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.
Think back to your first smartphone. Unless you’re one of the first people to buy an iPhone, way back in 2007, there was probably a time when you thought a smartphone was unnecessary. All those features were flashy, sure, but who needed it? You’ve got calls and texts on your current phone already.
When you first got a smartphone, you may have thought it was nice, but not necessary. Sure, you’d look things up while you were on the move, but you could live without it. Now, all that has changed. You need your smartphone — you probably check it over a hundred times a day for work and personal reasons alike. Somewhere along the way, you adopted it, and now it’s irreplaceable.
But how does the manufacturer know when that moment happened? They can’t just ask — you probably don’t know yourself when that tipping point occurred. Gauging adoption isn’t a simple task, but it’s important. Adoption predicts renewal and repeat business, so your business needs to have a sense of what it looks like.
Once you’ve figured out how adoption usually comes about, you can start to examine prospects and new customers and predict whether they’re on track to success. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
A customer who’s truly adopted your product will be using it — probably more often than one who’s still undecided about the value you provide. You should be able to examine the usage rates of your customers to establish a threshold for adoption, then sort your customers by daily, weekly, or monthly login.
If your customers aren’t using your product or service as often as you’d like, it may be for lack of knowledge on what your service can do. Email reminders to infrequent users about the features they’re not using can be a great way to boost adoption rates.
Keep in mind that “in their day-to-day” doesn’t mean “every day” — a payroll administrator might only be logging in once a week to approve hours, but that doesn’t mean the software isn’t crucial to their job.
A Customer Success Automation tool can be a critical function in measuring usage data at adoption time, and automating the communication triggers to your end users via e-mail, in-app notifications, and reminders to reach out personally. These tools can also learn patterns over time, and give you insights as to what adoption behaviors drive outcomes, good and bad.
As with any adoption metric, there’s no hard-and-fast answer for how often customers should be logging in. You’ll have to establish your own benchmarks, based on past users who renewed, and compare current users to those numbers.
A simple login to look at a dashboard isn’t the same thing as organizing tasks, setting up workflows, installing on multiple machines, or other signals of comprehensive use. Look at past usage patterns first to get a sense of what kind of behavior is usually indicative of higher adoption, and then look for that same behavior in your current customers.
Your onboarding process will strongly affect how your customers use the product — if they’re not using a given feature, they may simply not know how. “Time To Onboard” is a KPI you should be tracking — it’s simply the number of customers who have completed the onboarding in the time you expect divided by the total number you onboard — and it’ll give you a good sense of who isn’t finishing the process as quickly as they should. Customers can’t adopt the product if they don’t know how to use it, so you should be focusing your attention on those who might need extra help.
Your customer picked your product or service for a reason — something they expected to get out of your product that will help them do their job or serve their customers. They might love your product and find it easy to use, but if it’s not delivering the results they need, they won’t keep renewing. You need to set up a way to track outcomes — after all, the core of Customer Success is making sure your customer is successful.
The most useful KPI to track here is Time To Value (TTV). We explain TTV in more depth here, but it’s essentially the amount of time between a customer taking an action and seeing the value of that action. In this case, it’s the amount of time between a customer making an initial purchase (or trial download) and getting what they want out of it.
You’ll need to lean on your sales team and CRM to keep track of what each customer wants to get out of your product — it’s not the same for everyone. Divide them into categories and monitor when they start getting the utility that made them sign up in the first place.
Also, keep an eye on potential early issues. Have they opened a lot of tickets? Is the low usage due to a need for further training? If the client is feeling pain early on, clients will quickly question if they’ve made the right decision.
Your product will dictate the answer to this question — some products are adopted easily, after which usage is sustained rather than increased. Other products are more complicated — customers will begin to use them more and more over a longer period of time.
Your product adoption curve will vary depending on the exact service or product that you offer, but you can look at your past customer history to find the points at which your customers generally upgrade or renew their service.
