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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.

Talk Like a Human Being

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.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Charge

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.

What Not to Say, and How to Say it Better

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.

I Will

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.

No

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.

You Need To

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.

Signing As The Team

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.”

It’s All About the Customer

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.

Why Customer Success is So Important

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:

  1. Onboarding — you welcome new users to your ranks, set up your product, and help them begin using it.
  2. Adoption — customers start to become aware of how much value your product provides, and begin using it in their everyday lives.
  3. Usage — customers are fully comfortable with your product, are using the full breadth of features, and have integrated your product into their day-to-day workflows.
  4. Value Realization — your product exceeds the expectations the customer had for it, providing a positive ROI and showing them their investment was worth the money.
  5. Advocacy — customers are so happy with your product that they recommend it to friends and colleagues.

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.

Treat Customers as Individuals

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.

How Are You Supposed to Keep Track of All That Customer Info?

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:

  • Signed up between 30 and 90 days ago
  • Completed the educational materials you sent
  • Logged in within the last week
  • Logged in more than 10 times since they signed up
  • Haven’t been contacted since they were onboarded
  • Haven’t started using some specific feature, indicating that they may not know how
  • This is not a suggestion to automate every step of the process — there’s no denying the value of a human touch when reaching out, whether it’s by email or phone. But sorting through databases is a waste of your Customer Success team’s time.

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.

Learn more – Want more insight on moving toward automating your CRM? Read our whitepaper right here.

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.

The need to measure product utilization and/or subscription consumption is a no-brainer. Usage metrics are critical indicators of how well your products are helping customers achieve their desired outcomes, which in turn influences your customer retention strategy. If usage is low, odds are that your customer sees little if any value in your solution. And no value realization often equals no subscription renewal.

What’s not so straightforward is how to measure these activities and what to do to prevent problems. ESG CEO, Michael Harnum, recently asked the members of the Customer Success Forum for advice on measuring subscription consumption and creating plays to manage issues proactively. His request provoked a lot of exciting ideas that could be replicated. Below are three examples worth sharing.

I’ve also tagged the comments with the names of their creator, in case you’re interested in following these folks on LinkedIn. Some posts have been edited for length or clarity.

Your Customer Retention Strategy Relies on CSMs! We’ve identified 10 traits that every awesome CSM should possess. Download the guide now!

Pivoting for proactive customer success

LinkedIn: Dana Soza

“At my previous company, measuring utilization was a manual process by downloading the raw data and creating pivot tables to look at usage. I found an unengaged recruiting client was using a tiny percentage of their seats. Based on the pivot tables, I ascertained who the highest/medium/low engaged users were and created 10 questions to ask them. I scheduled one-on-one conversations with them or emailed them the questions. I then presented my findings during a scheduled Year End Review (which the sponsor accepted because he wanted to know how employees were utilizing the software). I presented suggested solutions, including global custom training and webinars, which I invited the most engaged users to. I encouraged these users by explaining that they’d be recognized as an expert who could add value to their organization by answering questions and showing how they use the platform. Needless to say, we secured the renewal!”

Analytics in the product is the answer

LinkedIn: Christine Clevenger

“To get ahead of the consumption measurement game, the trick is to have analytics built into the product/service, so that you actually have real data to leverage. The analytics need to align not only with how you price and sell the subscription service, but also key measures of adoption. For example, it’s probably not just the number of users logging into the service that is important, but also some measures of usage like the number of files uploaded, the number of workflows initiated, the number of sites created, that kind of thing. If your pricing strategy changes, then the analytics in the product needs to change, too. That’s really the best. Everything else is just a substitute for having good analytics in the product.”

Leverage general performance requirements

LinkedIn: Chris Sparshoot

“A simple measure to start would be CPU, hard disk space, and networking on the production image. These metrics are usually already gathered for general performance requirements. Build from there. Some coding may be required to call a logging function when a function (feature) is called and executed. I would argue this is part of your engineering team’s design specs once a level of maturity has been reached. But you can gather heaps of information and then push that data through a dashboard using one of the many analytics tools out there. Segmenting this data by the user (LDAP logins) /customer is just the next stage to get robust measurements.”

