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.
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.
If this sounds familiar, you’re likely one of the many budget-strapped Customer Success (CS) leaders we talk to every day. Folks who know that to improve their bottom lines they need higher touch engagement with their customers — but don’t have the resources to make that a reality.
While attending this year’s Gainsight Pulse Conference, the significance of human-touch was made clear across the board. One case study showed that even just a minor increase in human-touch engagement resulted in increased customer software subscription renewals. Confirming what we already know: Following a strong CS model unequivocally delivers increased renewals, increased revenue from aforementioned renewals, and decreased customer churn.
We see two options:
The first option is great if a CS team has the money to bring on new hires, the track record to convince decision-makers to expand the team, a pool of qualified applicants to pull from, the resources to onboard new hires, and a proven CS model to ensure ROI.
Unfortunately, that scenario tends to better describe a CSM’s fever dream than reality. The sad truth is most companies we come across run into hurdle after hurdle when trying to extend their internal CS teams.
That’s where the cavalry, more commonly known as virtual Customer Success Managers (vCSM), comes in. vCSMs help CS teams to scale their proven, human-centric strategy across larger or lower-value tiers without the expense and stress of hiring internal resources. vCSMs provide the critical human touch that augments tech touch and bottom-tier neglect described in our blog post, 3 Customer Success Best Practices to Scale People & Automation.
A successful vCSM solution flips the “do more with less” philosophy on its head. It answers the call to reduce cost and streamline operations while delivering bigger bottom lines — a demand that typically pressurizes organizations to do more with less and a stress that automation alleviates but does not solve alone.
If you’ve been following our white papers, you know we believe most companies follow the 80/20 Rule. In short, it’s the idea that most CS teams focus on their biggest customers, typically because of limited resources. Those customers tend to make up the top 20 percent of their customer base. The other 80 percent falls in the coverage gap — a place of no return where customers experience low-touch engagement if any engagement at all.
The added bonus of vCSMs focusing on low- and middle-tier customers is that existing CSMs can stay focused on key accounts and initiatives.
In short, Customer Success as a Service (CSaaS) drives better customer experience, which unlocks more sustainable growth for you and your customers. An idea illustrated in practice by SaaS Capital, which has found that businesses prioritizing Customer Success can see a 40 percent increase in revenue and 50 percent faster growth.
Take a more in-depth look at how the right CS partner can help you have your cake and eat it too when you have champagne-level needs on a juice box-level budget in our latest white paper, Building a Business Case for More Customer Success Resources.
In a fast-paced, resource-strapped world, solving problems through automation is a no-brainer. Auto-delivering customer communications through technology can cost less and is often faster. Plus, hurried customers who just need answers love real-time, no hassle responses.
What customers don’t love is never having the option of human engagement — even when they don’t realize they’re missing it. Forcing customers to find their own way often leads to low product adoption and high churn — shorting companies of potentially loyal customers to fuel greater revenue growth over time.
A lot of that isn’t new to Customer Success (CS) leaders. They know full automation isn’t ideal, but what they don’t know is how to resolve it. That topic is a focus of our white paper, “Customer Success at Scale: To Automate or Not,” which explores how to assess automation with three key considerations for customer success best practices.
Many rely on the idea of using automation in a Customer Success program to auto-deliver value without human interaction. Yet over reliance on tech enabled touch points can negatively impact customer experience. While everyone can appreciate the time savings that technology provides, it doesn’t support a customer’s need for human-to-human contact. CSMs play an important, ‘human-centric’ role in the customer lifecycle. They build relationships that empower customers to reach their goals with your products and services.
Technology should enable the CSM to help customers achieve their outcomes faster and more efficiently. It should not be a means to handle customers the CSM doesn’t have the time or desire to talk to.
Take a look at your customer tiers when attempting to strike a balance between automated outreach and human engagement. You know your top-tier customers are experiencing top-level service. You’re ensuring success at every step of their respective lifecycles. Where things often breakdown is the mid- to low-level tiers, which for most of our clients, actually make up about 80% of their customer base — a volume many CS team structures aren’t equipped to manage.
