6 Emerging Trends in SaaS Customer Success

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We are truly in the Golden Age of Customer Success, with ever-improving tools and processes available for reducing churn and increasing customer engagement. Pre-customer, from day one, companies are beginning to talk about Customer Success best practices. Here are six emerging trends from the field:

INVEST EARLIER IN CUSTOMER SUCCESS

Five years ago, Customer Success was usually adopted as a reactionary program, driven by the need to respond to a churn problem. This meant that companies selling annual contracts and finding churn above 15%, or companies selling monthly subscriptions and getting 3% or higher churn per month, would interpret these indicators as signs that it was time to implement a Customer Success program.

This is no longer the norm. The lightbulb is going off sooner, as companies are realizing there is significant ROI to being better from the start at driving customer success, retention, and growth. High retention out of the gate is now a must-have priority for fast-growing subscription based SaaS companies.

There’s no such thing as too early for starting to define a Customer Success model — in fact, it’s smart to think about it as soon as you do a customer acquisition model. This may start as: “How do we do great customer onboarding, promote adoption, and deliver value in the first 30-60-90 days?”, and then scale into a full-blown Customer Success program over time.

A progression is certainly natural. But by around 100 customers or $1M ARR, you’d better be sure you’ve gotten serious about building out a solid Customer Success program that includes a rockstar team and the data and technology to support their work.

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ENGAGE EARLIER IN THE CUSTOMER LIFECYCLE

Customer Success is a critical part of the customer interaction out of the gate. This includes the trial experience or somewhere else along the line pre-sale. A lot of what a subscription software company is selling — what can serve to really differentiate them from their competitors — is actually the value offered by Customer Success. Bringing in a Customer Success team or spokesperson for that role as part of the sales process really helps prospects see that service as a key part of the value they’ll be gaining from the engagement.

SaaS companies are offering expertise and the promise of a trusted advisor. Companies with freemium models or trial offerings looking at conversion rate improvement are now taking best practices from the customer success world – they’re determining how to measure healthy usage patterns, and other “good sign” behaviors trial or freemium users might display, and using that information to help prioritize focus on closing one deal vs. another. In fact, trial and freemium models are tearing down the wall between what is sales and what is customer success.

Companies doing both well aren’t too fixated on trying to differentiate one from the other. There might be Customer Success “coach” roles that are primarily about helping freemium or trial customers get strong value and ultimately convert to paying customers. These CSMs likely don’t think of themselves as sales people. They simply want to make sure everyone who interacts with their company and product has a great experience.

TRACK AND ANALYZE DATA

The importance of capturing and analyzing good customer data has become apparent. But collecting quality data around some kinds of customer interactions is trickier than others. And it’s harder still to use that data well to generate value for your customers and your company. But smart SaaS companies are getting savvy about:

  • Creating defined processes and tools to easily track non-electronic touchpoints (Phone calls, Meetings, QBRs) — when they happened, who was involved, how they went, etc.
  • Monitoring trends around those touchpoints and their impact on customer health.

BizLibrary is a good example of a company that has a very strong program around this. Their Customer Success team systematically records every customer interaction. Then, they watch how the patterns around those activities correlate with other signals (like application usage and the results their customers are achieving) as well as with outcomes (like renewals and upsells).

It’s all part of the big picture, and an important aspect to track along with NPS responses, support tickets, etc.

Customer Success teams must always be asking: How are all of these moving parts together impacting the health of our customers, and how can we constantly improve the program for better results and outcomes?

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SHARE RESULTS AND INSIGHTS WITH CUSTOMERS

The data and insights Customer Success practitioners are gathering is not just for internal purposes any more. There’s growing excitement about sharing that information, especially visual representations of it, directly back with customers. It can provide an impetus for your customers to strive to improve their own adoption and results.

Salesforce pioneered sending monthly emails telling customers: “Here’s how you’re using the Salesforce app, here’s what areas you’re touching, here’s what we recommend exploring, and here’s how many records you have.” For an admin at a Salesforce customer company, it was very informative to get that monthly update.

Companies like Zendesk have sent benchmark reports that took it to another level: offering groupings by industry, with analysis of ticket resolution times, response rates, and forum interactions. Such reports were valuable because they tied to the business goals of the customers, rather than just what features were being used.

Today, companies are starting to think about how they can provide personalized, real-time feedback to their customers about how well they’re performing in the application, how much value they’re getting compared to other relevant companies that seem like them, and what they’ve been doing previously and in relation to their own goals.

Providing your customers insights into how they’re achieving their goals, as well as their performance among their peers, is a strategic advantage and market differentiator for your company. Customers buy software for product features, but they also choose to engage with you to take advantage of your consulting and expertise within the problem areas your SaaS solves. Showing your customers how they’re performing and comparing to similar companies in key functional areas provides a “next-level” tier of value from the engagement.

One caveat to this trend is that it’s harder to share reports with customers when things aren’t going well for them against their own benchmarks and against their peers. After all, it’s one thing to show a customer who has been achieving great things how they fit into the overall spectrum, but to show a customer who is declining or struggling, that direct insight may seal the deal on churn in the short-term. Still, this is important, and we’d argue is crucial for mitigating churn in the long run.

Do the work upfront to assess the best way to message your customers and deliver their ranking — positive or negative — with an emphasis on helping them achieve the goals they originally sought to accomplish with your software.

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SELF-SERVICE CUSTOMER RESOURCES, ENGAGEMENT AND CUSTOMER HEALTH

One of the top emerging trends in scaling Customer Success is delivering superior self-service customer resources, including self-service support, Knowledge Bases, how to’s, and help communities. Self-serve resources are becoming essential elements of delivering better customer experiences, and will become even more important in the future.

In the past, self-serve resources each lived in their own silo. How someone interacted with help docs, support systems, or community really did not tie into a company’s understanding of customer engagement and health. This is no longer the case.

Now, Customer Success departments are breaking down those silos, and are finding interesting linkages between self-serve resources and Customer Success. If a customer opens emails and participates in a community, companies can now validate that these behaviors signal their engagement every bit as much as logging in and using an application.

One company doing this well is MindTouch, which offers a great platform for knowledge management. MindTouch is excellent at measuring how customers are interacting with their resources as part of overall engagement and health. And they help their customers undertake the same kind of analysis.

Self-serve resources are absolutely critical to scaling your Customer Success program. By connecting the dots between self-service interactions and Customer Success, it’s possible for SaaS companies to better pinpoint exactly where and how value is being achieved by their customers. Application usage tells only part of the story, and by monitoring and tracking self-serve success (how are customers behaving in your community forums, for instance), it’s possible to get a more complete picture of your customers’ health.

CUSTOMER SUCCESS AS A GROWTH STRATEGY IS GOING MAINSTREAM

We are already seeing a lot of buzz on the overlap between Customer Success and growth hacking. Growth hacking is a term originally coined to describe marketing techniques, typically innovative practices, used to rapidly build awareness and adoption of technology products.

But as the strategy evolves, the best growth hackers will be the first to admit that it’s not just about acquiring customers — good growth hacking also focuses on retaining those customers and turning them into loyal advocates, who in turn help your product and company achieve optimal growth overall. Enter Customer Success. And no doubt we’ll continue to see increasing interplay, as the two strategies are quickly becoming best friends.

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