Imagine one of those food subscription services that sends you the ingredients to easily make meals at home — we’ll call it FoodBox. You sign up for a FoodBox subscription that sends you five dinners for the week, and the box arrives the following Monday.
As it turns out, some of the recipes are too tricky for you to cook — you have a small kitchen and a toddler to keep track of, and you can’t “stir constantly” for 20 minutes while you watch him. To make it worse, your young one doesn’t like the leafy greens included in the meals, and you go to the gym on Mondays, so you can’t cook that night.
As a result, you’re throwing away half the meals you’re sent, and you start to worry that you’re wasting money. Frustrated, you cancel your subscription.
All the people at FoodBox can tell is that you signed up, took delivery of a package, and then canceled — but they don’t know why. If they’d had a Customer Success team, they could have reached out to you to see how things were going.
Maybe they could have changed your delivery date so that you were cooking on the weekends when you had more time. Maybe they could have adjusted the recipes to make them easier to cook while you’re busy. If they knew your subscription wasn’t working for you, they could have predicted that you were about to cancel and worked to keep you. But in this scenario, there was no point of contact for you to voice your concerns to, so the opportunity for intervention to help with your adoption was missed.
We all know that product adoption is important, but the actual metrics you should be keeping an eye on are often neglected. Onboarding is a planned, structured process, so it’s tempting to hand off the product to the customer and assume they can take the wheel from there, but customers often need more help to get up and running.
Here are a few key questions to keep in mind about your adoption maturity:
Adoption is crucial to your Customer Success strategy, and vice versa. Customer Success is about making sure that your customers are getting what they want out of your product. If the product is meeting their needs, they’ll adopt it — weaving it into their everyday workflows. If the customer never really feels enthused by your product, they won’t renew.
It’s worth mentioning that adoption looks different depending on the product, the customer, and the company, so it doesn’t always fit in a neat box. It’s also fluid — turnover, strategy, and your product itself can change over time, so the definition of adoption will change with them.
For any product though, there should be a point when you can tell that your customer is fully up to speed and cruising along nicely. Whether it’s through usage data or whether they simply told you, it’s important that you define what adoption is so you can look out for it when it happens.
The goal is to identify the signs of renewal and churn before they happen. Maybe onboarding didn’t go very well, the end user inherited the platform without fully understanding its value, or they just never got the hang of the product. You should be able to notice certain patterns — for instance, maybe customers who use a certain feature more than once a week usually renew — that you can track in order to ensure adoption and mitigate churn.
Adoption monitoring is also hugely beneficial to product feedback. You’re not just looking at adoption of your product or service as a whole, you want to know which specific features are being adopted. That information will help your product and sales teams understand what customers like and don’t like about your product.
Finally, measuring adoption is crucial to making sure your customers are getting the ROI they need. Every customer who invests in your product has a need in mind when they sign up, and whether they adopt will depend on whether they feel that need is being met. A combination of data insights — how many users are logging in, how often, and what features they’re using — and tracking what the customers wanted to begin with will help everyone get on the right path.
Adoption rate is the most basic metric of adoption, but it’s a useful baseline number to have in your back pocket. The adoption formula is:
Number of Adopted Users
Total Number Of Users
If you have 1000 users and 250 of them have adopted your product, your adoption rate is 25%.
In order to use this formula, you’ll have to establish what your definition of an “adopted user” is. Some of the formulas later in this post can help with that, but in most cases it will be specific to your company. For example, you could say that a customer who has completed your onboarding and has 75% of their users logging in on a daily basis has adopted.
This metric can be used to measure the adoption rate of your product as a whole or the adoption rate of a specific feature, and is usually tied to a specific time period. If your company measures adoption on a month-to-month basis, you could adjust the formula above to calculate monthly:
Number of adopted users between March 1 and March 31
Number of total users between March 1 and March 31
Time To First Key Action/Depth Of Adoption
Another good metric to judge adoption is how long it takes users to start using a given feature. Most software products have different levels of complexity that customers will start using at different times — new Gmail users will likely send an email with their account almost immediately, but might never get around to setting up a vacation responder or custom signature.
