Everybody loves to think about the exciting technologies our future might hold. From eagerly anticipating the flying cars of The Jetsons to imagining algorithms like ChatGPT taking the business world by storm, people love dreaming about possibility. In Customer Success, we don’t always get the opportunity to think too far ahead. CS leaders usually focus on the here and now, developing earlier or mid-level capabilities on the path to Customer Success Maturity. And it makes sense to concentrate on foundational and operational phases of CS because we’re a young industry. Many of us are still fighting for purpose-built CS platforms, growing our teams, and positioning our Customer Success organizations to be revenue drivers for the business.
But what would we do if we could scale our teams, expand our tech stacks, and invest in the latest and greatest capabilities freely, without any restrictions? What if your CEO came to you one day and asked: “What does your dream Customer Success organization look like?” or “If you could have any new technology out there, what would you choose?” I know that times are a little uncertain right now, so it’s not likely we’ll be handed a blank check in the near future. But to plan for the future, we really should allow ourselves to imagine what if. Think a bit further ahead. Explore what new and exciting things are coming down the pipeline. It never hurts to envision our ideal organization. It can serve as a target to strive for and help us make decisions today that will lead us in that direction down the line.
With all this in mind, I’ve looked into some of the advanced digital modalities coming to or already on the market designed to make our lives easier in lots of fun, creative ways. These tools take automation and optimization of customer engagement to the next level. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good overview of the types of impressive technologies that mature Customer Success organizations can start to explore – and ones that earlier-stage CS organizations might want to consider as they develop a big-picture digital strategy.
Before we get too excited, how’s your current digital Customer Success strategy?
Norman Vincent Peale said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” It’s a beautiful line, but besides being factually inaccurate (stars are way farther away than the moon – come on Peale!) it’s not the best approach when it comes to planning long-term digital strategy. Digital transformations usually happen as a progression of capabilities. Phases of digital Customer Success maturity begin with a strong foundation, much like Customer Success itself. It’s vital to have a sturdy framework in place so you can build upon it with precision and purpose over time. So, really, before you reach for the stars, construct yourself a base on the moon. Not exactly a phrase you’d stitch on a pillow, but it’s definitely more applicable to best practices in Customer Success. First, lay the groundwork of your digital CS strategy by doing things like investing in Customer Success Operations capabilities and making inroads with other departments across the business. Otherwise, you could end up paying for fancy tools that don’t align with your data or developing a tech stack that is misaligned with your organization’s needs.
This is not to say you shouldn’t bother with advanced digital modalities until everything else is perfectly in place. Some of these mid to high-level strategies can take a lot of time to grow, so you may want to do them in tandem with other trailblazing initiatives. For example, fostering a robust customer community through platforms like Gainsight Digital Hub (formerly Insided) or Higher Logic Vanilla is a lengthy process. If you want to automate QBRs at the same time, great! Just be careful that any information you plug into your QBRs from that nascent community knowledge base is timely and accurate. Data integrity is key.
Issues arise when companies try to build a digital strategy without thinking about everything that must be applied and built out on the backend. Systems don’t magically speak to each other. A lot of work goes into making everything synch together. Executive leaders may want to invest in a specific tool, thinking it will be a quick fix to many problems. And while there are a lot of great tools out there on the market, CS leaders need to be sure their limited budget dollars go to the technologies that best fit their organization’s needs.
Strengthening and expanding your digital capabilities
Once you have a robust digital foundation in place and you’ve adopted mid-tier capabilities, you might start eyeing advanced digital strategies. These go beyond having a dedicated Customer Success platform, in-app engagement, and community-building tools. Advanced digital modalities in Customer Success mean taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies to automate what was previously impossible to automate, maximizing your team’s resources in creative new ways. It’s the ultimate goal with digitalization – optimizing everything mundane so you can scale your CSMs’ ability to foster customer relationships as the business skyrockets in growth. Advanced digital modalities enable you to have a more strategic, flexible, and customizable engagement strategy.
Streamline and improve the customer onboarding phase:
The technology: Software that automates and enhances the customer onboarding journey with features like product tours, user-driven checklists, interactive help desk widgets, and training videos.
Who’s doing it: ChurnZero, GUIDEcx, Rocketlane
How it works: These tools are designed to engage new customers as quickly as possible, teaching users how to jump in with both feet and speeding up time-to-value. More than an in-app walkthrough, onboarding technologies aim to optimize this phase of the customer journey with customizable, integrated, and predictive software. Ultimately, the goal is to increase customer adoption and retention by making user activation simple, easy, and enjoyable.
How it benefits Customer Success orgs: Scaling the onboarding process might just be number one on the high-tech wish list of every CS leader. It’s just such a vital stage of the customer journey. You really can’t afford to get it wrong. But when new customers come flooding in, CSMs can only do so much on their own. Customer onboarding software can empower your team to build a perfect, personalized journey for every single new customer – even in the long tail. CSMs can track usage data and receive alerts when customers need extra guidance. These tools also make it easier to continuously improve the onboarding journey with advanced reporting and analytics.