Learn more – Managing utilization issues as a part of your customer retention strategy takes more than just analytics – it takes awesome CSMs! Check out the top 10 traits your CSM team should possess. Download the white paper now!

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? If we’re talking about time at the beach or the love of a puppy, I’d argue the answer is no. However, when it comes to automation in Customer Success (CS), I say yes, and science is in my corner.

Fundamentally, it’s proven that the most rewarding experiences involve other human beings. In fact, researchers Dominic Fareri, Luke Chang and Mauricio Delgado published an article in The Journal of Neuroscience (2015) demonstrating the power of collaborative interactions in building and maintaining relationships.

Learn More! Read about this study and others in our white paper, Neuroscience and Customer Success. Download now!

The perfect recipe

Before delving too far into the case for human touch, let’s be clear on one point. There is no doubt that automation is here to stay. Its seismic CS potential to boost productivity and reduce costs is irrefutable. We see proof of it on a daily basis.

Of course there is no scenario in which we should even consider rolling the tape back to the pre-automation days. We couldn’t do what we do without it. That said we also wouldn’t be successful without human touch. We’ve found that with the right blend of tech AND human touch, cost and churn decrease while productivity and revenue climb.

Three neuroscience-based proofs for human touch

Conventional wisdom says customer satisfaction is based solely on the value they derive directly from the product. BUT neuroscience says there’s more to it: people make decisions based on emotional, not logical, rewards. And by its very nature, human interaction is rewarding (just avoid rush hour traffic and that one relative’s Facebook feed).

Multiple studies rooted in neuroscience highlight three key CS takeaways:

  1. Humans exhibit mutually rewarding behaviors when interacting with each other.
  2. Behaviors lead to loyalty.
  3. Genuine, human interactions can’t be duplicated by today’s artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Putting people first

We see company after company build CS strategies around automation with human touch points filling the gaps. We say flip it. Start with the idea that human interaction is essential to the customer experience and then build a tech touch strategy to support it. This approach is essentially the equivalent of having your cake and eating it too because not only will you reap the reward of lower costs but you’ll also enjoy higher revenues.

Don’t take our word for it though. You only have to look at the research of Hilke Plassman, Peter Kenning and Dieter Ahlert to confirm it. They proved that higher neural activity results from consistently meeting and exceeding expectations for quality, value and human interaction. Over time, loyal customers associate higher expectations for future rewards with their favorite brands, making the act of repurchasing automatic.

All up in your business with CSMs

If you’ve made it this far, we hope that means you’ve seen the light. — no one person is an island. We need human touch to thrive. It’s as true in our personal lives as it is in business, which is why I keep harping on it being an inescapable part of a sound CS strategy. We know it. You know it. And neuroscience proves it.

But what can you do with that knowledge? The first step is admitting it. Recognize the uniquely human role of CS professionals whose efforts can’t easily be duplicated. CSMs (Customer Success Managers) go beyond training and support by bringing value to the table after the sale. Unlike computers, they recognize and respond to customers’ hidden, and powerful, emotional responses. Humans naturally build bonds of trust that AI struggles to inspire.

Focus on three key areas to properly blend tech and human touch:

  1. Closely examine your customer journey to reveal areas where AI does and doesn’t make sense.
  2. Use AI for mundane tasks while maintaining human contact at key relationship-building trigger points.
  3. Stay on top of AI advancements.

The second step is to determine if you have the resources to invest in hiring the number of CSMs required to effectively manage your full customer base. If you’re like most companies, you don’t have the number of CSMs you need to support your customer base and you don’t have the resources to hire additional full-time employees, which are the reasons why we exist — to augment your staff. Our outsourced, cost-effective partner concept of Customer Success as a Service (CSaaS) and Virtual Customer Success Manager (vCSM) stands in the gap with seasoned, high quality vCSMs to foster relationships within underserved areas of your customer base.

Artificial intelligence can save money. Human touch can grow revenue. Using them together amplifies the positive effects of both.