What constitutes a “key” action depends on which features provide the most value, or which features lead to usage of other features. Maybe you want to measure this number for a very basic feature to see if customers are even starting to use your product at all. Maybe there’s a specific feature that’s a good predictor of adoption. Or maybe your product team wants to know if one of your more obscure features is worth the upkeep. The formula for depth of adoption is:
Number of users who adopted X feature
Total number of active users
You can measure this metric broadly or over a specific amount of time, depending on the need. You can also compare the adoption of a specific feature to your definition of an adopted user to see if that feature should inform your definitions going forward.
Time To Value (TTV)
TTV is often used as an onboarding metric, but it’s also useful in terms of adoption. If there’s a particular feature that customers tend to get the most value from, you should make a point of encouraging the quickest path to that point. Let’s say there’s a specific report that customers want to see once all their data has been imported. How quickly can you generate that report?
Satisfaction, Proficiency, and Usage
These three metrics don’t exist in a vacuum — examining how they relate to each other can give you a lot of great insights and help you focus on the right areas.
Satisfaction measures how useful users find their current system. You’ll need to survey your customers or get them on the phone to obtain this info, but you can easily quantify user satisfaction across a number of variables to figure out which attributes lead to the highest satisfaction.
Proficiency describes the level of expertise your customer has with your product. It can be captured by examining usage data or by having a one-on-one conversation with your customers, and can tell you if your customer is using more complicated features or just sticking with the simple ones. If your customer is struggling, this might be a good time to revisit training.
Usage numbers are tracked internally, and will include metrics like number of users, usage times, login frequency, which features they use and how often, and so on. Usage is a great metric to keep an eye on, but be careful of the false positive element. Sometimes, customers will use the product heavily right up to the time they leave, so keeping an eye on your customer is critical, even if usage levels are good.
By themselves, these metrics are useful, but in combination, they can give you a more complete picture — if customers are satisfied, proficient, and using the product, they’ve adopted.
All this adoption data isn’t much good if you’re not using it. You might be capturing a lot of data, but how are you analyzing it? And how are you taking action based on the outcome?
If your users report high proficiency and satisfaction but usage of a certain feature is low, then maybe that feature isn’t necessary. If satisfaction and proficiency are both low, the onboarding and education of your customers might need to be revisited.
If you’re not measuring the data surrounding customer adoption, you may not have a clear picture of what your customers want — and that can lead to churn. And as a very important bonus, using all that data intelligently will keep your team and your customers from spending valuable time focusing on the wrong areas.
Measuring adoption and the metrics that surround it helps you meet customers at their own proficiency level, prevent them from being discouraged, and keep them happy with your product and your business — and like we always say, a happy customer is a repeat customer.
There’s an old joke about a naval officer who sees a blip on the radar and gets on the radio to tell them to change course. The person on the other end of the radio refuses, telling the naval officer that he should change his course instead. Indignant, the captain of the ship takes the radio and says, “to the vessel at bearing 295, this is the captain of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. You will divert your course or you will be fired upon.” Then the response comes over the radio: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”
The point is that communication is crucial. If you’re not on the same page as your customers, you’ll just be talking past them and you won’t accomplish anything. In the business world, that means understanding what clients and customers are saying and responding to them in a way that shows them you’re listening. There’s no exact science to what to say to someone, but we can offer some tips.
The person on the phone shouldn’t sound like the emotionless face of a big company, they should sound like a person. In general (like we do in this blog), we tell people to use “we” pronouns when speaking on behalf of the company. But there’s a big difference between this blog and a one-on-one conversation.
Speaking as an individual feels personal and relatable. It feels like you’re working on the customer’s behalf, not the company’s.
It also helps to mirror the same words that the customer is using. You probably use some specific terms internally with your colleagues that the average customer wouldn’t use in their day-to-day life — most companies do. But insisting on the “proper” vocabulary, correcting the customer, or ignoring their phrasing makes it seem like you’re not listening.
Here’s an example. Let’s say an order is late arriving to a customer, so they call to ask about the holdup. If they say, “my tracking number says that the package hasn’t left the warehouse yet,” it won’t help to tell them, “the shipment is leaving our fulfillment center today.” Instead, it sounds like a canned line. The customer gets the impression that you’re memorizing what you should say rather than actually listening to their problem.
