High-Touch at High Volume: Automated Outreach for Customer Success

High-Touch at High Volume: Automated Outreach for Customer Success

CustomerSuccessChat Recap

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Frontleaf recently hosted the second #CustomerSuccessChat on Twitter, featuring Customer Success industry leaders Colin Nederkoorn, Derek Skaletsky, Marc Baizman, and Tom Krackeler. The topic for this month — High-Touch at High Volume: Automated Outreach for Customer Success — drew Customer Success experts and enthusiasts for a lively debate. If you weren't able to make it or want to review the discussion again, here's a recap of some of the gems from the chat.

Our first question explored the signs that it's time to scale a company's Customer Success practice. The central theme from our experts was that it's crucial to pay attention to when Customer Success teams are becoming more reactive than proactive. Other signals included: mismatched roles and responsibilities, and CSMs reaching workload capacity. Tom suggested that price is really more of a factor than number of users, and that it's crucial to lay the groundwork for when it's time to scale, including creating self-service resources.

We then asked whether a CSM could develop and maintain real relationships with their customers when managing a large quantity. Derek said no way in B2B, or at least that it depended on market offering. Colin said their Customer.io CSMs had up to 500 accounts per person, and added that average revenue per user was important to consider in terms of volume per CSM. Other participants suggested "account seats" (number of users at your customer) is another relevant factor in determining a CSM's ideal assigned account number. Chat participant Stacey Cogswell referenced a DreamForce session, suggesting number of accounts actually isn't the most important factor, and that each CSM should own $2M ARR.

Next, we asked responders to weigh in on best practices for relationship-building at high volume. The experts advocated for creating low-touch resources for as many things as possible, including self-service resources and email outreach to deploy at key milestones. Derek suggested smart digest emails, and Tom highlighted the value of triggering congratulatory emails at customer goal completion points. Marc emphasized it's important that Customer Success not be the only department held accountable. Other strategies: excellent customer service, live chat, leveraging your customer advocates, or even sending hand-written notes to users to create "customer love".

Our experts debated whether it's even possible to deliver high-quality customer experiences through automated communications. The verdict: yes, it can be done, but it has to be done right. Many agreed that if automated communications are executed improperly, the customer relationships can severely suffer. Tom pointed out that, at lower price-point SaaS companies, any help is valued, automated or otherwise. Marc and Colin emphasized the importance of creating personalized automated correspondence, and using intelligent solutions to tailor messages to customers. Derek suggested automation is fine, as long as some key interactions stay non-automated.

This brought us to our next question: at which times would it be inappropriate or inadvisable to use automated Customer Success outreach? Tom argued that onboarding is one time to stay hands-on. Marc and Colin said that if the customer is "seeing red,"" frustrated, or having a negative experience, it's best to engage in a non-automated, CSM-to-customer interaction. And one specific time that it's not advisable to lean on automated communications: during cancellation or billing issues.

What are the top tools of the trade for delivering excellent automated outreach or other tricks for scaling? We received a fantastic list of solutions recommended by our experts:

Next, experts discussed potential negative outcomes of automating Customer Success, including specific examples. A few highlights included: bad links in emails or sloppy communications, automated content conflicting with personal CSM email content, too much contact, and mismatched communications sent to the wrong customers at the wrong time. Colin humorously pointed out that it's important not to attempt to mislead your customer into thinking an automated interaction is sent from a human.

Is the machine running right? The experts agreed that good data is crucial and that tying automation to quality metrics is key. Examples of such metrics can include: email open rates/replies, decreases in common questions, and seeing whether customers who read your automated messages actually improve in the areas covered. But don't forget to talk to your users!

For your highest level customers, should you even bother automating communications at all? The consensus among experts was: yes, automation is possible at all tiers. This includes internal emails for red flags that alert the team to any risks or opportunities, and automated outreach that actually add value where a human wouldn't as easily.

Our final question asked for the best piece of advice our experts have for anyone trying to scale their Customer Success operation using automation. Our experts had this to say:

Join us for the next #CustomerSuccessChat on Tuesday, 11/18/2014 at 9a PT/12p ET. The topic will be How to Nail & Scale Customer Onboarding!

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