People with ‘customer success’ in their job title haven’t been around for very long. They’re kind of like sales, but not focused on selling. They’re a bit like support, but don’t deal with just any old tyre-kicker.
For products like a t-shirt, there’s no need to make sure customers get success. If they bought it, wear it and like it, that’s enough. SaaS, on the other hand, can be complex stuff. Customers are at risk of giving up on things they don’t understand, can’t figure out how to implement or can’t get the rest of their team using.
We don’t sell boxes anymore. We sell services.
That puts the customer in a position of power, and thanks to the death of vendor lock-ins, every day is an opportunity for cancelation.
What do customer success teams actually do?
On a business level, the job of a customer success team is to reduce the company’s churn rate (amount of cancelations over a period of time).
How is that done?
When searching around for the step-by-step guide, it would seem the answer is ‘in top-secret conditions’. While it’s understandable that it could be the secret sauce of companies with high-value customers, the lack of content in the area is startling.
This said, one thing’s for sure:
The days of shelfware are over. SaaS companies don’t sell boxes because modern customers won’t buy them. Customers buy results, and it’s the job of the tool plus the guidance to get them.
When it comes to customer success for SaaS companies, it’s a young field and a lot of businesses are only just starting to get to grips with it. So, let’s take a look at what I found when I interviewed the Customer Success Managers from 12 SaaS companies with the question: ‘What’s your customer success process?’
Here’s what the customer success process looks like…
There’s a lot of variation in the specifics depending on the company, but there’s a definite structure.
- Customer success launches into action the day a payment is received or free-trial secured – anywhere between five and 60 minutes after signup. It depends on how ‘qualified’ (read: rich) the customer is and whether you’re wooing enterprises or startups.
- Next up is the ‘what do you want?’ stage, known as requirements gathering. Basically, this is getting on the phone and collating the hard facts of the matter from the decision-makers of the company. Stuff like ‘What problem are you solving? What do you want to use our app for? When is the event?’.
- Figure out who the decision-makers are — this will help the app spread around the organization by getting managers to onboard their team. That equals more users and money for you, but also success for their organization.
- Find how they currently solve the problem — tools, processes, systems used before they decided to go with your service. Link the features of your app to the problems they’re having, be tailored and specific — make sure that they not only get their desired outcome but that you are able to communicate and demonstrate how you’ve done that for them.
- Send training material (custom PDF documents, videos) and schedule live webinar training, if necessary.
- Stay in touch pro-actively, with early regular check-ins and event-based outreach later down the line. Analyze the effectiveness with automated metrics, manual checks and surveys.
- Send an NPS survey, evaluate and keep an ‘open door’. Be the first point of contact when any questions or issues come up.
Stickiness: How customer success makes your company more money
Since the purpose of having a customer success process is to reduce churn, SaaS companies have to reassure their customers that they’ve made the right choice and guide them to first value as quickly as possible.
This means linking product features to desired outcomes and showing the customer an overview of what will happen and when.
Ambition takes a self-service approach to adoption by keeping a huge range of help center content available on its site, whereas Lua actually creates customer material for each client, whether that’s PDFs, videos or training webinars.
The ‘stickiness’ of an app can be a tough thing to perfect, but some apps are better suited at permeating a company than others because they are an ‘all or nothing’ system. Take Lua, for example — either everyone in a team, department or company is using the same messaging platform or no one can communicate properly.
While this is harder to set up, once it is perpetuated by customers who love it, the spread and influence is viral, as employees miss out on their messages by not being part of the system. This makes it harder to remove, too.
By working closely with team project managers, adoption can be a natural, internal process rather than something forced from the outside. “The last thing someone wants is to be surprised by an app”, says Jason Krigsfeld, Client Success Manager at Lua. That’s why it’s important to manage expectations right from the start (before your customer is even a lead).
Make training material easy to digest. The days of instruction manuals are long gone, and customer success teams don’t want to bring that back. By using the same principles of readability you’d use in your marketing, you’re more likely to get customers to engage and understand the product. That’s things like infographics, text in short chunks, videos.
‘Infiltrate’ the organization by working closely with managers to spread the product. Lua helps the Project Manager write an email explaining what the app is, giving some social proof and asking them to make an account and get the app, etc.
