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Article

The 5 Stages Of The Customer Success Lifecycle

February 5, 2019

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Strategy

When your customers decide to begin a relationship with your business, you are both embarking on a path in which you are responsible for delivering on the promises that your marketing and sales teams made. Guiding your customers at the right pace, with the right understanding of their business, and providing the right tools are the keys to a successful SaaS customer journey.

As Customer Success leaders, we have varying points of view on how to visualize the customer lifecycle, and always with the hope of seeing the experience from the customer’s point of view. How do you manage your customers when they’re new and uncertain? What about those many months after they’re onboarded where they’re on their own? How do you know if they’re ready to grow, or want to leave?

Being receptive and vigilant about how you guide your customers requires planning and structure. And, knowing what the key components are: How do you convert strangers into customers, from customers to repeat customers, and from repeat customers to advocates who will do your marketing for you? More importantly, how do you use the principles of customer success to drive that process?

This is how we view the customer lifecycle, and it’s a pretty good place to start if you’re looking at creating this critical framework.

1) ONBOARDING

You gotta get this right, but it’s tricky. This is the point at which your customers are getting a first impression of your company and of your service. It’s also where you have momentum coming from sales, and you don’t want to lose that excitement and interest.

The onboarding stage is the stage at which you welcome new users to your ranks, showing them that you appreciate their willingness to take a chance on you. Depending on the exact type of service you offer, this is also the time to help them get set up. That could mean installing the software, importing data, and configuring software to meet their specific needs.

You’ll likely have a checklist of the activities customers need to complete to be considered fully onboarded. Sometimes this is as easy as creating a log-in and getting access, and sometimes it’s a months long implementation with data integrations and project plans and lots of stakeholders.

Whether you’re doing the onboarding yourself, with a specialized team, or providing the customer with the materials they need to do it themselves, you’ll want to track how long it takes. Time to onboarding is an important KPI to try to bring down — time taken to onboard is time that the customer isn’t actually using your product yet.

2) AWARENESS AND ADOPTION

The second phase of the customer lifecycle is awareness and adoption. By now, the onboarding work is done and the product is up and running. Whereas the initial setup and installation might have been done by engineers or IT people, your product is now in use by the end users who will be incorporating it into their everyday workflows.

This is also the stage at which your customer is starting to get a sense of how much value you’re providing. Hopefully you’re saving them time, hassle, and money. They’re learning the ins and outs of the product, what features are available, and what your company represents. Of course, some of these aspects of the product and the company were in the marketing materials — that’s what drew them to you in the first place. But this is the point where they’re starting to see for themselves just how useful those features can be.

Remember, the educational part of your job isn’t over. If the customer can’t figure out how to use your product, or they don’t fully grasp just how many useful features there are, they’ll move on to other options. Tutorials, videos, and other educational resources will make the path to adoption easier. Your adoption rates should start to increase and your customer engagement score — a number that encompasses how much value your customer is getting out of your product — should be climbing.

This is also where you want to start monitoring usage to make quick adjustments as your client is getting their bearings. How much and in what ways are they using? Are they opening a lot of tickets? Are you getting a lot of questions? Do they need more training? This is a high touch time to ensure your customers are ready to fly.

3) USAGE

In the usage phase, your end users are fully comfortable with your product. They’re using the full breadth of features that are helpful to them and they know exactly what your product is capable of. At this point, product adoption should be very high — customers in the usage phase have fully integrated your product into their day-to-day operations and plan to keep using your product in future.

You can tell when your customers are in the usage phase by examining their product utilization. Are they fully taking advantage of the product and all the features they could be using? If not, a gentle reminder of what else your product can do might be in order.

This is also where you can start to understand if there is risk to renewal, opportunities for growth, feedback on the product, etc. Capturing these insights is really valuable to your whole organization if gathered and communicated well.

4) VALUE REALIZATION

The value realization phase is when your product goes above and beyond the expectations of your end user to net them a positive ROI. Remember, there’s a reason the customer signed up for your product or service in the first place — there was a need that had to be addressed, a process they wanted to streamline, or a cost they wanted to reduce.

When a customer enters the value realization phase, it means you’ve met their expectation of what your product would do to help them. You’ve achieved the business case they were hoping for and shown them that their investment in you was worth the money.

This is the point where the customer is most receptive to cross-sells and upsells. They’re convinced that what you do is worth the money they spent on it, so your other products must be too! Your marketing efforts should leverage that newfound confidence.

5) ADVOCACY

Advocacy is the endgame of the whole process — not only has your customer made the decision to purchase from you, but they’re so happy with your product that they’re telling friends and colleagues to switch over to your side.

Tap into the enthusiasm of your best customers by soliciting reviews, testimonials, case studies, and even incentivizing referral programs. Recent marketing research has shown that the power of word-of-mouth marketing only continues to grow — potential new customers value the word of existing customers far more than your own marketing efforts. If you keep them happy and successful, your existing customers will become your best source of new customers, and the cycle will begin again.

6) WHAT ABOUT RENEWALS?

We left renewals off this list for a reason: Renewals are an outcome of strong customer lifecycle management. Renewals aren’t a cause of good customer success — they’re the result. If renewals are low, it’s because something happened in the lifecycle that led to risk, (onboarding did not go well, the product was not fully adopted, they didn’t use all the features that were of value to their business, they didn’t see ROI, they didn’t care enough about it to tell their friends, etc.). If, on the other hand, you dedicate your time and attention to making sure that customers are onboarded effectively, adopting the product, seeing its value, and becoming advocates to their peers, renewal will take care of itself, or at least with much less effort from your team.

Learn more – Building a business case for better Customer Success resources can be an uphill battle, but it shouldn’t be. Click here to read about what you need to know before championing for additional staff software.