6 Exciting Emerging Trends in Customer Success

6 Exciting Emerging Trends in Customer Success

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If you're committed to achieving your Customer Success goals in 2015, there's never been a more opportune time to do so. We're truly in the Golden Age of Customer Success, with ever-improving tools and processes available for reducing churn and increasing customer engagement.

We recently released an episode of our Customer Success Radio podcast in which we discussed new trends that are emerging and taking hold in Customer Success. (Here's the link to listen if you haven't yet.) In case you'd rather read, or just for easy future reference, here are the practices we called out as up and coming or catching fire in 2015.

TREND: Companies are investing earlier in Customer Success, instead of waiting until churn becomes a problem.

Five years ago, Customer Success was usually adopted as a reactionary program, driven by the need to respond to a churn problem. This meant that companies selling annual contracts and finding churn above 15%, or companies selling monthly subscriptions and getting 3% or higher churn per month, would interpret these indicators as signs that it was time to implement a Customer Success program.

In 2015, this is no longer the norm. In earlier stages in their maturity, companies are thinking about Customer Success, including how to create a customer journey with key touchpoints and insights along the way. High retention out of the gate is now a must-have priority for fast-growing SaaS companies. Seriously thinking about Customer Success at the beginning of the company maturity (even if the company don't invest right away) is becoming the norm. That wasn't the case five or even two years ago. There's no such thing as too early for starting to define a Customer Success model — in fact, it's smart thinking about it as soon as you do a customer acquisition model. Of course you have to acquire customers before you'll have any you need to worry about keeping. But the lightbulb is going off sooner, as companies are realizing there is significant ROI to being better from the start at driving Customer Success, retention, and growth.

Pre-customer, from day one, companies are beginning to talk about Customer Success best practices. This may start as: "How do we do great customer onboarding, promote adoption, and deliver value in first 30-60-90 days?", and then scale into a full-blown Customer Success program over time. A progression is certainly natural. But by around 100 customers or $1M ARR, you'd better be sure you've gotten serious about building out a solid Customer Success program that includes a rockstar team and the data and technology to support their work.

TREND: Customer Success teams are getting involved earlier in the customer lifecycle — even pre-sale.

These days, Customer Success is a critical part of the customer interaction out of the gate. This includes during the trial experience or somewhere else along the line pre-sale. A lot of what a subscription software company is selling — what can serve to really differentiate them from their competitors — is actually the value offered by Customer Success. SaaS companies are offering expertise and a the promise of a trusted advisor. Bringing in a Customer Success team or spokesperson for that role as part of the sales process really helps prospects see that service as a key part of the value they'll be gaining from the engagement.

For companies with freemium models or trial offerings looking at conversion rate improvement, they're now taking best practices from the Customer Success world and applying those. They're determining how to measure healthy usage patterns, and other "good sign" behaviors trial or freemium users might display, and using that information to help prioritize focus on closing one deal vs. another.

In fact, trial and freemium models are tearing down the wall between what is sales and what is Customer Success. Companies doing both well aren't too fixated on trying to differentiate one from the other. There might be Customer Success "coach" roles that are primarily about helping freemium or trial customers get strong value and ultimately convert to paying customers. These CSMs likely don't think of themselves as sales people. They simply want to make sure everyone who interacts with their company and product has a great experience. (Note: For more on this, check out our recap from the recent #CustomerSuccessChat on Customer Success and upselling.)

TREND: Customer Success teams are becoming more systematic about tracking their activities, and analyzing the impact those activities are having.

The importance of capturing and analyzing good customer data has become apparent. But collecting quality data around some kinds of customer interactions is trickier than for others. And it's harder still to use that data well to generate value for your customers and your company. But smart SaaS companies are getting savvy about:

  • Creating defined processes and tools for easily tracking non-electronic touchpoints (ex. phone calls, meetings, QBRs) — when they happened, who was involved, how they went — and...
  • Monitoring trends around those touchpoints and their impact on customer health.

BizLibrary is one company that has a very strong program around this. Their Customer Success team systematically records every customer interaction. (This may sound obvious, but most aren't even there yet, as it can be hard to find tools that make it easy and encourage internal adoption.) Then they watch how the patterns around those activities correlate with other signals (like application usage and the results their customers are achieving) as well as with outcomes (like renewals and upsells).

It's all part of the big picture, and an important aspect to track along with NPS responses, support tickets, etc. Customer Success teams must always be asking: How are all of these moving parts together impacting the health of our customers, and how can we constantly improve the program for better results and outcomes?

TREND: Customer Success teams are starting to share results and insights directly with their customers to help them understand what's possible using their tools.

The data and insights Customer Success practitioners are gathering are not just for internal purposes any more. There's growing excitement about sharing that information, especially visual representations of it, directly back with customers. Seeing what other similar companies have achieved, and learning how they've done it, can be the impetus for a customer to strive improve their own adoption and results.

