5 Customer Success Questions — Answered
The topics in this post were inspired by discussions I’ve had with friends and colleagues who also work in Customer Success, as well as questions I’ve received via Twitter and LinkedIn. Don’t see an answer to one of your burning questions? Mention it in the comments and I’ll tackle your question.
1. What metrics should Customer Success teams track?
The phrasing of this question makes it seem like a given that Customer Success teams should be tracking user and account data. However, I think it’s worth taking a moment to touch on why it’s so important companies take a data-driven approach to Customer Success.
The value of tracking user and account data
Every good Customer Success Manager (CSM) knows the characteristics and behaviors that lead to a successful customer. Data allows them to link anecdotal feedback with indicators that allow them to be proactive and develop a deeper understanding of the customer’s use case. Having easy access to these metrics should influence how CSMs engage with customers and measure the overall health of an account. As UserIQ reports in their 2017 Customer Success Trend Report, nearly 40% of Customer Success teams say that increasing visibility into customer health metrics and user behaviors is their biggest challenge. Account and usage data allows CSMs to be strategic in their outreaches to customers (“Hey, just checking in, how’s it going?” becomes “Hey, need some additional training on X feature you haven’t used yet?) and get a snapshot of the health of their accounts in seconds. It also paints a more complete picture of the customer’s use case, including which features they use most often and in what sections of the app they spend the most time in.
Nearly 40% of Customer Success teams say that increasing visibility into customer health metrics and user behaviors is their biggest challenge.
Now that you are keen to start tracking user and account data, where should you start?
- Usage activity: logins, time in app, number of active users in account; metrics that are unique to your product such as number of X feature live, number of Y feature created, etc.
- Feature adoption: successful adoption of new features that are relevant to the customer’s use case; participation in feature betas
- Support interactions: frequency and type of support requests
- Revenue: monthly spend; renewal date
- NPS: response and feedback
- Responses to previous outreach: in-app messages, email, in-person meetings, versus phone calls (ensures you’re talking to customers via the channel they’re most comfortable with)
Data in action
Wondering how this data could be incorporated into a customer interaction?
Brooke from the Company Customer Success team . You might have heard that we recently launched a new feature that allows you do XYZ. Our customers are using this new feature in ABC way.
It looks like some folks on your team started poking around with this feature but that X feature isn’t live just yet. Did your team run into any hiccups or have any questions about how to get started? I’ve found that with a quick 15 minute call customers are able to get their X feature live in just a few minutes.
Would your team be interested in scheduling a quick training to learn about how you could be using X feature?
2. How can CSMs re-engage customers who stop responding to emails and calls?
One person going dark is concerning but not necessarily cause to panic. People go on vacation, change departments, or switch companies all the time. It’s important to have multiple contacts within a customer’s organization to ensure you are not capturing a single point of view- and that you don’t have a single point of failure. If everyone at the company goes silent, that should set off alarm bells. Review the customer’s usage metrics to see if they are still engaged with the product, and if so, identify their most active users. I’ve found that reaching out to active users via an in-app message is a quick and painless way to get a pulse on what’s going on.
Assuming those users don’t respond, or that usage has slowed to a trickle, see if anyone internally knows more information about this customer. Does the Sales team have any recommendations for who I should contact, or did the Support team communicate with the customer over Twitter? Finally, it pays to get creative in your outreach. In the past I have sent a customer balloons, a funny GIF of our team acting out the chorus to “Call Me Maybe”, and stopped by a customer’s conference booth. Ultimately it’s up to the customer if they want to engage with their CSM, but it’s a good idea to exhaust all possible angles.
3. When should a customer be approached about a possible expansion or upsell?
Excellent Customer Success teams are not a cost center, but are a source of addition revenue for their company. “If you want to expand growth, customer success is where you should focus your resources. As your company grows, more revenue comes from current customers, which places a greater emphasis on customer success driving revenue,” Jeremy Gillespie of The Success League (source). Of course, there is a balance between capturing additional revenue as a result of customers seeing increased value in your product and services and upselling customers on products or features they are unlikely to realize benefit from. Customer Success teams who view customer expansion as an extension of the value and services they provide on a daily basis need to carefully evaluate a customer’s expansion potential before broaching the conversation with a customer.
Evaluating expansion potential
- What was the problem this customer was hoping to solve by using our product? What metrics do we have that indicate how we have delivered against these expectations?
- Which plan is this customer on and how close are they to outgrowing it? Would a different plan be more in line with their usage and the value they receive from our product?
- Which features is this customer using? If they’re on a lower tier plan, have they evaluated our enterprise features?
- Is there another team within the customer’s organization that we think could see value in using our product?
- What are some upcoming strategic initiatives or projects that the customer is focused on implementing? How might our product be better incorporated into their longer term company vision?
Avoid pitching upsells/ cross-sells to customers who won’t see additional value
If a customer does not meet any of the expansion scenarios above a CSM shouldn’t be reaching out about expanding their account. The CSM should instead take note of how they’re currently using the product and consider if they’re capturing their maximum value. Are there any best practices that can be gained from this customer and shared with other customers or across the company? Depending on their use case and their enthusiasm the CSM might introduce them to the Marketing team to discuss working on a case study. If during discussions the CSM discovers that they are not a good candidate for an upsell because they have not captured value, the conversation should shift towards strategies that will help them achieve their goals for the product.