Download our white paper, Neuroscience and Customer Success, to learn more about the implications discussed in this blog post.

I’d be preaching to the choir if I droned on about the importance of segmenting customers to snag results. That said, in this ever-changing world it is easy to miss the boat on how to effectively do that — even for the biggest data hounds among us. It requires us all to think differently and do differently.

The Goldilocks sweet spot: Quality metrics + invested analysis

It’s easy to miss segmentation issues. They can often look like problems caused by a thousand different things that aren’t remotely related to segmentation. At the end of the day though, when your segmentation is on point, you won’t see customer loss and stagnated growth. So if you aren’t seeing the results you expect, it’s time to take a long hard look at how you’re segmenting your customer base.

That’s when you start thinking differently. Evaluate your analytics from new perspectives and dig deeper into them. Look at indicators like:

  1. Health score
  2. Utilization rate
  3. Revenue growth per customer

Identify high-risk customers before they even know they’re a risk

When you take a hard look at the overall financial value of your customer in comparison to those indicators listed in the last section, the level of customer churn risk begins to crystallize.

Even better, as you glean potential problems or rising issues, you’re then empowered to develop nurturing processes around them to course correct. Begin with three simple questions:

  1. Which customers are scheduled to renew this quarter?
  2. How many are currently engaged in a strategy to keep their accounts?
  3. How many have requested cancellations?

Answer these questions, and you can then map necessary touch points to the segments that need it most. As you do that, new metrics will emerge to track conversions and successes.

Check out our white paper, Success Through Segmentation. Learn how to identify, prioritize and address issues that lead to high churn risk.

Look beyond whether users have logged in and how often they’re using your product. You need to know so much more. As a for instance, dial into:

  • Number of activated seats
  • Types of user roles
  • Volume of support requests
  • Utilization of features and functions
  • Level of on-boarding engagement

From there, you can determine the appropriate CS approach to begin segmenting your customer base.

Three bear dilemma: the workload is too big, the team is too small

Everything covered above is awfully big talk. I get it. Delving in deeper, increasing your level of data analysis, and then building in added processes and touch points is enough to break the strongest of resource-strapped teams.

If you’ve been keeping up with our blog, you know our solution by now. It starts with an understanding and acceptance of the 80/20 Rule. (Read more about it in our blog post here.) To find real gains in CS, you have to be able to scale. That starts with prioritization and ends with an experienced partner.

When you have a partner who truly understands the nuances of Customer Success and microcosms that support (or hinder) the customer lifecycle, it is possible to scale without incurring additional overhead, employees and workload.

You get to continue with your hands-on service earned by your top customers while a partner *ahem like ESG* can evaluate what’s happening with those top-tier customers, determine what can and cannot be replicated for your lower tiers, and will look for meaningful opportunities to engage with even your smallest clients through a balance of tech and human touch. (Check out this white paper to learn more about that.) With an opportunity to deliver significant returns and overall cost savings, it’s a low risk/high reward proposition for any company — including yours.

Clearly there isn’t a singular segmentation formula out there that will solve everything for everybody. Each customer journey is unique to the product and business, and each business is looking for particular outcomes. So while there are similarities that can drive the process for identifying appropriate segmentation approaches, a level of customization to achieve optimal results is still required.

Learn more – Discover how to identify, prioritize and address issues that leads to high churn risk. Download our white paper, Success Through Segmentation.

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” While this wise quote may have come from the unlikely lips of Drake (award-winning hip-hop artist for the uninitiated), it couldn’t more accurately describe the importance of Customer Success (CS). In fact, it’s also a solid place to start answering the question of what is customer journey mapping.

If only we encountered more companies who embrace a similar mindset when it comes to knowing how customers experience their products and services. We would see impressive strides in customer engagement and customer retention.

However, so many businesses rely on reactive measures —when the actual goal should be identifying customer journey mapping tools and proactively defining what success looks like to customers at each stage of the customer lifecycle.

Put the “pro” in proactive

We can’t entirely blame teams within those companies though. There are times when you have to play the proverbial hand your dealt — from limited resources to tight budgets — but it is possible to overcome the stumbling blocks forcing them to rely on reactive data.

