It’s safe to say that ‘customer success’ is a buzzword. But honestly, if it’s not being mentioned on a regular basis in your office, then you’re doing something wrong. In this article, we’ll explain how we improved our customer success strategy and how you can too.
Customer success is not just about creating success with customers, as the name implies. It’s about increasing conversions and engagement with your product, improving customer happiness, and decreasing churn for recurring revenue businesses.
This means that customer success is not just one department, it’s a culture that needs to be adopted throughout the company. Every team is involved in customer success.
We have defined it like this for Open Social:
Does everyone need to focus on customer success, though?
When selling a bar of dark, creamy chocolate, ensuring customer success isn’t always necessary. Everyone knows how to use it (eat it in one go) and what to expect. Even products like vacuum cleaners don’t require active customer success. They have a clear user manual and a hotline if anything is unclear.
When it comes to Saas products, however, you’re not going to be as lucky. SaaS products solve a lot of problems for businesses, from complex analytics software to landing page tools. These aren’t simple products, though. And since the industry is growing and diversifying, there are a lot of companies that potential customers could choose instead of yours.
So, if you are a SaaS company then customer success is absolutely vital so that the customer receives and understands the full value of your product. You need a system in place for follow-ups and guidance.
Maturity Models for Customer Success
How do you begin to approach customer success? That really depends on the maturity of your company.
You will find a variety of maturity models out there that describe which customer success actions are taken by start-ups versus more established companies. The size of a company (employees), the available budget, and the number of customers play a role in your success strategy.
A start-up will handle their customer success far more personal and ad-hoc then a company with a very large customer base. For example, when looking at the churn rate:
- A start-up will probably know the amount of churned customers by heart. I bet every person in that company knows this number.
- A scale-up will want to communicate their customer churn % to the entire company. The numbers are retrieved automatically through a CRM or accounting system since customers churn every day in Saas companies.
Here are a few interesting blogs/examples of maturity models:
- How we use The Customer Success Maturity Model to help customers answer that question
- 4 Phases Of Customer Success Maturity
- The 5 Stages of Customer Success Maturity
My personal favorite source is a webinar about the Customer Success Maturity Model by Client Success. It shows that companies can mature into different categories with actionable advice. Since I like to have things structured and hands-on, I love using their model for Open Social.
What have I learned from all these sources? There’s no perfect answer to questions like: “When do you scale-up automation?” or “which resources/roles do you need?”.
Each company handles it differently because the company structure, teams, products, pricing plans, data collection etc. differ a lot. I’ve noticed that a lot of Q&A webinars, the answer always starts with ‘well it depends.. ‘.
And soon you will learn … that it is so true! There are SO many factors that influence your workflow that there just isn’t one way of getting a customer success strategy right.
That’s why we suggest starting with a maturity model, and understanding at which stage of maturity you are at. This gives you the initial guidance, and then you have to figure out through trial and error which moment is to best to scale-up certain aspects.
Hint: My rule of thumb is as soon as you feel you begin to lose the overview of all your processes or if things take too much time: scale-up and automate! (at least, if you have the money for it ?)
Open Social is becoming more mature! Now what?
We’ve been busy tackling our customer success strategy at Open Social. I’ll give you an overview of how we scaled our processes and involved the entire company over the past three years of Open Social.
Hopefully, this can serve as a guideline for your own company!
Customer success in our first year...
Open Social was first launched in 2016. In order to tackle our first incoming customers, we created a base for customer success by taking small (but important!) steps. Here’s a quick overview:
- We dedicated a person to customer success (me!) who is in charge of this transformation.
- We focused on finding a product/market fit by building the right features for the right audience.
- We created a process for sharing release notes and documentation.
- We listed our MRR and customer count in a spreadsheet (quite easy at the time).
- We made sure leads can try out our software in an easy way; we started giving demos and created a 30-day free trial workflow.
Customer success in our second year...
The following year we took our customer success strategy a step further. We had a growing customer base, and we were really keen on keeping them (...obviously). As you should already know, it costs more money to acquire a new customer than to retain a customer!
We added the following steps to our strategy:
- We started involving other teams in customer success. To do that effectively, we defined the customer journey and touchpoints and ensured that everyone knows how they play a role in this.
- We listed (and steered on) various other metrics, including product usage, churn, renewal, open bugs, etc. Since we now had customers, we could and had to start measuring if they use the software and the quality of their experience to retain them.
- We set up a process and tool to involve our customers in determining the roadmap of Open Social.
Customer Succes for Open Social in 2018
Now it’s 2018! A lot has changed since the launch. Therefore, we focused on understanding the customer journey in more detail and gaining more insights into our customer sentiment.
We scheduled quarterly customer success meetings to discuss the customer journey touch points that needed more love. And we kept on asking ourselves questions like, ‘If I were a customer, what would I expect from Open Social on every step of my journey.’
What else did we do to improve CS?
Diving into our customer journey helped us detect a lot of missing things from our strategy. And we acted on it! Here are some examples:
Security is more transparent. For example, we had no information about how we handle security and privacy for our customers. Customers had to reach out and ask for this quite common question, and then someone had to write it down on the fly. That’s not efficient. It’s now available on our site, clear and transparent.
A great first impression of Open Social. It used to be hard to get a first impression of Open Social without getting a demo or starting a trial. That’s why we set up a demo environment with the most basic features enabled that’s available to anyone. Pretty cool if you ask me! We also created a video and are planning to create more! Easy to get a quick impression and to send to others as well.
Support service has real-time insights. We improved our support service by setting up a better tool where we and our customers have real-time insights into the status of a ticket. We can also measure response times according to our SLA, and steer on that.
Community service is offered. We’ve also set up a Community Management service for the value realization phase. We help customers achieve their community’s full potential. Helping customers determine a strategy and trigger engagement is important for customer retention!
Detecting customer sentiment - the most important step!
The last thing worth mentioning is the changes we made to detect the sentiment of our customers. We can’t talk to each and every customer since our customer base is growing, However, knowing how they feel is a very important (if not THE most important) step in customer success.
You can only retain customers if you know what is going on in their lives.
We started sending out a NPS survey in the second year. The input was always low, but it didn’t matter yet because we talked to them quite often.
But to get more input, we decided to show our appreciation for our customers filling in the survey. We sent out Amazon gift cards along with the survey - upfront! We didn’t want to reward them just for filling it in because we felt they deserved a small gesture of appreciation either way.
Now, we’re getting a lot more feedback from the past surveys, which brings us valuable insights and immediate actions points for our customer success meetings. The next (very!) important step in this area is to provide short updates on what we did with their feedback.
Automation in 2019 - bring it on!
In 2019, our main focus in customer success will be:
We’re at a point where our +100 spreadsheets, email, data pulling actions, tooling X, tooling Y, tooling Z are way too much to handle. I don’t even want to think about explaining all these things to a new employee… aargh!
We need to bring it back to a few tools that so we have an easy overview of our leads, our customer base, their sentiment, their engagement and the KPIs that we use to steer on to we to improve everyone's experience.
What Has Happened since?
Since writing this blog post in 2018, a lot has happened at Open Social! We have grown exponentially and will keep growing in future years thanks to exciting developments in 2019 and 2020.
Read about all these events, and what they mean for Open Social's future in the links below:
- We won the International Splash Award winner 2019
- We raised new investment of EUR 1.25M from Peak Capital and Nimbus Ventures
- We started evolving Open Social's tech stack with the First Phase of Fully Decoupling