Tracking continuous adoption will be easier if you think of different levels of use as different products entirely. KPIs like usage rate and TTV can be broken down to each feature to create a timeline for how quickly you expect your customers to ramp up their usage. If they’re not using more features over time or aren’t taking advantage of new features as quickly as you’d like, it may be worth giving them some extra onboarding attention.
There’s nothing wrong with a product with a long adoption curve, as long as expectations are managed and the customer starts to see benefits early on.
Adoption cycles and renewal cycles don’t necessarily have to match up perfectly, but if they don’t, you need to bridge the gap. A customer who isn’t fully realizing the potential of your product before they arrive at the renewal phase might think that your product doesn’t meet their needs, or doesn’t have the features they expected.
This is another reason why tracking TTV is so vital. If you’re celebrating the small wins with your clients, even though there’s still more work to be done at renewal time, the initial value should be clear.
Your job will be to assess their adoption profile before the renewal phase comes along, comparing them to past consumers to see if their adoption has progressed enough to make them likely to renew. If they haven’t, you might need to change your onboarding strategy to get customers to integrate your product into their workflows more quickly.
There’s no master template for how your customers should adopt your product — the rate at which they adopt and the depth at which they utilize your service will be unique to your particular business. Often, adoption is neglected after on-boarding, when in fact, the point at which your customers are leveraging your product independently is likely when they need the most monitoring.
That’s why it’s so important for you to establish these benchmarks yourself. Use your hypothetical ideal customer, rolled together with historical data from existing customers, to track the way that customers use and adopt your product or service between onboarding and renewal. The better you can understand that cycle, the better you’ll be able to appeal to people who are still on the fence, preventing churn and fueling sustainable growth.
When the iPad launched in 2010, people couldn’t seem to figure out what it was for. The New York Times’ David Pogue said, “In 10 years of reviewing tech products for The New York Times, I’ve never seen a product as polarizing as Apple’s iPad.” Tech writers wondered why anyone would want a touchscreen-only computer with no ports other than Apple’s proprietary 30-pin dock. The name was mockingly compared to feminine hygiene products.
Now, some 360 million iPads have been sold, and the “tablet” category is firmly entrenched in the tech world. Far from replacing laptops of smartphones, tablets have become a sort of convenient in-between — more portable than laptops, but more powerful than phones.
But that world would never have come about if not for the bold few in 2010. You may have known some of them — maybe they wouldn’t stop talking about it. Maybe they’re the reason you bought your first tablet.
Those people are the early adopters — the first customers to adopt a new product or technology before the rest of the population catches up. And if you’re introducing a new product or service to the market, you need to know how they think.
The term “early adopters” comes from the 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations, which described the acceptance progress of new technology with a normal distribution curve. It’s made up of five different groups of consumers with varying levels of interest in new technology. Here’s a quick rundown of each group:
The innovators are the first to invest in a product. They’re far more interested — even obsessed — with technology and make it a priority to be on the cutting edge. The downside is that their motivations vary. Maybe they needed your exact product or maybe they just wanted to own the latest and greatest. Either way, it’s hard to draw conclusions from their purchases. They’re also a small group — innovators consist of only about 2.5% of the population.
Early adopters come next, causing a swell in numbers as your sales begin to take off. Early adopters are similar to innovators in that they’re willing to test the waters ahead of the mainstream, but they’re slightly more hesitant — they want to wait until initial reviews come out and innovators have started to report bugs.
This is when sales really start to take off — about a third of your sales will come from the early majority. They waited to hear how the product was received and gave it time to be field tested by the innovators and early adopters. They strongly value the opinions of early adopters, but they’re more risk-averse, so they waited to make sure people were enjoying the product before spending money on it.
The late majority waited until your product was mainstream. They’re the people that started buying smartphones when the innovators were already on their third or fourth generation — after it became clear that the smartphone wasn’t a passing craze. They might be more skeptical of the need to start using something new, but they’re willing to follow a trend when they see it.
