Accelerate your speed-to-value by building a stronger customer success function
Customer success is the business function which is responsible for ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your company’s product or service. A customer success function exists in most B2B SaaS organizations. Other industries are taking notice and implementing their own customer success functions.
The customer success team typically takes over the client account relationship from the sales team after the contract is signed and the integration and configuration processes are underway.
Customer success is responsible for a few business outcomes and the associated key performance indicators (KPIs):
- Customer satisfaction, especially at critical moments of truth throughout the contract lifecycle
- Customer lifetime value, which is the end result of increasing renewals, decreasing churn, upselling and cross-selling additional services or software modules
Those moments of truth include:
- Ensuring clients get onboarded and set up correctly
- Leading formal and informal training sessions and answering ongoing questions so clients can best accomplish their goals using the company’s product or service
- Troubleshooting customer issues, then prioritizing and escalating inside the organization
- Advocating for customer needs throughout the organization
- Managing the ongoing account relationship and smoothing over the inevitable issues which crop up
- Measuring, documenting, and demonstrating product value to the customer on an ongoing basis. This information, shared during quarterly business reviews (QBRs), helps customers recognize the ROI achieved and make the internal business case for renewing their SaaS contract
In short, the customer success function is a hybrid of training, troubleshooting, and account management.
To deliver their business objectives, customer success teams need strong relationship management skills, deep product knowledge, and a pragmatic, get-things-done attitude.
Customer success people sound kind of amazing, don’t they? Of course, they are! There are only so many people in the world who innately possess all of the attributes of a great customer success professional: warmth, empathy, customer-first attitude, product knowledge, pragmatism, and so on.
So where do you find great customer success professionals?
It comes down to the classic “build vs. buy” decision.
- Buying talent, by hiring from the outside.
- Building talent, by cross-training current employees and training new hires well.
As you already know, highly qualified folks are hard to find, and talent is at a premium.
If your organization needs the bench strength to support rapid business expansion (which every VC-funded tech company is striving for), you should implement or expand your cross-training program. Cross-training provides benefits such as:
- Better speed-to-value. Your company can’t scale if your employees aren’t flexible.
- Improved ability to stay lean and nimble
- Greater employee engagement
- Reduced risk if key account team members leave your organization
I reached out to Patty Bavuso to get her insight on how to build a stronger customer success function. After all, she’s built and grown the customer success and professional services functions at multiple Bay Area SaaS companies over the past 10+ years. And as I see with my clients at Adeptation, a healthy customer success function is essential to achieving a great customer experience.
What do you get when you bring customer success and customer experience expertise together?
An action plan to build a bulletproof customer success function:
- Send engineers and developers to do a rotation in customer success. A stint in customer success provides engineers and developers with context for the set of intangibles that matter to customers. It increases customer empathy and understanding of a wider range of users and use cases. These lead to the “aha” moments which allow your team to ultimately make better products.
- Send customer success team members to do a rotation in product management. Your CS folks will infuse into the product management organization an understanding of how customers actually use your products vs. the PM team’s theoretical use cases. Your CS team will learn just how much work goes into creating a feature set and the amount of detail needed in the business and technical requirements. They’ll also learn that simply because a customer wants certain features, doesn’t mean that their specifications are the ideal way to build the feature or the best direction for the product.
- Send product managers to do a rotation in user experience research and/or market research. Your product managers will gain a deep understanding of the opportunities and constraints afforded by various UX and customer research tools. Product managers need lots of detail to do their jobs well, but not everything can be measured. Survey fatigue is real, and many users struggle to communicate clearly or to give much detail about everything your product managers would like to know. Your product management function will be stronger when the PM team understands how to make sound decisions anyways, even with limited or imperfect data.
A great customer experience ultimately hinges upon customer success. If customers cannot accomplish what they set out to do, then all the other elements of the customer experience are for naught.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Patty a key question. How does great customer success happen? She replied:
“Customer success is a combination of rigor and magic.”
That magic is impossible to quantify, but magic in both CS and CX is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That magic, then, occurs when there’s resonance across key business functions. The intentional cross-training program outlined above is how you can create that magic in your company.
Patty Bavuso is currently driving customer success initiatives with Slalom Consulting, leveraging her expertise to serve Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley startups.