Instead, use the same phrasing the customer used in the first place. If you respond with “it looks like that package left our warehouse this morning and should be reaching you by Tuesday,” it shows them you’re addressing their specific concern head-on.
Another useful approach is to use “relational” words. Words like please, thank you, and sorry demonstrate concern and empathy, while words like yes and okay simply demonstrate agreement. This all sounds pretty intuitive, but word choice matters — and it can make or break a customer interaction.
You’re the expert in this situation. Whether you’re calling the customer to help onboard them to a new product, address questions, or handle concerns that they’ve raised, there’s a reason that they’re talking to you.
By all means, start your conversation on an empathetic note. Use relational words to show the customer that you understand their situation, that you understand the challenges they’re facing and the goals that they’re chasing. But be careful that your tone isn’t too apologetic, or you may lose your authority. Instead, be sure to utilize solving verbs (get, go, call, do, permit, allow, resolve, etc.) as your interaction with your customer unfolds.
When you do take charge, be specific. If there’s a specific item or feature that the customer is concerned with, use that same terminology — “blue button-down” is more specific than “shirt.” Being specific helps further show the customer that you’re not just reading from a script. You’re listening to their precise needs and addressing them head-on.
You might find yourself in a situation where the customer is asking you for a recommendation. Maybe you offer a wide array of products and they’re having trouble narrowing them down. Again, be specific. Rather than phrases like “I love this one” or “a lot of people have enjoyed this one,” tell customers “I recommend our Premium subscription level for a business of your size” and be sure to include the why. Customers are free to choose what they want, and you shouldn’t pressure them into one option or another — but if they ask you for help, they want to know what you think. Don’t shy away from telling them.
We don’t want to script everything you say to a customer — that would defeat the point of trying to foster a more authentic relationship in the first place. There are a few phrases, however, that you’re better off avoiding entirely.
At first glance, “I will” seems like a good thing to say, right? It’s a promise to the customer. The problem is that customers don’t want to be told what you will do, they want to be told what you’re doing.
“I will” is too vague — it sounds like an empty promise. Instead of using “I will,” try to fill out your statement with useful, actionable information. Don’t say “I’ll send you the contract,” say “I’ve started drafting your contract, you should see it in the next 24 hours.” Don’t say “I’ll forward your suggestion to our team,” say “I’ve added your suggestion to a Google Doc where we track feature requests.” Avoiding “I will” statements forces you to come up with something more specific and more helpful.
We realize that sometimes you have to tell your customers “no.” The problems start when you tell them no without further context. Maybe they want a feature you don’t offer or a price point you can’t approve. In any case, the customer has thought about this request and has taken the time to contact you. They know what they want and why they want it.
The best thing to do is to meet them halfway — tell them why the answer is no. Whether the prices are set at corporate, the software can’t support that feature, the weather is preventing your shipping from going out, or whatever else the problem may be, there’s a reason for it other than “we don’t feel like helping you.” Customers will appreciate your candor, even if they don’t like the answer.
If you can suggest a workaround or an alternative, that’s even better. It shows that you genuinely care about solving the customer’s problem and helping them out, even if you can’t do exactly what they’re asking.
Avoid telling a customer what they need to do. Whether you’re onboarding them as a new customer or following up with additional educational materials, you don’t know exactly what’s going on at their end — their technical ability, their familiarity with the product, or what else is impacting their day.
Telling a customer what they “need to” do sounds like you’re putting off helping them. They don’t want to be told exactly what to do, they want you to get them to the point where they can do the work themselves. Sometimes you do need the customer to help you out by checking something on their end, logging in, or providing you with other info, but your goal should be to encourage self-sufficiency.
The best course is to treat the customer like a member of your team. Remember: your goal is to help them understand your product so well that they don’t need your help anymore. Instead of telling them what they need to do, walk them through it with phrases like “now we can set up…” or “the best solution is if we…” Treating them like equals will show them that you’re on their side.