4. What are some quantitative ways to measure Customer Success?
Customer Success teams are constantly asking themselves if they are helping their customers better achieve their goals and objectives- but how do they know if their work is having an impact? How do they know if all this Customer Success is… well, successful? The nature of Customer Success is that you never work in isolation. Your customers’ problems (inability to raise funding, low sales, etc.) are by extension your problems, and your work is heavily impacted by the performance of other internal teams (introduction of new key features, support response times, etc.). So while these KPIs are a good way of measuring quantitative measurements of success, you will always need to include a few qualitative measurements that reflect the relationship heavy nature of Customer Success.
The single best metric to measure the impact of Customer Success is net churn. Some teams like to break out churn and retention separately, which makes sense if you’re particularly worried about one or the other. The beauty of net churn is that it’s a metric that quickly summarizes revenue coming in across all existing customers. Focusing on net churn allows teams to concentrate on growing usage, adoption, and ultimately value across their customer base. It also allows CSMs to offset healthy or inevitable churn through the expansion of successful accounts. This article outlines strategies for hitting negative churn rates. More sophisticated analysis should dive into per capita churn (how many customers churned versus how many renewed), churn by contract value, as well as revenue segmentation and cohort analysis.
Focusing on net churn allows teams to concentrate on growing usage, adoption, and ultimately value across their customer base. It also allows CSMs to offset healthy or inevitable churn through the expansion of successful accounts.
NPS is the most common measure of customer satisfaction. NPS’ benefit — that it’s an all encompassing metric of a user sentiment — is also its shortcoming. There is no systematic way of diving into a user’s NPS (short of reaching out and asking for additional feedback) which makes NPS hard to attribute to the work of a single team. For that reason, it should be considered just one part of a Customer Success team’s success or shortcomings.
Product Usage and Adoption
Tying back to Question #1 “What metrics should Customer Success teams track?” , Customer “Success teams can measure their impact based on customers’ usage activity and feature adoption. A major responsibility of most Customer Success teams is to guide customers through implementation and onboarding, and over time CSMs should aim expose new features or products that will deepen the value customers receive. Since it’s common for Customer Success teams to undertake an initiative to increase usage of a particular feature or product through additional trainings and education, teams should track whether usage increases as a result.
5. Can a customer who has requested to cancel be saved?
When a customer submits a cancellation request it always feels a little bit personal and can quickly spiral into a flurry of questions such as “how could we have prevented this?”, “are they moving over to a competitor?”, and hopefully “is it not too late to save them?” I don’t suggest looking at this type of situation through rose tinted glasses- the majority of customer who request to cancel follow through with it. But there are some customers you will be able to save — whether or not you want to save them should also be considered (for more on this topic read this awesome post by Kissmetrics).
Empathy and demonstrating value
The two most powerful tools you have in your toolbox to circumvent a cancellation are empathy and demonstrating value. Why is empathy so important? Most customers who are thinking about cancelling want to be reassured that you hear and understand their problems. They want to know that things are going to get better, whether that’s in the form of faster support response times or releasing a feature they really want built. Listening and empathizing with their concerns can do wonders to strengthen the relationship and build the necessary credibility to save their business. The second strategy (hopefully used in tangent with the first) is to effectively demonstrate the value your product has delivered to the customer. CSMs should be constantly looking for opportunities to tie the value of their product to hard numbers: an advertising analytics product increased conversion rates by 10% which resulted in an additional $120k ARR; a HR product increased employee retention by 5% decreased staffing and recruiting costs by $50k; and so on. Being able to make a case for why their product is worth sticking with puts CSMs on solid footing during a contract negotiation or cancellation request.
How I saved a major account
I received a call from a key account out of the blue one day informing me that they were considering cancelling their contract when it was up for renewal. It turns out that their company was looking for ways to cut costs and one executive in particular didn’t think our product was worth keeping. I had a strong relationship with my contact who was also a huge internal champion. He agreed to work together on a plan to demonstrate the value our product had delivered to date as well as highlight opportunities that would generate more value in the future. It was revealed that the executive’s major concern was that usage and adoption was concentrated in just one department. The executive agreed to a 30 minute meeting where we would made a case for continuing their contract. I presented data that tied our products to upsell revenue we had generated for the customer. We also presented case studies and best practices that outlined how additional departments could benefit from using our products. Our head of Product discussed our product roadmap and highlighted items that were relevant to their use case and industry. We listened to their feedback and brought the conversation back to concrete objectives they had vocalized throughout the meeting, namely to drive adoption across more departments. We were able to agree on goals and next steps for a 3 month “re-launch” across more departments. The customer was able to see more value from our product and renewed their contract shortly after our “re-launch”.
Have questions that I didn’t address? Mention them in the comments and I’ll respond with a follow up- who doesn’t love free advice?