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You have many customers, across many segments, using your tool for many use cases. How do you manage that complexity to make sure they all are successful with your products?
The Customer Success function has gained momentum over the past decade and is now, more often than not, an integral part of the customer journey within a SaaS company.
Gunjan Nichani, Senior Manager of Customer Success Systems at Amplitude and self-professed “Customer Success Operations Nerd,” knows CSM inside and out.
In this chat, she shares her thoughts on what Customer Success teams should be doing and the benefits of customer success platforms.
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What are the goals of Customer Success?
Gunjan: The ultimate metric of success for any SaaS organization is net retention.
A truly effective customer success team could keep the business healthy and growing even without a direct sales team. Net retention is the measure of success of the trifecta: good product, great service surrounding that product, and the right market fit.
We are seeing an increasing number of SaaS organizations facing churn like never before, and this is, at least partially, because of the product fit. Although, some may stay because of a strong Customer Experience.
Even with a great product, customers struggle to get value quickly and effectively from these subscriptions. This is where a great customer experience comes into play. The role of Customer Success is to help customers derive measurable outcomes from their investments and paint that picture to prove it out for them.
An effective CSM or account team member should work with champions in customer orgs to create that focus and unquestionable stickiness of their product. Those products are the ones that stay through these sorts of economic downturns, as the customer’s org cannot function without them.
These are often lofty aspirations. How do you feel these goals are best achieved?
Gunjan: Constant data analysis to validate the right signals of attention, measures of customer health, and types of engagements required.
First, it’s important to develop an understanding of customer segments. This may go beyond firmographic or contractual information like a number of employees or Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR). Fundamentally, it comes down to what level of engagement and support is needed.
There will never be a one-size-fits-all strategy across customers or even within each segment. The best thing a customer success operations team can do is review the validity of each segmentation strategy. This is one of the main benefits of a customer success platform.
From there, it’s about finding the sweet spot of human touch, assessment of maturity, and digital touch. As companies develop a long tail of customers, there is no way every single one can get human interaction at the same cadence as higher-spend customers. A tech-touch strategy to help scale customer success is a must-have at that stage.
Understanding the customer lifecycle and the motions required at each stage by segment can help uncover the need for different levels and methods of engagement. Working with a product analytics or business intelligence team, we can identify the appropriate trends in product usage and adoption. This helps measure customer health at different phases of their journey.
Combine these strategies to develop playbooks for CSMs, customer health scorecards, and digital programs to get to the right customers at the right time with the right messaging. And then reevaluate.
Markets change, and CS needs to respond appropriately. Constantly reevaluate and iterate.
With the amount of data, and so many different segments and playbooks, can tooling increase the chances of success?
Gunjan: We should never go off of a gut feeling. That’s the benefit of a customer success platform. Data-driven designs are bound to be far more accurate in determining the right engagement strategy. Beyond that, standardization, continuity, and documentation of customer engagements need to be a priority.
With the right tooling, organizations can not only guide CS professionals in the right direction with standardized playbooks and expectations of capturing key activities, but they can also report on these motions to help validate that they are working. This is a prerequisite to be able to calibrate strategy and iterate appropriately.
As soon as there is too much flexibility or lack of direction on how to operationalize these strategies, information is lost, whether in sticky notes, Google Docs, Evernote, Slack, or anywhere else that is just not systematic. Technology will never solve a strategy problem, but the strategy needs the right technology to be successful.
What types of tooling exist and how does a leader go about making tooling decisions?
Gunjan: There are hundreds of tools out there that solve different elements of the customer lifecycle and often specialize in certain areas. These themes can range anywhere from:
- Sales to CS Handoff
- Success Planning
- 360 customer views
- Engagement playbooks
- Customer marketing
- Professional services
- Conversational intelligence
- The list goes on…
Imagine being a CSM trying to understand the full picture of just one customer, let alone the other 49 in their portfolio (often more)? It’s a nightmare. Certain in-house existing platforms such as Salesforce can do the job with the right resourcing and focus to try to consolidate these insights and solve these problems.
Many orgs will opt for a Customer Success Platform that does this more easily with OOTB functionality, and plenty more customization to help solve for multiple of these points in a single platform. The options are plentiful and growing, with platforms like Totango, ChurnZero, ClientSuccess, PlanHat, my personal favourite, Gainsight, and many more.
As for how a leader should go about making a tooling decision – let’s first start with what role that leader is in and what kind of resourcing they have. A platform decision is not just about the subscription; it’s about the work that goes into making it successful.
Certain tools that are hyper-focused on specific outcomes may even be able to be managed by business leaders directly. Other tools like Gainsight require a dedicated administrator – and often more, spanning out to a specialized team. A CS leader may focus more on the outcomes they are looking for, but need to ensure they have the right systems & IT buy-in to support making this happen.
A Systems & IT leader may want to consolidate tools and make their day-to-day more streamlined. All-in-all, it takes a village to make a platform effective, involves identifying the right outcomes that it should deliver, and the right resourcing plans to make that happen. Remember: technology cannot solve a strategy problem.
How do you justify the ROI on tools in this space?
Gunjan: It comes back to outcomes identified. It is ill-advised to even begin a tooling procurement evaluation, let alone an implementation, without understanding the specific outcomes and value it should result in. To get the real benefits of your customer success platform, go back to the basics: SMART goals, with an emphasis on the M and the T. Measuring success involves a benchmark, and it is often difficult to even gather that benchmark.
Too often, leaders will go off of a feeling – which is usually accurate – when deciding to purchase a strategic CS tool. However, they fail to prove the ROI when facing an economic downturn or questions from the CFO on their investment decisions. They must show an improvement; not just a number achieved. It is all relative, and relating it back to industry or even board expectations is key.
The T is focused around ensuring you are not trying to move too quickly or judge too soon. Usually, ROI in CS is a long game, and so understanding both lagging and leading indicators is important. Hint: leading indicators are usually not good enough for the CFO or board, but are a good stepping stone to ensure you’re on the right track.