focused delivery of customer outcomes throughout the customer’s journey.
A Proactive Organization
This is an important concept for SaaS businesses, as we are well aware that profitability in SaaS is generally delayed, as it takes significant periods after customer acquisition to derive profit from a customer relationship. Reshaping the Services group to be a continued value-provider throughout the customer lifecycle, and not just the onboarding phase, shortens the path to customer profitability. A number of large, successful SaaS companies currently offer Success Services designed to manage usage, increase adoption, and drive customers to desired outcomes. Salesforce and AWS are prime examples of this approach.
Through this approach, Services also becomes a proactive organization, rather than a passive, deliverable-oriented one; the same concept can be applied to other passive groups like Customer Support. Proactivity across the organization, coupled with a strong customer-centric focus, can positively influence the customer experience. We then start to realize the effect of leveraging all possible touchpoints to achieve a common goal – delivering satisfied customers for whom expansion, renewal, and customer advocacy become natural outcomes to their customer experience, through their Customer Success and Success Services interactions.