Doing Customer Success Right: Six best practices for your organisation

Posted on November 18, 2016

Customer Success is quickly becoming the Holy Grail for all companies with a subscription-based revenue model. It’s not surprising, since Customer Success done correctly can massively expand conversions and renewals, reduce churn, increase customer satisfaction and advocacy, and greatly increase revenue.

While Customer Success solutions vary based on individual companies’ business models, there are some universal best practices that every company should benchmark.

Picking the right customers

The right customers can be a useful ally in the evolution and expansion of a company’s revenue machine. The wrong customer, on the other hand, can tie critical business processes in knots that could be fatal for your bottom line.

Getting the right Product Market Fit (PMF) is one of the critical drivers of success[1]. While many companies put the necessary spotlight on aligning their product with market realities, it’s also important to evaluate customer profiles against this benchmark. Customer hygiene begins right from the initial point of sales. There’s no simple formula for working out this fit, which depends on a combination of use cases, line of business, preferred industry verticals, current and potential customer base, and future vision. However, it’s key to make sure you only sell to customers who fit the overall vision for your product and your brand. It’s also important that your sales process raises the right customer expectations.

Going beyond sales, customer alignment is essential at every stage of the revenue funnel, as it’s important to ensure that properly-targeted customers receive the best internal customer alignment. A good customer fit requires give-and-take, as both vendor and customer find a balance of business priorities.

Define the right milestones

That Customer Success is built on helping your customer reach their desired business outcomes is common sense by now. Yet, much of the thinking on how to map the customer journey and its key milestones is still vendor-centric, focusing on the key steps of trial, sales, onboarding, use and renewals and upsells/cross-sells.

An effective Customer Success solution, however, must go beyond these vendor-centric touch points to focus on the desired outcomes of the customer[2] 

Desired outcome builds on ensuring that the customer gets what they want, and doing it by following the most appropriate process. The first part of this means moving focus from functional milestones: those related to whether your product is getting used and how; to customer outcomes: whether using your product the way it’s supposed to be used gets customers to what they want to achieve. Between these two lie success gaps, which might require shifts in your product development, or changes in your or your customer’s business process, which do not become visible with just a focus on functional milestones.

The second part involves defining the appropriate customer experience, which is not necessarily the most high-end experience your company can offer. This means properly knowing your customer and optimizing their experience, per their needs.

Distinguishing between Customer Success and customer happiness

At first glance, this seems like nit-picking, since we tend to assume that successful customers are happy customers. But a key differentiator is that happiness is a vague and subjective reading of your customers, while success is a quantifiable, goal-driven process[3]. And in many cases, successful customers seem at first glance like unhappy customers, because they’re more actively using your product and pushing the boundaries of what it can do for their business outcomes. This often results in raising new challenges and problems for which your company and product must evolve new solutions.

The key is differentiating between customers who are talking to you because they see more opportunities for growth with your product, those who are complaining because they’re frustrated with their experience, and those who aren’t interacting with you because they’re already on their way to another product.

Focusing on customer health and building effective early warning systems

Customer success is all about proactively managing customers. Wait until customers hit a major roadblock, and it’s probably already too late to keep them from churning. The most important part of heading off such crises is a relentless focus on customer health. There are multiple factors that go into scoring customer health, but some of the foundational metrics that you should focus on include product usage (broken down into key feature usage, depth of usage, etc.), reliance on support processes (either too many or too few support calls), feedback and survey scores, consumption of marketing communication and training material, financial interactions (payment of invoices, etc.), executive and overall relationship, and referencing and advocacy[4].

Monitoring these and other metrics and setting up early warning systems for them is important because it helps to prioritise Customer Success activities based on customer profiles and potential for churn[5].

Ensuring effective customer communication

Customer Success is an evolving process, and communication is indispensable to growing the relationship between you and your customer. The core of effective and active communications is a four-step process: regular interactions with customers through multiple channels at each stage of the customer journey, active listening to customer feedback as well as customer conversations on online forums, prompt responses to customer communication of all kinds, and responsive adaptation to customer feedback and demands. Over and above this, generous knowledge-sharing and rewarding and appreciation of customers also help to cement strong customer relationships[6].

Building a Customer Success Culture

Customer success isn’t a single process so much as a comprehensive restructuring of your customer relationship and organizational structure. This requires both a focused and a holistic approach.

On the one hand, your organization needs to focus on building a strong Customer Success Team[7]:

  • Hiring people who are responsive to customer needs and having the ability to think outside the box
  • Building the right mix of skills, attitudes, expertise and goals
  • Clearly defining the vision, objectives and goals
  • Properly empowering individuals and the team, and explicitly setting out ownership of key moments in the customer journey

On the other hand, it also means restructuring the relationships between the Customer Success team and the various other departments of your organization, mediating overlaps and conflicts, ensuring clear hand-offs and building cohesive interactions across teams. Particularly important is ensuring proper executive buy-in, without which your Customer Success team will find itself hobbled at every step.

 

References 

[1] http://www.gainsight.com/resource/the-10-laws-of-customer-success/
[2] http://sixteenventures.com/success-milestones
[3] http://www.gainsight.com/customer-success-best-practices/customer-success-not-happy/
[4] http://www.gainsight.com/customer-success-best-practices/relentlessly-monitor-customer-health/
[5] http://www.bluenose.com/blog/customer-success-best-practices/
[6] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/205184
[7] http://labs.openviewpartners.com/building-a-customer-obsessed-team/#.WAlf0_l97rc