Although it may seem difficult, extending your Customer Success strategy to these underserved segments offers many rewards. Moving customers from a tech-touch only model to a low-touch cadence with occasional, proactive phone calls from a CSM has proven to increase renewal rate and improve upsell/cross-sell within accounts.
It’s not impossible to find scalable solutions that meet your needs and don’t leave your customers out in the cold. We recommend starting with these three questions to assess your options:
After answering those questions, our clients typically find the most success by:
For a more in-depth perspective on using automation as a customer retention solution, download our white paper, Customer Success at Scale: To Automate or Not?
I recently spent a few days in the mountains of Utah with 100 CS leaders. I say ‘leaders,’ not because of the VP title they wore on a lanyard, but because everyone showed up – ready to learn, ready to engage and ready to lead. My goal of attending CS100 was simple. To leave this mountain retreat smarter than when I arrived, and to have some fun in the process. And boy did I do that. I learned a whole lot. That Utah has some pretty interesting laws, and that nearly everything is closed on Sundays (think Chick-fil-a, but bigger). Contrary to popular belief, I learned chasing waterfalls can be a whole lot of fun (sorry TLC). And I learned on my 4th hike of the trip, that no matter how difficult something seems, you can accomplish anything by putting one foot in front of the other.
In all seriousness, three things resonated with me in the following days. I hope you find value in this short series. Three follow-up pieces ensue, giving each takeaway the spotlight it deserves. You don’t have to attend CS100 to be a CS leader. You too can show up – ready to learn, ready to engage and ready to lead.
I loved TSW San Diego. CustomerSuccess Con was a success. Gainsight Pulse was awesome. Nick Mehta – if you are reading this, Vanilla Ice performing after breakfast is nearly impossible to beat. But everyone knows Vanilla Ice. Who reading this has heard of Peter Breinholt? I didn’t. I would argue that 90% of attendees hadn’t heard of Peter before CS100. However, as I sat there among my CS colleagues at the Sundance Amphitheater – one thing became evident. Peter wasn’t there for the fame. He was there because this is what he genuinely loved to do. This was his passion and his community. His band-mates were literally his neighbors. Folk/pop may not be my favorite genre of music. But passionate, genuine humans are my favorite genre of people. And this perfectly illustrates what CS100 was all about.
If you are a customer success leader and you have not heard of this, it is only a matter of time before you do. For those of you who haven’t, I’m honored to be the first to shed some light on this game-changing maturity model. For those of you who have – you’re going to want to tune in. Because I also thought it was an impressive concept – until I had the opportunity to sit down with several CS leaders and understand how it is used in practice, the real-life business impacts, and most importantly what that means for you. As the need to scale efficiently grows in your organization – this will be a valuable tool in your CS toolbox.
See here for an in-depth explanation in the meanwhile, from CCO extraordinaire, Boaz.
Easily the most engaging topic at CS100, as CS leaders, CEO’s and managing partners at equity firms all chimed in. Simply put – consensus amongst all – if you cannot become a true customer-centric company – you will not survive in tomorrow’s business world. Sure, data supports this, but look no further than your own POV when it comes to your habits as a consumer. You cast your vote daily with your dollars, and I challenge you to ask yourself – what kind of companies do you support? How is that changing as your expectation as a consumer evolves?
How to align Customer Success (CS) and Education Services (ES) is a hot topic in the tech industry right now, and for a good reason. When ES and CS teams are successfully aligned, product usage rates go up, and customer churn rates go down.
Ignoring the impact of Education on Customer Success initiatives isn’t an option. So the question becomes, “Where does Education fit into the customer lifecycle?” Luckily, there is no wrong answer. ES fits at every stage, which is why it becomes increasingly important for Education leaders to play an active role in their company’s customer journey mapping process.
Maria Manning-Chapman, Vice President of research for TSIA, explains the customer journey map as “a framework that maps out the stages of the customer lifecycle and identifies points at which CS should engage to drive customer engagement and pave the way for retention and/or renewal opportunities. It enables CS to improve the customer experience by helping it to better understand how customers are interacting with the company and in what areas to invest.”
There are obvious points in the mapping process where Education can positively impact the customer experience. For instance, consider your company’s onboarding process. This is a company’s first impression for most end users. Education teams can ensure this first impression is a positive one by providing training cheat sheets to help the Customer Success Manager (CSM) or Virtual Customer Success Manager (vCSM) correctly connect new users with the right online or instructor-led training.
