The Stages of Customer Success

By June 3, 2016Blog

Exceptional Onboarding

Working in the client side of software for the last 8 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in how companies interact with their customers. Since its inception, Customer Success has evolved from just customer support to become an almost perfect combination of the human touch and practical automation to build mutually beneficial relationships. As head of Customer Success here at UserIQ, I’ve been thinking about how our team can create repeatable processes that will allow us to scale and make sure our customers find optimal value, and ultimately success, with our product.

If we take a page from Aaron Ross’ book, Predictable Revenue, we know that Customer Success teams are critical because they plant the seeds for lead generation from within your current customer base and can expand revenue exponentially. Since they’re on the front lines and engage most often with customers, they possess the unique ability to go beyond just retention. They can also foster account expansion and promote advocacy of your brand.

There are three stages of Customer Success that will make sure your customers get off to a great start and become successful in using your product. Following these steps will help your company fight churn, grow revenue, and expand its customer base beyond what sales and marketing could do alone.

Step 1: Exceptional Onboarding

The moment a lead becomes a (paying or free trial) customer, Customer Success begins. First and foremost, Customer Success teams should be at the ready with appropriate onboarding plans and ascertain immediately the value each customer hopes to receive from your product and the KPIs they expect.

It all begins with your customer and their pain points. Great Customer Success teams have the unique ability to translate their product’s features into tangible benefits that will help achieve their client’s stated goals. Lincoln Murphy calls these goals their Required Outcome; each customer has a particular Required Outcome they need from your product, and they are each expecting an Appropriate Experience to accompany it. This is what he calls the Desired Outcome. (Note that we talked about this in our previous post, 4 Strategies SaaS Startups Must Follow to Avoid Failure.)

Onboarding is the time to start digging into understanding what your new customer hopes to gain from using your product, as specifically as possible. Knowing what they hope to achieve will help you develop customer-centric milestones not only in the onboarding phase but throughout their lifecycle.

Pro-tip: Document, document, document. If you have more than one type of customer, you’ll want to create slightly varying onboarding docs that are tailored to specific pain points. Keep track of the knowledge you gain from each session and use it to keep your onboarding docs fresh and relevant.

Step 2: Reaching Customer-Centric Milestones

Getting to know your customers and what they expect from your product is critical. You should have a solid understanding of their Desired Outcome after the onboarding phase. Work with your customers to develop specific milestones of success that ensure they’re getting the most out of your service for their specific needs.

They should be hitting their goals in a timely manner, they should be hitting any goals you set for them, and they should be doing so with an excellent experience both within your app and with your company. This makes sure they’re receiving optimum value from your offering and that you’re a step ahead of them if they’re not.

If you haven’t already, define churn indicators that are unique to your product and customers so you can keep track of who is at risk and what you can do to prevent it. At UserIQ, we use customer health scores to give us an at-a-glance look at how our customers are performing and who might need engagement. We also track how our users are interacting with the app so we know where they are stuck and how we can help.

Step 3: Customer Growth (Account Expansion and Referrals)

In the end, all of this comes down to customer growth. A SaaS company with customers already has their greatest source of new revenue. If you can keep your customers happy from onboarding and through their milestones, you’ll be able to achieve what we call “growth beyond the funnel.” This means that your customers are happy and willing to begin expanding their own accounts and promoting your product within their network.

Jason Lemkin and Aaron Ross refer to this the bottom of the hourglass. Your pipeline is not, or shouldn’t be, just a funnel. It’s actually an hourglass, and at the bottom of that hourglass is Customer Success, where big bucks are made. Customer Success should not be focused on just providing support, but on building valuable relationships and planting seeds with current customers to encourage word-of-mouth lead generation.

Consider creating an in-app NPS survey that follows-up with a prompt for promoters (those most likely to recommend your company or product to a friend) to share their experience with your product on social media. This is an easy way to not only discover how your customers feel about your offering (and use that feedback for change), but to also create an opportunity for users to promote your product for you.

Customer Success is a journey, not a checklist. It’s about keeping in-step with your customers, understanding their goals, and helping them achieve those goals. When you show you care about them, they are more likely to return the favor and you help each other be successful. By going above and beyond help tickets and monthly checkins, you’ll create happy, successful customers who stay longer, spend more, and tell their friends. And that’s a relationship you can build on.