That said, it is possible to still go through the step-by-step exercise of understanding what your customer experiences at every turn.

But why? Because we said so! Actually, it’s a fair question. The simple answer is to create a blueprint for success to reap the following benefits:

  • Acquire appropriate data to establish high-water marks
  • Harness the power to constantly assess incoming data
  • Justification to systematically and strategically advance your company
  • Discipline to avoid random micro changes with minimal impact
  • Freedom to flex resources to capitalize on opportunities and course correct

Overcoming stumbling blocks

The path to developing a customer journey map is littered with obstacles. Diving into a lifecycle exploration requires vision and drive. Just a few to watch out for along the way include information overload, analysis paralysis, and imbalance between planning and action.

Prioritizing your strategy is key, and journey maps help organizations enhance customer experience improvements.Answering some fundamental questions can clarify your prioritization process quickly:

  • Which improvements have the biggest impact?
  • Which improvements have the highest degree of complexity with the shortest/longest time to accomplish?
  • What are the biggest obstacles to improve a process point?
  • Where is the lifecycle performance weakest/strongest?
  • Where are the gaps between what customers say and their behaviors?

Typically, when organizations take the time to ask tough questions, the results can be game changing. The areas of improvement often fall in two key buckets (1) lack of organizational alignment and (2) not ready or willing to face the brutal truth.

The customer journey map blueprint in four steps

Moving from reactive customer support to proactive customer experience isn’t easy.So take a candid assessment and follow a blueprint for getting started.

1. Promote organizational alignment:

Build a cross-functional team, with representatives from the groups that own sales/marketing, support, policies, operations, product development and other services that drive what the customer sees and experiences.

2. Confront the truth:

Uncover and activate the insights that haven’t been identified. Gather external research that’s relevant to your market. Interview customers, analyze data from your systems, and gather analytics on web traffic, and more.

3. Move from reactive to proactive:

Changing your core customer philosophy from reactive to proactive is the biggest obstacle your company will face. It’s also the one that bears the most fruit.

4. Put your company on the map:

The customer journey mapping process will spotlight organizational gaps, help you figure out where you need help and reveal growth and retention strategies you could never have discovered any other way. Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their enterprise relationships without human interaction. It’s time and resource intensive and corners just can’t be cut. But it’s the best way to put your company on the map.

Ready to embark on the customer-mapping journey? Download our white paper, Putting Your Customers (and Your Company) on the Map, to take a more in-depth look at what’s required to put your customer on the map and your company on the road to a better destination.

Learn more – Learn how to build an effective customer journey map. This guide will help you.

How do I increase customer retention? It’s one of our most frequently asked questions. Although the answer is multilayered and complex, one of the essential building blocks to answering it includes Customer Success Managers (CSM).

A career field that barely existed five or so years ago, CSMs make up ground zero for all CS functions — that includes keeping customers. And as C-level decision-makers work to understand the significance of CS in their business models, the need for CSMs continues to climb.

Now, you might be asking the very same questions C-suite has to ask once they embrace the need for CS and therefore CSMs. Chief among them is what qualities define an ideal CSM and what are Customer Success best practices. That’s why we’ve developed a top three list of our must-haves.

The top three traits of an awesome CSM

#1. Ownership: They own customer successes… and failures

When issues pop up, awesome CSMs don’t pass the buck. They own it and they troubleshoot it without losing focus on their mission to turn customers into brand advocates.

#2. Perspective: They understand what customers need to be successful

Awesome CSMs know where potential hurdles lie in wait. Customers expect and need help with training, integration, troubleshooting and, most of all, improved performance. They want answers — how do we reduce time spent on X, lower costs on Y, gain greater insight on Z. Reactive, shortsighted CSMs miss the bigger opportunity to be proactive and make their customers look good… like rock star-level good.

#3. Goal-oriented: Successful customer outcomes > happy customers

Of course awesome CSMs want “happy” customers, but they know there’s more to actually keeping a customer. That’s why their end goal is a happy AND successful customer who has their benchmarks met and exceeded because of their CSM.