We know to use the customer’s name (or at least a friendly greeting) when we talk to them, but remember that customers don’t like feeling like they’re talking to a corporate monolith. To keep your interactions personal, sign off on emails with the name of the person handling the reply. If you’re on a big team, use the name of the team leader. Just don’t use “The [company] team.”
When it comes down to it, the whole idea behind a Customer Success team is to help the customer — whether you’re helping them choose a product, install a piece of software, set up their purchase, learn a new feature, or troubleshoot a problem.
A happy customer is a repeat customer, and the best way to make them happy is to make sure their needs are met. Since you can’t be there in person most of the time, you’ll have to handle those interactions over email or over the phone. A lot of communication is lost when you can’t see the person you’re communicating with — body language, facial expressions, even tone of voice. That’s why it’s so important to be careful with the number one tool at your disposal: your words.
There was a time when a business’ relationship with its customers basically ended at the point of purchase. You convinced customers that you had the best product, made the sale, and that was the end of it. Those days are long gone.
Customers today are spoilt for choice. In every area of business, they have more brands to choose from. They’re increasingly aware of who they’re buying from and what those companies represent — way beyond just the product itself.
All that choice means that it’s more difficult — and more important — for you to stay at the top of customers’ minds. It’s crucial that you communicate with your customers, frequently and across multiple channels, in order to remain their business of choice and create a strong relationship.
Happy customers become repeat customers, and retaining customers is just as important (if not more so) than acquiring new ones. Experts peg the cost of acquiring a new customer at five times the cost of retaining a customer. Translation: it pays to keep your existing customers happy.
Our reasoning is spelled out in something we call the Customer Lifecycle. You can read more about the Customer Lifecycle here, but the shorthand version goes like this:
Advocacy is the endgame. Future prospects will put far more weight on a recommendation from a trusted friend or colleague than on your marketing materials, so creating advocates is one of your top priorities. That’s why Customer Success — not just for the biggest customers at the top, but for each and every one of them — is so vital to the future of your company.
When communicating with your customers, you can’t just paint in broad strokes. Communication with your customers only works if they feel heard, noticed, and appreciated — that won’t happen if your customers feel like they’re all being lumped together.
That means not sending them offers for far-flung locations or for products that won’t work for businesses of their size. But it’s more detailed than that. Each customer is a person — even B2B clients have a human being at the other end making business decisions. That person has likes and dislikes and specific circumstances and needs.
A well-maintained CRM is crucial for keeping track of all this. Each of your customers came to your product in a different way, through a different series of touchpoints and platforms. They want slightly different things out of your product. Their short- and long-term business goals vary. Keep notes in your CRM on who your customers are, what they care about, and what they need from you.
It’s an intimidating task, to be sure. Even if you have detailed notes on every customer’s specific circumstances, preferences, and needs, you can’t possibly spend the time and resources to write individual emails or serve individualized ads to each one of them.
That’s where automation comes in. Automation software can track the various traits of your customers, from the age of their account to the size of their business, from their job title to their location, and hundreds of others.
We’re not advocating that you send a personalized email to every single customer on your list. Instead, the approach you should be taking is to set up criteria for the people you do want to follow up with individually.
For example, you might want to send out a short-term checkup message to customers who have been onboarded to make sure they’re not having any trouble with the software you set up for them. You don’t want to just sit back and wait for customers to contact you — only about one in 25 customers with a complaint will actually reach out about it, and the rest might just silently churn. And you don’t want to pester customers who don’t need help.
Following up manually would get the job done, and you could make a note in your CRM that those customers have been contacted, but it’s time-consuming. You could also segment your email lists, but of course those segments can quickly become outdated — new customers aren’t new for long.
What’s the solution? Automated Customer Success software that can tell you exactly who needs to be contacted, when, and how. Let’s stick with the same example. Based on your previous usage data, you decide to seek out customers who:
Automating the tedious parts of your Customer Success workflows isn’t replacing in-person communication, it’s enhancing it — by freeing up time that would otherwise be spent behind the scenes and providing all the useful, individual information you need to talk to each customer, you enable your Customer Success team to do what they do best: keep customers happy.