What it could look like in the future: New customer? Sit back and relax! Have a cup of coffee and watch as they become enthusiastic adopters all on their own. Just kidding. We’ll still need CSMs, but with a cutting-edge onboarding platform, this stage of the journey will look less chaotic and much more strategic. In fact, every part of the customer journey, from onboarding through renewal, will be perfectly seamless. Maybe we’ll even have those hologram-style dashboards like in the movies!
Automate and digitize your Quarterly Business Reviews:
The technology: Digital QBRs or business reviews personalize and automate the regular check-in process for your customers.
Who’s doing it: Cast.app, Totango, CloudRadial
How it works: User-friendly platforms automate the QBR process by collecting relevant customer data and using it to create walk-throughs or interactive videos for customers to review their performance progress. Self-service functionality also enables access to KPIs without direct CSM involvement. CSMs can set it up so that previously stated goals are continuously monitored and shared with the customer so they can watch the progress they’re making in real time.
How it benefits Customer Success orgs: Automating this kind of dynamic engagement allows CSMs to build better relationships with more of their tech-touch customers. You can proactively measure value realization and step in before issues arise without waiting until the next meeting. CSMs will have more time to dedicate to revenue-enhancing activities without sacrificing the opportunity to regularly connect with their customers.
What it could look like in the future: This technology is already pretty slick and getting better all the time. Interactive videos help customers feel more engaged with the process, and AI may eventually be able to create a CSM avatar to review reports, answer questions, and have real conversations with customers during a digital QBR.
Identify early warning signs for churn and take action:
The technology: Early warning dashboards that turn customer data into business intelligence that will alert you to the risk of churn as well as let you know when there are opportunities for expansion and growth.
Who’s doing it: involve.ai, CustomerGauge, ChurnZero, Sturdy
How it works: In this scenario, you’re a CS organization with access to all the customer usage data you can get your hands on. You’re collecting inputs from every department that interacts with the customer, and you’ve got a killer data governance process already in place. Now, it’s time to put all those facts and figures into a predictive analytics engine that gives you deeper, data-driven insights into customer behavior. These churn-busting powerhouses provide a unified picture of the customer experience by tracking trends and forecasting outcomes so you can act long before a customer even thinks about leaving.
How it benefits Customer Success orgs: Churn warning systems are the next evolution of customer health tracking. Rather than running around, constantly putting out fires, CSMs will have everything at their fingertips to know when a customer is unhappy before they ever reach out for assistance. Then, CSMs can nip problems in the bud and save the day for their customers like the superheroes they are. These platforms take a data-driven approach to managing customer portfolios, empowering CSMs to build meaningful connections with more customers.
What it could look like in the future: Perhaps this technology gets so advanced it will be able to predict whether a customer is in danger of churning before they even become customers. It will take the most basic telemetry data and extrapolate everything a customer will do before the customer even thinks of doing it. That would be interesting.
Leverage new possibilities in customer communication
The technology: Conversational AI and sentiment analysis that can carry on meaningful dialogue with your tech-touch customers.
Who’s doing it: Complete CSM, Ever After, Conversica, Zendesk
How it works: With the explosion of ChatGPT on the scene, conversational AI bots are all the rage. Though digital assistance isn’t new, the rapidly expanding capabilities of algorithms ready to derive insights from mountains of past interactions and content are pretty radical. The technology platforms ready to serve businesses with these leading-edge tools can streamline content creation, perform automated (and highly tailored) conversations with customers, and even gauge interest for expansion from these interactions.
How it benefits Customer Success orgs: There’s a lot of potential in this technology to boost CS efforts. Internally, you can do things like create brand guidelines from a library of content so that every output has the proper branding and voice. CS leaders can draw upon strategic insights about customer sentiment by having the tool analyze communication across multiple channels. Externally, CSMs could test various touchpoint strategies and automate personalized content for their tech-touch customers.
What it could look like in the future: Who am I talking to? A person? A bot? I don’t know, and maybe I don’t care? We’re still exploring all the crazy ways we can use conversational AI to improve business outcomes. There is a lot of talk about how these technologies will touch on everything from crafting Marketing and Sales content to generating synthetic data to improve machine learning outcomes.
Dreaming a little (or BIG) dream of advanced digital modalities in Customer Success
More and more businesses are looking at new technologies to help them grow and scale, but we’ve got a ways to go. Dreaming about what would make a CSM’s life much, much easier is fun. But Customer Success organizations have to wake up to the reality of their current systems and approaches every day. It’s up to CS leaders across the industry to push the envelope for their teams. For now, many of these strategies might live in a world of pure imagination, but they won’t always. As innovative as our industry is, I know we’ll be ready.