Deeper into customer journey, ES can supply CSMs or vCSMs with quick learning videos to help educate their customers on key product features and benefits. Research shows that providing customers with short tutorials on product features before hanging up can reduce churn by 6%.
The key takeaway is that journey mapping is less of a structured process and more of an active dialogue. Education leaders can become a part of this dialogue by getting a tight grasp on the data behind the role that education plays in the health of your customer. Once you’ve got the data, share it with your Customer Success stakeholders to get them talking. Before you know it, opportunities to align ES and CS at scale will reveal themselves.
Want more tips on aligning Education Services and Customer Success throughout the customer lifecycle? Check out the whitepaper, Knowing is Growing: Integrating Education Services for More Powerful Customer Success.
Education is a key component of Customer Success. Without training, customers don’t utilize products or find value in solutions, which jeopardizes the opportunity for renewal and expansion. I bet you’re not surprised. In fact, I would venture to guess you’ve seen statistics like, “92% product renewal average for trained customers” and “135% increase in product usage for customers who consume training.”
What is surprising is the number of Customer Success (CS) and Education Services (ES) organizations that are living in silos, working separately from one another on essentially one shared goal: helping customers experience the very best their product has to offer.
As Michael Harnum, CEO of ESG, recently wrote in Knowing is Growing: Integrating Education Services for More Powerful Customer Success, “Education goes beyond how a product works to the more profound concepts of benefit and value. Demonstrate the intrinsic benefits of your product, and engagement and adoption will Teach your customers how your product helps to solve their most severe pain points and go a long way toward overcoming your retention/renewal challenges. Uncover and optimize the full value of a product for a customer, and the stage is set to upsell them to further enhance their experience and ultimately their results.”
If this is true, why aren’t CS and ES teams clamoring to collaborate? The truth is, many don’t know where to start. The concept of Customer Success is still relatively new, so there are few guidelines dictating CS planning and execution. Effective Customer Success strategies positively impact all stages of the customer lifecycle. And when Education resources are focused on key intersection points within that lifecycle, adoption and retention rates rise exponentially. However, there’s no agreed upon instruction manual explaining where education should be inserted for maximum impact and few teams have extra resources to devote to bridging the gap between CS and ES.
While the struggle is real – it’s not impossible to overcome. If you’re looking for suggestions on how and where to combine Education and Customer Success, or if you’re wondering how other organizations are overcoming resource gaps to bridge ES and CS, check out the white paper, Knowing is Growing: Integrating Education Services for More Powerful Customer Success. In it, Michael Harnum shares his experience working with clients who are searching for the same answers.
I traveled to Boston earlier this month for Customer SuccessCon East, along with our CEO Michael Harnum. It was a great opportunity to learn from some CS veterans, make new connections, and enjoy a killer lobster roll. There was a lot of buzz about a myriad of topics from CS operations to proving the value of your CS team to company leadership. One that resonated with me the most, however, was around segmentation. How should we be segmenting our customers?
It’s coming up a lot in conversations I’m having with CS leaders as well – they’re unsure that they’re getting segmentation right. If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re not alone, and hopefully, some of my takeaways can help you make sense of the segmentation chaos.
Traditionally, tech companies have segmented their customers by contract value. That’s an easy way to do it, right? The customers that pay the most get put in the top customer segment and are smothered with attention. On the other hand, the customers that pay us very little receive little to no outreach. Makes sense, right? Wrong. Segmenting customers by how much they pay us is an outdated approach.
Within the last few years, we have seen Customer Success mature into a sophisticated business function. So, we must elevate the way we are thinking about segmentation as well. We have to dig deeper and understand our customer’s journey better than ever before.
A good place to start is with the customer journey. Talk to some of your best customers across all segments. Talk to your CSMs. Understand what an ideal journey looks like for different groups of customers, from start to finish. As you go through these exercises, your segments should begin to take shape.
Other factors to consider…
Whether you’re just getting started with segmentation, or are re-thinking your existing structure, I’d challenge you to think beyond contract value and dig deeper.