Like many things in the world of Customer Success, there's been some form of this going on for about a decade. Salesforce pioneered sending monthly emails telling customers: "Here's how you're using the Salesforce app, here's what areas you're touching, here's what we recommend exploring, and here's how many records you have." For an admin at a Salesforce customer company, it was very informative to get that monthly update.

And for several years now, companies like Zendesk have sent benchmark reports that took it to another level: offering groupings by industry, with analysis of ticket resolution times, response rates, and forum interactions. Such reports were valuable because they tied to the business goals of the customers, rather than just what features were being used.

Today, companies are starting to think about how they can provide personalized, real-time feedback to their customers about how well they're performing in the application, how much value they're getting compared to other relevant companies that seem like them, AND what they've been doing previously and in relation to their own goals.

Providing your customers insights into how they're achieving their goals, as well as their performance among their peers, is a strategic advantage and market differentiator for your company. Customers buy software for product features, but they also choose to engage with you to take advantage of your consulting and expertise within the problem areas your SaaS solves. Showing your customers how they're performing and comparing to similar companies in key functional area (sales, CRM, marketing, finances, etc.) provides a "next-level" tier of value from the engagement. We forecast that in six months, more companies will be engaging in this practice to parlay these data-rich insights back to customers.

One caveat to this trend is that it's harder to share reports with customers when things aren't going well for them against their own benchmarks and against their peers. After all, it's one thing to show a customer who has been achieving great things how they fit into the overall spectrum, but to show a customer who is declining or struggling, that direct insight may seal the deal on churn in the short-term. Still, this is important, and we'd argue is crucial for mitigating churn in the long run. Do the work upfront to assess the best way to message your customers and deliver their ranking — positive or negative — with an emphasis on helping them achieve the goals they originally sought to accomplish with your software.

TREND: Companies are focusing on self-service customer resources and how engagement with them can be important signals of customer health or risk.

We love to discuss self-serve resources here at Frontleaf, and for good reason; one of the top emerging trends in scaling Customer Success is delivering superior self-service customer resources, including self-service support, Knowledge Bases, how to's, and help communities. Self-serve resources are becoming essential elements of delivering better customer experiences, and will become even more important in 2015.

In the past, self-serve resources each lived in their own silo. How someone interacted with help docs, support systems, or community really did not tie into a company's understanding of customer engagement and health. This is no longer the case. Now, Customer Success departments are breaking down those silos, and are finding interesting linkages between self-serve resources and Customer Success. If a customer opens emails and participates in a community, companies can now validate that these behaviors signal their engagement every bit as much as logging in and using an application.

One company doing this well is MindTouch, which offers a great platform for knowledge management. MindTouch is excellent at measuring how customers are interacting with their resources as part of overall engagement and health. And they help their customers undertake the same kind of analysis.

Self-serve resources are absolutely critical to scaling your Customer Success program. By connecting the dots between self-service interactions and Customer Success, it's possible for SaaS companies to better pinpoint exactly where and how value is being achieved by their customers. Application usage tells only part of the story, and by monitoring and tracking self-serve success (how are customers behaving in your community forums, for instance), it's possible to get a more complete picture of your customers' health.

TREND: Customer Success as a growth strategy is going mainstream.

In 2015, we are already seeing a lot of buzz about the overlap between Customer Success and growth hacking. Growth hacking is a term originally coined to describe marketing techniques, typically innovative practices, used to rapidly build awareness and adoption of technology products. But as the strategy evolves, the best growth hackers will be the first to admit that it's not just about acquiring customers — good growth hacking also focuses on retaining those customers and turning them into loyal advocates, who in turn help your product and company achieve optimal growth overall. Enter Customer Success. And no doubt we'll continue to see increasing interplay, as the two strategies are quickly becoming best friends.

If you're interested in learning more about the fascinating intersection between Customer Success and growth hacking, you might enjoy our soon-to-be-published #CustomerSuccessChat recap or Customer Success Radio podcast episode on the topic.

So there you have it, six exciting trends we're seeing in the world of Customer Success:

  • Companies are investing earlier in Customer Success, instead of waiting until churn becomes a problem.
  • Customer Success teams are getting involved earlier in the customer lifecycle — even pre-sale.
  • Customer Success teams are becoming more systematic about tracking their activities, and analyzing the impact those activities are having.
  • Customer Success teams are starting to share results and insights directly with their customers to help them understand what's possible using their tools.
  • Companies are focusing on self-service customer resources and how engagement with them can be important signals of customer health or risk.
  • Customer Success as a growth strategy is going mainstream.

Are you the poster child for any of these? Have others you'd add? Think they're just a flash in the pan? We'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

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