So where do I find these unicorn CSMs?

All of this is well and good, but what you might be asking now — especially if you’re an HR specialist or recruiter who has the unenviable task of trying to find top-level talent in a small, still growing pool — is how do I find CSM candidates with all of this awesomeness?!

Well, you can vet out that pool trying to find the proverbial diamond in the rough. Alternatively, you can outsource your Customer Success.

Yes, outsource it.

Companies like ESG have done the heavy lifting for you. We understand the nature of the CSM role and creating clear and practical best practices for it. We’ve developed the role of Virtual Customer Success Managers (vCSMs) — trained professionals who engage with customers to help them better understand and utilize the full capabilities and features of your products, while helping your business achieve your desired outcomes.

You should know, though, outsourcing CS roles does so much more than just reducing hiring headaches. It also:

  • Mitigates budget risks
  • Guarantees maximum productivity
  • Ensures enhanced customer relationships
  • Improves everyone’s ROI
  • Increases customer retention

So what? I already have a CS team full of superstars.

If your company is one of the lucky few to have a CS staff possessing those must-have traits, we often find that still isn’t enough to fully service your customers.

Teams tend to be too small to cover 100 percent of their customers. The coverage breakdown usually goes to the top 20 percent because they’re generating the bulk of the revenue. However, that leaves 80 percent of the customer base out in the cold. That’s where companies like ESG come in to augment your existing team. We work within that 80 percent to uncover missed opportunities and lost revenue potential.

Don’t try to build everything from scratch. As they say, don’t reinvent the wheel. And if you’re wondering what other traits make up successful CSMs, take a look at our latest white paper, The 10 Simple Traits of an Awesome CSM.

Learn more – We’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates and have developed a pool of talented professionals who possess the key attributes that define a successful CSM. Learn the ten traits we recommend for the perfect CSM and how to ensure your team embraces them in this guide.

A Director at a successful SaaS company recently approached me about the role of marketing in customer success. This leader understood that the marketing team was a valuable resource when developing customer-facing communications but wanted more.

As we discussed possible options for the “future state” of a marketing + customer success partnership, it became apparent that there was no one-size-fits-all solution. So, in an effort to educate myself (and help my friend build a business case to reallocate marketing resources), I posted a question to the members of the Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn.

The question wasn’t complicated. I merely asked if anyone was willing to share what worked/didn’t work when building an alliance between customer success and marketing. I was expecting maybe one or two responses. What I got was a string of thoughtful and creative ways CS leaders are using marketing to their advantage.

There were A LOT of really good ideas, but three stood out. Here’s what caught my eye and why it’s worth considering for your organization. Note: I’ve tagged the concepts with the names of their creator, in case you’re interested in following these folks on LinkedIn.

1) Marketing as a sales enablement function for CS teams

LinkedIn: @azimnagree

Why I love this: All too often, marketing’s responsibility to internal customers, (e.g. sales, customer success, etc.) is overshadowed by the pursuit for new business. If we know that personalized attention from CSMs drives deeper and more valuable customer relationships, then why wouldn’t marketing supply assets to CSMs for better 1-to-1 customer conversations? The answer is likely due to resource strains in the marketing and customer success teams. However, the concept is still important to recognize. CSMs need the right collateral to have informed, value-centric conversations. Marketing can help.

2) Customer marketing should live in the customer success organization

LinkedIn: @billgoocher

Why I love this: This may or may not make sense depending on the depth of your organizational chart. But, aligning post-sale marketing resources to an organization devoted to customer engagement post-sale just makes sense. As Bill mentioned, “the CSMs have a much better handle on where each of their customers are within the lifecycle…” Understanding your audience leads to better content development and more meaningful campaigns that produce positive results.