Laggards are people who only buy something after the hype has died down — maybe years after it’s been released. Do you know an adult who’s just now getting their first smartphone? That’s a laggard. They might be extremely skeptical of the need for what you’re selling, or they might be out of touch enough to have missed the hype when it first started. Whatever the reason, they’re buying late enough that “everyone knows” what the product is — it’s not news anymore.
Early adopters average just 13% of your total sales, but they’re much more valuable than their numbers indicate. Acquiring early adopters is a vital step in any product release.
They’re willing to take a risk on you with their hard-earned money — that means that their loyalty will be stronger if you reward that risk. They’re also more invested in the product, so they can provide valuable feedback about any issues they find before your product goes fully mainstream. And their early spending can give you a much-needed cash infusion to fund research and development, order advance inventory, or get production costs down.
Early adopters also kick off the spread of word-of-mouth marketing about your product. An increasing number of people in the early and late majority — a much bigger slice of the market — won’t even think about buying a product without asking a friend, colleague, or trusted review site about it. If there’s no one to ask, they won’t spend money.
Early adopters aren’t investing in your company out of the goodness of their hearts — there are benefits for them that help mitigate some of the risks. First, a lot of them like the thrill of being the first to own a new product or technology. There’s also the chance that they’ll get the jump on the rest of the world, adopting a useful new technology before others have access to it.
But they also expect a top-shelf customer experience. If your product is truly new, there’s no one else to ask about how to use it, take full advantage of it, or fix it. That role will fall to you, and the way you treat your early adopters will have a ripple effect on future mainstream customers.
You’re not expected to treat every customer the way you treat your first customers, but it’s important to walk the line between over-promising and under-delivering. If you tell your early adopters that they’ll always be able to reach a real person on the phone, they’ll expect that service going forward, and you may not be able to provide it. If you don’t provide good service, they may not stick around.
Instead, focus on making sure that the value of your product is obvious. Early adopters are buying what you’re selling because you’re promising a product that didn’t already exist — show them what makes you different from the competition and they’ll be your best advocates.
Living Up to the Hype
On the one hand, early adopters are easier to please — they know that there are likely kinks to iron out, they expect to pay more than future customers, and they know that the support base for a brand-new product won’t be as robust.
But on the other hand, your early adopters are much more important to please. They’re the ones who will keep you off the ground long enough to hit the mainstream, and they’re the ones who will get the ball rolling on the all-important customer feedback loop: touting your product to new mainstream adopters, who will then refer even more people to you themselves.
In order to properly take advantage of your early adopters’ enthusiasm, you’ll need a way to capture their insights. Remember, these are effectively a big pool of product testers. You need to establish a system to solicit and capture their feedback and ideas — then turn those ideas into actionable feedback for your product team. You don’t need to take every suggestion, of course, but you need to track what those suggestions are.
This is a great opportunity to use Customer Success Automation. Watching your early adopters carefully, monitoring exactly how they use your product, collecting their feedback, and making it readily available to the right people in your business are all tasks that can be built into workflows so you don’t miss out on any useful information.
Whether you’re an established company releasing a new product or a whole new company, recruiting a group of early adopters will be vital for your success. You can’t take off without them.
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.
An experience that left you feeling so warm and fuzzy that you’d never consider spending your money with anyone else?
For me, it was with Nordstrom. Confession time: I’ve got a bit of a shopping problem, and Nordstrom is where I get my fix. Recently I placed an order for a few items online. In reviewing my order confirmation, I realized I selected a shipping address I haven’t lived at for years. I quickly got on live chat, and a representative assured me that the order had been updated and the package would be delivered to my current address. About a week later, I received an email saying my package had been delivered, but when I got home, the package was nowhere to be found.
