Software as a Service (SaaS) has become one of the most critical models of software deployment within firms. As per the Boston Consulting Group, SaaS represented about 28% of the total enterprise software market and that number is expected to reach 45% by 2023. With this tremendous pace of growth, there are added challenges posed within a SaaS firm to maintain their Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Retention Cost, Margin etc. In order to optimize all of these, its imperative to scale operations and Customer Success as a function, plays an important role in meeting these objectives. This article dives into the design principles and methodology on how the Customer Success function can scale to maintain the highest levels of customer engagement.
1.Strategic Alignment of Customer Success
In order to lay a solid foundation of the Customer Success organization (CSO), its imperative that its functional objective is aligned to the overall strategy of firm. This is the first step towards driving scale. When CSO solves for scale, it is often seen that the exercise becomes functional in nature wherein people, processes and technology based decisions are taken within the function. While this is an important step in driving scale, it should never come before strategic alignment. Strategic alignment re-enforces the major goals and objectives not only to leaders but to all the employees. This exercise provides clarity of thought, transparency in decision making, a deep sense of ownership and direction. It paves way for a clear defined customer success mission, articulation of specific goals, definition of metrics and building of a governance mechanism for course correction.
2.Augmenting Customer Success Talent & Capability.
Just like the success of an organization depends on its ability to hire, engage and retain the right talent, driving scale needs specific capabilities. As per McKinsey, top performers are 400 percent more productive than average employees. Furthermore, in highly complex professions, high performers are more than 800 percent more productive than the average. One of the most important element of the customer success organization is that its success depends on cross-functional initiatives. Suppose a project takes 3 years to complete and if leadership replaced the 20 percent of average talent by top talent performing at 400 percent, it would take less than 2 years for project completion. If we took talent from the 800 percent bracket, project completion would take less than a year. One of the many outcomes of scaling is to reduce time-to-customer, increase customer-value and enhance ROI. Having the right people allows the firm to achieve all these and more.
3.Segmentation of Customers
Segmentation of the customers is not only a great practice for customer success to drive engagement but for sales, marketing and even product to achieve their respective objectives. As per market trends customers are segmented based on size of company, size of books, growth potential, number of employees etc. or a combination of such parameters. Once completed, decisions regarding customized programs for large accounts, scaled interventions for medium sized business and automated touch-points for small accounts can be taken.
For example, large accounts will need highly tailored and bespoke engagement solutions which usually takes 40% to 50% of a Customer Success Manager’s time, while engagement for small and medium enterprises can be based on automated tools and platforms to send emails, newsletters, usage reports even business review decks.
With the advances made in the field of technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Automation, companies have re-imagined and re-launched highly interactive self-help solutions embedded with contextual and interactive bots. Such advancements have allowed companies to reach more customers with quality engagement at speed and scale never imagined before. The pandemic saw the rise of video-conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Team which has bridged the distance between the client and the organization resulting in cost and time savings. As per Verge, the usage of MS- Teams has jumped 50% to 115 million daily active users.
4.Maximize Customer Journey Experience with Outcomes
How can one understand the interactions between a customer and the client better? What are the potential areas of improvement? How do we deliver customer value at every nodal point of interaction? What kind of programs do we deploy to enhance customer experience? To answer these questions, its important to trace the entire customer success journey right from the start to the end.
Doing so enables a firm to map out all interactions between the customer and the various functions within the firm over. A comprehensive customer journey will define all the key points of interactions, in a timeline, with metrics, milestones, medium of interaction etc. Such visual or diagrammatic representation should be tailored for the various segments (large, enterprise, SMB) of the customers and stakeholders (Decision makers, influencers, users) to ensure consistency and customization. One of the major exercises is to check for overlaps between segments since they can be addressed with scaled interventions. eg – product training, feature training, webinars etc.
The advantages that accrue to an organization with such an exercise is manifold. It allows for formalization of process resulting in consistent actions. Data generated at the touch points can be analyzed to enhance customer experience, reduce time-to-customers, share best practices, enhance internal collaboration and cohesion and more importantly create value to the firm.
5.Leverage Internal Ecosystem
The Customer success organization needs to leverage the internal ecosystem to drive scale especially when the firm is on a rapid growth phase. High growth leads to incremental addition of customers giving rise to complexity and bandwidth issues. Formalizing an ecosystem where sales is adequately enabled to close deals without referring to customer success for information, features, functionalities, case studies, data and analytics goes a long way in driving scale. Marketing can drive scale by engaging customers with newsletters, case-study formulation, round-tables etc. and Product can devise methods of transmitting product centric communications through in-app updates. In-fact research shows that Click-Through-Rates are higher for in-app surveys, NPS and CSAT surveys than regular mailers.
The other powerful method is to leverage the leadership to drive scale through advocacy, thought leadership, social media engagement and leveraging personal networks.
SaaS companies today have deployed alliance partners to drive indirect sales which has a huge upside if deployed with careful planning. The alliance partners are an extended sales channel operating mostly on their own. Enabling and leveraging them to drive engagement and product feedback in addition to sales, expansion and advocacy is yet another method to drive scale.
Technology today is no longer an enabler but a force multiplier and as per Gainsight, a tech driven customer success solutions company, technology allows a firm to scale their people capabilities, processes and interactions. The dichotomy of such a situation is that in SaaS companies, the degree of sophisticated technology deployed internally may be smaller than the tech deployed for the core product. Its also not uncommon to find SaaS companies struggling with disparate systems that do not connect and interact with each other leading to inefficiencies within functions. For example, product and customer success are seen to track similar metrics but could have disparate analytics or measurement tools deployed within their respective functions. For “customer success” as a philosophy to thrive, investments musts be made in technology stacks that allow for free flow of data and insights. Automation has allowed companies to automate repetitive and manual tasks and SaaS companies, especially the customer success function, should capitalize on such capabilities if they want to drive scale across customer segments especially within SMB Opportunity areas around automation include onboarding, product demonstrations, customer education programs, reporting and even business reviews. Interactive bots can be deployed to address common customer queries and self-serve models can be launched to enhance time-to-value.
7.Launch Customer Advocacy Programs
The NPS is one of the most important yardstick to identify your advocates. Customers can play a huge role in taking the product to prospects, build positive market sentiments and provide positive reinforcement to customers who have had a less than ordinary experience. Customer success must have an engagement model to build customer advocacy and that starts from forming Customer Advocacy Groups (CAGs) to engage key customers across segments with their inputs on product, enhancements and experience. Churning out case studies that are segment and industry specific allows for decision makers to build their own social capital and position themselves as thought-leaders in their space. With buying decisions today being influenced by a multitude of touch points including client referrals, a customer advocacy program, as per Userlane, goes a long way in building a wider reach along with product stickiness.