We have all heard and know about Buyer’s Journey. The process they go through from the time a technology need arises, all the way through the decision process, involving inputs from all the stakeholders, till they make a purchase. While that journey has been analyzed and optimized and then some, I don’t think SaaS companies have paid a lot of attention to the journey a customer goes through post-purchase till they realize the value from the product. Consequently, the widespread lack of customer satisfaction in large majority of enterprise software customers.
P.S. In this post, when we refer to Customer Journey, Purchase process etc, we do that in the context of Software-as-a-Service. While there might be a slight difference in the way other industries manage customer success, the core principles remain the same.
By itself, Customer Success is not a new concept. The term “Customer Success” might be new but Industries like Telecom, Cable companies have had this function for a while now. Its recent emergence in the software world is largely due to the shift from license software to subscription model. With Customer Retention and Customer Lifetime Value becoming the most important metrics in SaaS business, Customer Success has become a critical function.
As a vendor it is important to equate Customer Success to how successful you are with a particular customer (or cohort of customers) in terms of reducing the possibility of churn and increasing the lifetime value. It is all about delivering value to customers making them successful in their business.
Why Customer Success matters?
In the past software companies had outsourced their customer expectation management post-purchase to the ecosystem, either to System Integrators or Value-Added service providers. All the company did was provide a Tier-2/Tier-3 support layer and collected Support revenue. With SaaS, it changed and changed in a big way. The software vendor is now responsible for directly managing the relationship with customers and the expectations that come with it. They are also responsible for the SLA, customer experience and ROI. Given that shift, it is imperative that SaaS vendors understand what makes customers successful, the success journey and ensure each customer realizes the value and stays with them longer.
Customers buy a product and use it as they are being told, trained or to their best knowledge. While the goal would be attain the value/success that they sought out of the product, that could turn into a mirage, if not properly managed. It is critical that vendor has a good understanding of the Customer Success Journey and guides customers through that to achieve their objectives.
So what does a Customer Success Journey entail? What does it mean to the companies’ engagement with its customers?
A success journey starts with the definition of what success means. It is not a destination it is the state where the customer realizes success in their business from using your product. In a way, it is the realization of the promise your company makes in its value proposition. It is the expectation customers have of the software and the service that they have bought. So as a company if you are selling a price optimization software and promise significant increase in profits, then the customers would have expectations to achieve that within a reasonable time. Here are some key milestones in the Success Journey
The Customer Success Journey starts during the sales cycle. A sales cycle should be anchored with an excellent discovery call. It is during sales that expectations are set and promises made. Promises in the way of what the product would deliver in terms of value and those same promises that convinced the customer to make the buying decision. Not fulfilling any/most of them will eventually lead to customer disenchantment and results in churn.
Sales teams will be well advised to keep track of any/all objections raised during sales process (however trivial they might seem), any business goals, events that customer have highlighted to be in their immediate plans. The key is to help customers define the journey so milestones/plans and goals align.
Kickoff is a very critical meeting. The terms in the contract notwithstanding, this is the meeting where the promises made, are reiterated. During this meeting, the sales team hands-off the relationship with customer to the Customer Success team. As part of the kickoff, the sales team presents the terms and entitlement of the customer as discussed during the sales process and as agreed in the contract. This ensures that there is no “dropped” commitments. The Customer Success team and Customer’s project team will then set measurable objectives, outline the journey forward with clear success milestones along with protocol to handle missed milestones.
On-boarding is when you make the first impression. If you have been in the SaaS space for any length of time you know, the first 30-60 days determine the success of any project. Customers that get delighted during this phase typically turn into die-hard evangelists. Conversely those that are disenchanted might leave to choose alternatives. Best-in-class companies create a library of implementation blue-prints, wizards, self-help guides and processes to help onboard customers smoothly. Companies conduct cohort analysis to learn what is working and what is not. Companies are well advised to engage with customers in a high touch model during on-boarding, given that they need the most help during this phase.
After on-boarding, the assumption is the customer is on cruise-control. While that might be the wish, reality might be slightly different. Different customers need different models of engagement. Some need to be treated with white gloves (or kid gloves, if you choose that) while others might be fine with hands-off engagement. Engagement is also determined by the kind of business that the customer is in. Each touch-point should clearly create incremental value for customers. Typical “check-ins” or “up-sell opportunity ” meeting don’t cut it. Given that SaaS affords vendors the visibility to the usage patterns, behavior of customers/users, each touch point should be furthering the “ball towards the goal post”. All the discussions and objectives of the engagement should be around customer experience, product adoption, license utilization, ROI, business problem being solved and consequently the business value delivered.
If the preceding part of the Success Journey was successfully accomplished and Customers have realized tangible value from the product, then, renewal should be a non-event. Customer’s in most cases would be initiating the renewal discussion. In instances where it is not, remember, from the customer’s perspective, the right to up-sell/cross-sell has to be earned rather than pushed. However, renewal is the most critical part of the journey, as far as the vendor is concerned. The basis of SaaS business model is to ensure customers keep continuing to renew, and that will help create a successful, durable long term business. Learning about customers that have churned, post-facto, is too late. So to ensure a high percentage of renewal, proactive engagement, customer happiness and delivery of clear value during the engagement phase is critical.