Feeling fairly annoyed, I decided to call and was pleasantly surprised when I got through to a real live human in just a few seconds. +1 Nordstrom. I walked through the situation with the representative, and within a few moments, she said, “We dropped the ball. The address didn’t get updated. I’m sorry.” Did she just honestly and earnestly admit fault? +1 Nordstrom. She went on, “Let me look up all these items; we’re going to overnight them to you for free.” +1 Nordstrom. Then she stopped. “Oh no. This shirt is out of stock.” I told her it was OK, and they could just refund me for that item. She said, “I’m going to refund you for the shirt and put a $100 credit on your account.” Are you kidding me??? +5000 Nordstrom!!!
This conversation took no more than 5 minutes and left me with a literal tear in my eye, wanting to hug this woman through the phone because I felt so taken care of. Nordstrom took a loss on this order, but that’s not the point. In going the extra mile and always doing right by their customer, they earn customers for life. I shudder at the thought of how much I’ll spend with them in my lifetime.
I’ve been asking this question for the last couple of weeks and have enjoyed heartwarming stories about experiences with Southwest Airlines, Amazon, and Chick-fil-A, to name a few. And these are not just one-off stories. These companies are notorious for how well they treat their customers. But what do they all have in common? They are delivering exceptional B2C experiences.
Let me ask you another question: when was the last time you had an exceptional experience in a B2B SaaS environment? I’m imagining crickets chirping across my network. Ok… maybe that’s a little harsh, but I very rarely hear stories from delighted customers in this environment. Dave Blake said it really well last month at the CS100 Summit – too often in the B2B space, we are getting pathetic, ordinary experiences when we should be striving for authentic, extraordinary experiences.
Now, I’m not saying that executing an incredible B2B experience is as simple as hiring remarkably pleasant employees to serve remarkably delicious chicken at a fast food window. These are complex relationships, and we’re seeking to solve complex business problems. There are many people involved and many moving parts. Every person involved has different wants, needs, goals, initiatives, and definitions of “success.” Oh, and success is defined differently by every customer.
Look, we’re not always going to get it right. We are imperfect humans living in an imperfect world. At CS100, it was so humbling to hear a senior leader from one of the most impressive CS teams around say, “we are still failing our customers in so many ways.” I think we could all stand to cut ourselves a slice of humble pie. Can we collectively admit that we can do better? Can we collectively agree to hold ourselves to a higher standard?
Education Services Group, LLC (“ESG”), the leading Customer Success as a Service provider, is proud to appoint Megan Macaluso as Vice President of Strategic Development. In her role, Megan will oversee Business Development and will be integral in expanding ESG’s Customer Success solutions.
Michael Harnum, CEO of ESG, stated, “I’m very excited to have someone of Megan’s caliber join the leadership team at ESG. Her breadth of experience in sales, operations and customer success will greatly benefit our current and future customers and our employees. Megan’s leadership attributes will have an immediate and positive impact on the culture of ESG.”
Megan joins ESG after a six-year tenure at Service Source where she led sales teams that consistently hit targets on behalf of her clients, project managed large and complex technical implementations and provided Customer Success Program Management for the largest strategic global accounts. Client advocacy and crafting solutions for her business partners are Megan’s professional passions, and she brings to ESG a thoughtful and dynamic client-centric approach. Megan believes strongly in building robust, principled, and smart solutions for her clients, with a unique skill set to meet those goals.
ESG is reshaping the tired, old customer service paradigm to help companies of all sizes define and achieve customer success by closing the customer coverage gap. Through a process-driven formula built on unrivaled experience, ESG makes its clients successful and helps clients’ customers realize maximum value from their purchases by turning deep insights into profitable customer lifecycle management strategies.
ESG’s pay-for-performance approach is powered by people, tapping the potential of human interaction to help clients find untapped revenue, from the top of their segmentation to the bottom. Throughout the customer lifecycle — from onboarding and awareness building through usage, value realization then advocacy – the ESG process delivers Customer Success as a Service to produce game-changing ROI. Adoption goes up, churn goes down, customer relationships improve and the bottom line grows. Learn more at esgsuccess.com.
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.