Let’s look at some more ideas to reduce churn and increase customer happiness.
Build stickiness into your process
What makes an app sticky? How do you make sure that it’s simply not an option to switch to another product or revert back to the good old ways?
Do communicate every day
Do recommends converting customers into power users slowly and gently, by offering help and demonstrating the value of your product. CEO Jason Shah says to sow the seeds of success early by ensuring the customer feels totally comfortable when migrating over from their existing system.
Pro tip: Be on the top of your customer’s mind by staying visible, keeping open communication and taking any opportunity to demonstrate value.
Chargify catch customers before they have chance to churn
Adam Feber from Chargify says they have recently set up a new system to catch at-risk customers:
We are starting to identify red flag metrics that should warrant outreach from our customer success team. Some of these flags include accounts that are past due (and not responding to our dunning notifications), accounts that could save money by upgrading (currently paying overages), accounts where activity has dropped off, etc. The goal is to reach out and re-engage with these customers before they churn.
Chargify’s software is all about making sure SaaS companies get their due payments, so they are uniquely informed about it. They do, however, realize that churn happens and you can make the best out of a bad situation.
Pro tip: Always follow up with users who cancel their subscription. Even if you can’t get them to come back, you can find out how to improve your product and its stickiness.
Chameleon add customers to a Slack channel for direct communication
Still in private beta, Chameleon is in the early stages of setting up a true customer success process with dedicated staff. Right now, the CEO Pulkit Agrawal adds customers to the company Slack group so they can have a chat with the whole team. This helps customers form a close relationship with the founders, reduces the amount of support tickets and speeds up adoption.
Since Chameleon is software that lives inside SaaS platforms and helps with user onboarding, Pulkit takes a typically UX-based view toward customer success which involves taking your customer from discovery to their ‘Aha! Moment’ in a few easy steps.
Pro tip: Users are less likely to give up on something they feel a personal connection to. By adding them to your company’s Slack channel and talking to them like friends, you can make deeper connections and find out what they (and everyone like them) wants from your product.
Here are some unique approaches to customer success
While a generic process is a good jumping-off point, everyone’s take is different when it comes to ‘what makes a happy customer’.
Lua acts as a go-between for departments that refuse to talk to each other
At Lua, there isn’t a hand-off between Sales and Customer Success. The two departments work interchangeably and coordinate the whole process.
The push to adopt comes from Lua’s customer success team but is communicated by the client-side Project Manager. Lua helps the customer’s project manager write an email to their department explaining what Lua is, which teams use it, and how it will improve communication. Jason says:
Sometimes my job involves helping people from different departments communicate who aren’t communicating because they can’t stand each other. It goes beyond tech.
DoubleDutch teaches its customers Marketing 101
DoubleDutch’s customer success process has a short life-span and a definite end point. That’s because it creates apps for events, and when the event is over, the app is no longer useful. Essentially, the apps are disposable yet the customer relationships are the main asset because they could buy event apps year after year.
Similar to Lua, DoubleDutch’s product (the app created for the event) isn’t something that is any use if it’s just being used by three people. It needs to be common ground for event attendees and enhance the experience.
The secondary challenge, after creating the app, is getting customers at the event to adopt it. The way they do this by teaching their customers ‘Marketing 101’ — clear event signage, email drip campaigns, etc. A recent reorganization of the client services department into Implementation and Customer Success means that the most technical side of the process can be left to Implementation while Customer Success focuses on ensuring event attendees will actually use the app.
Ambition celebrates customer’s successes publicly
Taking a look at Ambition, reward system doesn’t just automatically praise great sales teams with their favorite Ambition Anthems. The Customer Success team themselves reach out to record sales people and congratulate them for hitting high-scores. Travis Truett says:
We recognize awesome user performance on Ambition, publicly. Just last week, one of our clients, Fitzmark, notified us of a new user high score on Ambition, breaking 600. We broadcast that new “Ambition Score” record on social media to provide additional public recognition for that user and for Fitzmark.
What happens when the process is over?
Communication dies down
While the job of Customer Success reps is never truly over, the relationship between them and their customers generally dies down after onboarding.
