Guiding SaaS Customers to Be More Autonomous…and Why It’s Important

March 24, 2021

Remco de Vries

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy, Customer Success Tools, Digital Customer Success

Customers actively seek out more autonomy in order to speed up day-to-day decision-making. Your customers want to interact with your product, but they want to do so in their own time and – on their own terms.

If you facilitate autonomy, you’re very likely to see increased loyalty, advocacy, improved product adoption, and reduced churn in your customer base.

So how can you help your customers, help themselves?

It starts with creating a self-service environment. But first, in the age of DIY, what exactly is self-service?

What’s self-service?

DIY is taking over. And we’re not just talking about home improvement and arts and crafts projects propelled by the pandemic. DIY, or well, self-service as we call it, is the future of customer retention in SaaS.

Self-service simply means to offer your customers the means to be successful with your product or service on their own.

Your customers are savvy, connected, and keen to learn – they want to do things themselves and they actively seek out ways to do so. In fact, Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report revealed some pretty convincing numbers; a whopping 71 percent of B2B buyers said that self-service availability impacts their loyalty.

So how do you build a self-service environment?

Let’s take a look.

What’s a self-service environment?

A self-service environment will look different for every company depending on what stage your company is in and how mature your product or service is. It should evolve over time as your business matures and you get a better understanding of what content is required.

A self-service environment can consist of many different components. Here, we’ll cover the most important ones and explain when and why it makes sense to implement them.


Frequently Asked Questions is the most basic form of self-service. You’ll often find this at the footer of a website and on specific pages, such as pricing.

When to implement: Immediately. These days, every business is a digital business. Meaning, your customers will take to your website to find answers to their questions—whether you want them to or not. Doesn’t matter if you only started your business yesterday or if you’ve been up and running for years, an FAQ section is the bare minimum of self-service you should offer your customers.

Knowledge base

A knowledge base, or help center, is the home to self-service content such as guides and tutorials, giving your customers one designated place to find information that will help them get more value out of your product or service. A knowledge base typically allows FAQs to be searchable, offering a database of topics and articles.

When to implement: It’s time to implement a knowledge base as soon as you start seeing an increased and steady influx of customers. The idea behind this is that when a company is still in its infancy, you’ll most likely only have a few customers. At this point, questions are still easily managed by a single CSM, supported by a Product Manager when things get technical. As soon as more customers start to pour in, that changes. This is when you’ll need to track and document questions, so other customers can benefit in the future.

Customer community

A customer community is the backbone of self-service at scale. Not only does it facilitate self-service, but it also enables peer-to-peer (P2P) service, allowing customers to help each other solve problems and discover more and better ways to use your product.

When to implement: We always say that it only takes a handful of customers to create a thriving community. The decision to implement a customer community, and at what stage, largely depends on your Customer Success strategy. Do you plan on making a customer community the center of all (one-to-many) customer engagement? Go for it. Start early and make sure the implementation and processes are ready to scale. More often, companies add a customer community once they’ve entered the growth phase and see a high influx of customers. It’s at this point you’ll encounter challenges related to the scalability of your Customer Success efforts as self-service, efficiency and one-to-many engagement become crucial factors. In some scenarios, these can make or break your customers’ health.

Customer feedback tools

Customers will always have feedback to share, whether it’s prompted or unprompted. Giving them a designated place to do so is part of a sophisticated self-service environment.

When to implement: Immediately. There’s ZERO downside to asking for customer feedback early – and often. The only thing you need to make sure first is that you’re actually able to act on that feedback. The worst thing that can happen is a customer taking the time to provide valuable feedback, and never hearing from you again. Likewise, the perks of actually following up on customer feedback and delivering on it are endless: you’ll increase adoption, satisfaction, and retention – all at the same time.

The benefits of autonomous customers

The benefits of a self-service environment are plenty. Most SaaS companies with a successful self-service model report the following benefits:

Happier customers

The goal of any SaaS company is to make sure that the product is as intuitive and easy to use as possible. But the perfect product doesn’t exist – and neither does the perfect customer. Customers will always have questions. Customers will always ask for more. Don’t underestimate the benefits of customers who are able to figure out most of this by themselves, or by learning from other customers, or educational content. Heck, you’ll probably see customers come up with ways to use your product that you may have never even imagined.

Increased retention

Increased self-service capabilities equal less friction (and time lost) while trying to use your product. This means those customers eventually see more value, and as a result – stick around longer.

Improved product adoption

Your CSMs don’t like to sell. They like to recommend use cases or possible applications of your product customers might not have considered yet. This is fine, as your customers don’t like to be sold. In comes autonomy, giving your customers the ability to self-serve their way to more and better use of your product(s) and its features. Make it easy for your customers to discover new features and use-cases, and they will reward you by actually exploring them.

Reduced costs and increased growth

We like to use the following phrase at inSided: “You didn’t hire your Customer Success Managers to repeat FAQ’s to customers.” Help your CSMs by making sure they don’t have to spend time on mundane and repetitive tasks. Help them by making sure customers can find most of the answers to common questions by themselves. This will in turn save you money by not having to grow the CSM team exponentially as your business grows, and making sure that your CSMs actually get to spend more time on high-value conversations.

What’s next for autonomous customers?

Default to openness

As companies learn more about their customers and how they’re using their products, they’ll start to feed more and more data highlighting these use cases – and their success to customers. Customers will increasingly be able to at any point in time do a self-assessment of their prowess of using a certain product and the value they get from it.

Better customization and personalization

Currently, customers go in with a problem or question and will be able to efficiently find an answer or contact your team. As we move into the future, we’ll be able to put so much data to good use that we can better predict and be more proactive about customer needs. Eventually, we’ll be able to give the customer a fully personalized and unique experience.

Automation isn’t less, it’s more

Part of customer autonomy is not having to go to your dedicated CSM for every little thing that’s on your mind. CSM-free processes and communication are in their infancy. Currently, automation doesn’t provide the same value a 1-on-1 conversation with a CSM would, but with the Customer Success tech stack constantly growing, we expect this to change rapidly in 2021 and beyond.

Final words

As Customer Success becomes a more sophisticated and mature function, supported by increasingly purpose-built technology, we’ll see a shift toward greater customer autonomy.

Now, this doesn’t mean that CSMs will become redundant. Instead, they’ll be able to focus on more proactive tasks and build stronger relationships with both customers and internal stakeholders. With customers having more control over their experience, it also means giving CSMs more control over their own role, eliminating reactive tasks and allowing them to work more strategically and proactively.

A better customer experience – driven by customers themselves – and more time for long-term strategic thinking for your Customer Success team? It’s a win-win.


About the Guest Contributor

Remco de Vries is the Vice President of Marketing at inSided, the only community platform built specifically for Customer Success. Remco has fallen in love with the ever-developing world of Customer Success