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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re onboarding a new customer, that can only mean one thing. You did it. You made it. You beat out all of your competitors. They chose you, and now you know, they like you. They really like you! But now it’s show time for your product and Customer Success team, and if you don’t keep it together, you could just as easily lose that customer.
Before you go any further, take a moment to reflect on your current customer onboarding process with two things in mind — the two biggest reasons people often mess up this stage in the customer success (CS) lifecycle. They are (1) onboarding a new customer is complicated and (2) focusing on the wrong things is easy.
Did anything jump out at you? Are there elements in your company’s onboarding process that are glossed over or murky? Are there neglected components within the customer experience? If so, you are not alone. Don’t feel bad because you can course correct. Besides, if every business had it down to a science, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
However, there is hope.
Instead of simply flipping the onboarding switch and leaving your new customer to dangle in the wind to inevitably become just another customer churn stat, invest in purposeful customer onboarding. This approach integrates desired customer outcomes and deep insights about what customers expect from you. It takes a comprehensive plan to do it, but it results in productive interactions and empowers customers to use your product to its maximum potential.
Your sales team dazzled and wowed your new customer enough to get them to take the plunge with your company, it’s on you and your team to keep the momentum going. To do that, start with the following three fundamental questions…
It is critical to learn from sales what pain points and/or business outcomes drove the company to work with you, so jump in with at least one thorough conversation. Focus on the key areas that are most important to the customer from the start. Figure out if the purchaser and end user are the same. If not, you may need to re-sell a new stakeholder (or a team of them) on the value of your product.
Setting expectations is critical in this phase — for your customer and your internal team. Adequately allocate time and resources to the customer and their needs. Align everyone on a timeline, stay organized and keep your customer well informed.
Only focusing on your own targets and metrics while working with customers is an easy misstep. They’re important, of course, but your customer’s little wins along the way are significant, too. Be sure to mark the milestones that boost customer excitement and interest.
All of those questions boil down to one big job for you and your CS team — make your product as valuable to your customer as possible. It’s your job to set customer expectations, drive them toward success, and ensure they get value from your product as early and frequently as possible. The following list has just a few ways to ensure your team gets it right from square one:
Customer success onboarding doesn’t have to be a rabbit hole of question marks and unmet expectations. While there isn’t a perfect science to the awkwardness that is customer handoffs and onboarding, there can be a clear plan to avoid anyone dropping the figurative baton. The biggest part of finding success is to embrace being an advocate for your new customer. Understand their needs and expectations, celebrate their milestones, and empower them to maximize the full potential of your product for their business goals.
Check out the full list in our white paper, Onboarding your Customers with Purpose, Momentum, and Precision. Download our white paper to learn more about the implications discussed in this blog post.
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.
“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!”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
From there, you can determine the appropriate CS approach to begin segmenting your customer base.
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.
Okay – that’s probably not surprising. But it seems to be a common assumption when there is no defined strategy for handing off a customer from Sales to CS.
Nailing this hand-off is critical to ensuring the customer experience is positive from the start. When you get it right, your customer (and your team) reach desired outcomes faster. When you get it wrong, a host of issues arise, jeopardizing your customer’s perceived value of your products and services…which, of course, negatively impacts renewal.
In a recent LinkedIn article, How to nail your Sales-to-Customer Success hand-off, Manish M elaborates on the risks that can become a reality when the transition is rocky:
So how do you get it right? Sheik Ayube, Director of Business Development at ESG, recently approached members of the Customer Success Forum for advice on transitioning a customer from Sales to CS. His request garnered a lot of interesting opinions and some enlightening personal experiences that illustrate common (and avoidable) pitfalls. Yet when I boiled it all down, three common themes stuck out.
The need for communication between Sales and Customer Success is a no-brainer. However, how to communicate effectively is a bit more complex. Hands down, the biggest communication complaint involved requests for information that was either unnecessary or already known. Trent Young suggests, “Keep it succinct and focus on key factors for success. Ask for insight that isn’t easily found, like who or how decisions are made…Show up to the customer call with this information and validate key points, don’t ask things which are already known to your organization.”
Likewise, having a defined internal communication process will help ensure the right information is passed from Sales to CS. Julie Weill Persofsky explains, “The internal transition should cover the situation, pain, impact and critical event uncovered in the sales process. The most important thing is to make the client feel as though you have gotten up to speed on everything they shared during the sales process and aren’t starting from scratch.”
Process and documentation go hand-in-hand. Developing a process is meaningless if it isn’t documented to ensure consistency and accountability. Where should you start? Ian Hurlock advises, “Firstly, implement a handover form that salespeople must fill out before closing the opportunity in the CRM. This adds accountability and will capture most of the context from the sales deal while it’s still top of mind. I would then recommend implementing an internal handover meeting to get more context on key contacts, champions and blockers and then have the salesperson on any customer kick-off call to make sure that you can keep the customer and the sales team accountable for any verbal commitments that may not have been captured in email or the CRM.”
Customers typically don’t see themselves as doing business with different units within a company. They bought a solution from a company and expect to be trained, nurtured and supported by that company – regardless of org charts and silos. So, the transition from one point of contact to another throughout the lifecycle can be confusing and discouraging if not handled properly.
Don’t let internal issues cause you to lose sight of the ultimate goal – helping customers be successful. As Dave Jackson points out, “The better question is, ‘how do you bring the organization together around a single journey that encompasses the entire buyer lifecycle?’ Don’t solve your problem; solve the customer’s problem.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to smoothly transitioning customers from Sales to Customer Success. What works for your customers and your teams will rely on a bevy of factors. What I’ve laid out here is only a small sample of the ideas shared in Sheik’s thread.
“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.
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:
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:
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.
Moving from reactive customer support to proactive customer experience isn’t easy.So take a candid assessment and follow a blueprint for getting started.
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.
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.
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.
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.