Alex Bakula-Davis from Proven says it depends on the customer’s engagement with the app, and that engagement dictates when the process is over. There are automated processes in place that tag users as ‘at-risk’ and notify Customer Success to get in touch because of reasons like low applicants, posting issues and not using features.
The length of the process ranges between seven and 30 days, depending on how much implementation the app needs or whether there’s a natural usage lifecycle.
The fact that the customer’s success often depends on an open line of communication, so while the initial ‘buzz’ of client onboarding dies down after implementation, the relationship between the customer’s decision-maker and the success rep is maintained.
Analysis comes into focus
Directly after implementation is the time where success reps start looking at use data and making sure that it indicates the customer is using and understanding the software.
Jason from Lua says that he will always send a survey after 2 weeks, both to collect specific information about that customer, and to evaluate their customer success process as a whole.
Thierry Schellenbach from Stream, an app that helps you build activity feeds, handles post-success free accounts support tickets with StackOverflow – an SEO tactic and a way to get support agents for free – while paid accounts are checked in with regularly and more closely analyzed.
A common characteristic between all interviewed companies is an NPS survey, which asks customers to rate their own satisfaction on a scale of 1-10.
Companies might have several automated processes running alongside manual check-ins, ensuring that communication is tailored to the customer’s situation but also doesn’t take an overwhelming amount of time or is accidentally missed.
Stay on the lookout for upsell opportunities
Part of the beauty of having a dedicated Customer Success team is that you establish an open line of communication with your customers and have someone who is directly responsible for the health of an account. While sales teams would traditionally be checking in with customers to offer them upgrades, using a dedicated team leaves Sales to focus on closing deals with new customers.
By analyzing the client’s workflow, Customer Success managers can get an idea of the account usage and offer a higher package at the right time, or access to an add-on that will make the customer’s life easier. Saas API ad server Adzerk says the process can stretch on for over a year because the Customer Success is in tune with the growth of their clients:
We try to establish ways to grow the relationship and that’s when Customer Success and Sales work together to identify add ons, new tiers and areas where clients can upgrade to help them use more of our tools to grow. — Alejandro Sanchez, Adzerk
10 quick customer success tips
Processes are all well and good, but the point of this piece is so you can take and adapt the ideas being used by successful SaaS companies and adapt them for your own business. In the spirit of giving you some useful, bite-sized tips to think about, I asked each SaaS company I talked with to give me a tip they’ve learned along the way. Here they are:
- I found that the easier the process is, the higher conversion rate you’ll get. Fill out as much as you can for your customers in order to get them to do what you want. — Trackin
- Have a clear activation “aha” moment and help customers get there in a few easy steps — Chameleon
- Rather than guessing and throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, it’s imperative to talk to your users every single day to find out what their needs are. And through that, you’re able to build a product that truly appeals to your users and their circumstances, rather than forcing them to adopt something they may not even want in the first place. — Do
- The customers on our free plan post their questions on StackOverflow. That works well and it’s great for SEO. — Stream
- Companies that deliver the most value have nothing to hide from their customers, and in any instance where performance isn’t delivered, they will take that head on and fix the problems instead of hiding it. —Signpost
- The process is kept very fluid. Maintaining flexibility and agility are the keys to making sure the solution (and customer) is successful. — Kinvey
- Always contact customers for a reason. No one likes to get the “I’m just checking in to see how things are going” call. Reach out with value, such as a new guide to using the product, or suggestions for how they can get more of what they need. — Proven
- Think about UX design. Your product should be easy enough to use to not require much documentation or support. — Immediately
- Within the first 48 hours, onboarding is the most important because churn is highest during that time. — Lua
- No matter how desperate you are for customers, don’t hesitate to let users know immediately when you can tell that you probably cannot meet their needs. — Evercontact
And finally, remember what you’re selling
The way your customer success process looks will be a lot different to these SaaS companies, but hopefully this has given you an overview of what it could look like. The important thing to realize is that having a set process means you can replicate the great results over and over again, create loyal customers and act upon how they use your software.
After all, you’re not selling boxes, t-shirts or legacy software with huge restrictions. You’re selling SaaS. And in this age, the customer’s in charge.