3) The content delivered matters more than the role

LinkedIn: @robertdunn

Why I love this: It’s true! Don’t get so caught up in org charts that you lose sight of what’s valuable. Customers expect proactive engagement from the point of sale forward. This means certain plays need to be run, regardless of who’s running them. As Robert shared, “…The proven low hanging fruit of Customer Marketing tactics: Newsletters, Case Studies, Blog Posts, Videos (educational – how to use), Meet-ups. It matters less who does these things than it does they get done…”

It’s probably worth mentioning that all these ideas seem to hint at hiring additional headcount. Keep in mind that hiring isn’t the only option. Consider partnering with a service provider who has expertise in customer marketing (AKA account-based marketing) strategy and execution. These service partners often have access to a deeper pool of qualified talent and can offer you more for your money when compared to hiring a full-time employee.

Learn more – Learn how to build a business case for more Customer Success resources with this handy guide.

Let’s be honest. If it were possible to just make one sale, stop there and have a “forever customer,” everyone would be a Customer Success (CS) pro. That isn’t quite our reality though.

The CS reality is a lot more complex, nuanced and ultimately scientific. It requires relationship building, thoroughly understanding customer needs, advocating for their wants, and helping every customer — not just the largest — flourish in ways they never could alone.

Simply put: CS helps customers have the very best product experience possible.

But CS organizations can’t do it alone. Unlocking a proverbial holy grail of enhanced product adoption, increased renewals, thriving upsells and product advocacy requires collaboration with other business units, especially Education Services (ES). However, much of the time we find these organizations and teams operating in silos – ultimately creating a disjointed customer experience.

Time to fess up

We can hardly fault CS teams for losing their way in a young industry strapped for resources just as much as it is experience. What we can do though is shine a light on how ES can positively impact CS strategy. That said, before we go any further, take just a moment for some quick self-reflection. Have you ever found yourself doing one or both of the following, — a.k.a. the first roadblocks to embracing ES:

  1. Make assumptions about customer capacity for absorbing knowledge
  2. Put too much faith in the user-friendliness and effectiveness of your products

In our experience, engaging customers with proper training can be a game-changer. Yes, there must be a foundation of quality product design and thorough onboarding, but customer education goes beyond how a product works to revealing how customers can reach outcomes faster. And that’s a revelation that must remain present throughout the customer journey.

Still doubtful? Know that for a properly educated and trained customer, there is a:

  • 92% product renewal average
  • 135% increase in product usage
  • 2x the rate of engagement

Ok, now are you ready to step out of your silo into the ES light? Well, patience, young grasshopper. Don’t become a cautionary tale.

There is no hard and fast instruction manual for understanding where to insert education in the customer lifecycle. We see a lot of CS teams stall out in its integration, and worse yet, they go back to their old ineffective ways.

Five pitfalls to avoid when integrating education services into customer success strategies:

  1. Skipping the development of a customer journey map
  2. Not introducing ES into every stage of the customer journey
  3. Limiting ongoing conversation or not fully engaging with customers
  4. Passing up evaluation points to get feedback from customers
  5. Taking on too much too fast

Now for the honey do list:

  • Do embrace an investigative spirit. Initiate conversations instead of just waiting for a light to go on. Become a valuable part of the dialogue with customers by getting a tight grasp on the data behind the role ES plays in the health of the customer relationship.
  • Do start small. Determine where education can have the most impact and work on those insertion points first, then expand to other stages of the lifecycle at a scalable pace. Integrating ES into CS dramatically energizes the customer lifecycle, so be prepared.
  • Do have your team ready. Manpower resources can stifle progress or snuff it out completely. Make sure your CSMs have alliance with Education Sales Representatives to guide them when making training recommendations for the customers they serve. If you lack CSMs (or need an Education Sales liaison), know that there are outsourced CS organizations like ESG at the ready who can supply Virtual Customer Success Managers (vCSM) and Education Sales experts.

Building on that last point, when CS teams outsource to the right CS partner, they experience significant return on investment. Overall cost savings mitigate expenses. And working with a partner experienced in ES and CS eliminates sometimes-insurmountable learning curves.

Discover more about hitting the ground running with ES integration into your CS strategy by downloading our white paper, “Turning Knowing into Growing: Integrating Education Services for More Powerful Customer Success.”

Learn more – Learn how to bring Education Services and Customer Success together to improve product adoption, drive renewals and uncover expansion opportunities. This PDF tells you what you need to know.