How to succeed at customer success: a 4-step guide

Consumer and B2B customers alike are busy people. We live in a fast-paced, digital world where technology has groomed us all to expect immediate gratification and results. This makes sales and building customer relationships harder than ever.

Traditional sales processes like cold calls have fallen out of favour; and remote, low-touch, digitally targeted methods are the norm. Sales teams must work for every customer.

And yet there is such a thing as an evangelical customer in this new world. Digital leaders like Amazon are trouncing traditional retailers: in the UK, for example, Amazon has led customer satisfaction indices for five years running; in the US, the e-commerce giant has also just topped the 2018 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) chart, too.

Customer love is clearly achievable. How can we nurture these relationships? To stick with Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos once said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts”. It might not be an exciting party, but it’s still one you’d want to go to. Here’s how.

1. Refine customer needs throughout the sales process

The value of your product may not be obvious to your customer. They certainly won’t know everything you can achieve for them, and this is as true for a $10m contract as a $10 off-the-shelf product.

It’s your sales team’s job to initially understand customer expectations and what customers perceive to be the value of your product or service. Sales teams must determine which product features are most valuable, how the customer likes to communicate, and above all what role you will play in their ongoing success. Says Richard Fellah, CEO and Founder of Vbout:

“Speaking to the clients on an ongoing basis during the initial sales stages and continuously getting feedback from users during the on-boarding process was our most successful strategy in improving customer success.”

Equip your sales team with tools to understand the meaning of value to your customers — instead of just qualifying prospects, identify what success looks like to prospective customers. This can then be fed back to:

  • product developers: to build the ideal product
  • other salespeople: to sell to similar targets
  • customer service teams: to support clients’ endeavours
  • and marketers: to improve A/B testing of marketing to reach similar client groups

Your sales team should record and track all these responses in your CRM and ensure CRM data is accessible to your customer success team; because the modern sales process is now an engagement process: the first step to an evangelical client.

2. Exceed expectations in delivery and support

Here’s a frightening picture. The rise of tech and automation means we’re working in ever smaller teams. A SaaS company pulling in multi-millions might only employ 10 to 20 people in total: Instagram famously reached a $1bn valuation with only 13 employees.

This is true for traditional businesses too: in the past 20 years, resources have been shaved away in the name of efficiency, so that there’s no spare talent. This means that departments are small, often even one-person, and this has a dramatic effect on our commercial relationships.

Let’s say your company sells a marketing SaaS tool. You sell to marketing departments, but where that used to be a team of five marketing professionals, it’s now one person. What happens when that person leaves the company? You may lose your entire business relationship.

To avoid this sort of loss of customer security, smart businesses are delivering value fast and to as broad a community within a client organisation as possible.

First time to value – the aha moment

You’re most likely to lose a customer during the onboarding stage. That’s why shortening your first time to value (TTV) is essential. You must find your aha moment: the first time each user finds value in your product.

Most importantly, this is an emotional experience – it’s not about a specific function; it’s the experience of having a problem solved or being surprised by a positive result. It’s thinking: Aha! My money is well spent because this product totally benefits me. The aha moment typically separates those who stay from those who give up or cancel their subscriptions.

How can you find out when this moment happens to your existing customers so that you can delight new ones?

  • Look at the data – You can’t draw insight from what you don’t measure. Take a look at your user data and see if there are any obvious behaviors of satisfied and evangelical users vs. walk-aways and canceled subscriptions.
  • What behaviors correlate with retention? – Do users who click through lots of pages in your app or product tend to stick around? Do users who watch several instructional videos have lower churn rates? Knowing why customers stick will help you fine-tune your product and customer journey, as well as your target demographic.
  • What behaviors correlate with churn? – Do users who click around on a contact us page often churn? Do users who only get 12 seconds into a video churn more often? Understanding behaviors that correlate with churn is valuable in helping you eliminate poor user experience within your platform (the #1 reason why otherwise qualified customers churn).

Talk to everyone – often!

Getting to know your customer during the sales process is essential, because as we’ve seen if you have a single contact in an organisation, you’re hanging your business on a very thin thread! That’s why pre-sales teams should embed in an organisation, speaking to users as well as department heads or procurement professionals.

And customer success teams should be in touch constantly too, learning what users and customers want to see moving forward. Incidentally, these contacts must be on the medium of choice. Maybe that’s chat, email, or maybe it’s phone. It’s different strokes for different folks, and about 75% of millennials would rather text than call. So it’s vital to provide inbound and outbound support across multiple mediums.

Don’t engage with your customers just to engage (as we said at the outset, they’re really busy). Focus on providing your customers with real value. What can you teach them that will help them improve not just their use of your product, but their actual business?

Research shows that 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer service experience, so this effort into customer experience directly leads to value – plus you’re likely to convert them again.

3. All of your employees are critical to customer success

Traditional customer support usually isolated customer-centric work to one part of the company (the customer support team) – sometimes even located in a different city. Customer support teams were focused on speed, meaning they were judged and even incentivised according to how fast they could get support team members off the phone with one customer and onto the phone with the next. Boiler room stuff. It was miserable for customers. And it was miserable for employees, too.

Customer success, on the other hand, means being invested in your customer’s perceived value of your product. Understanding their needs and their journey. Investing in their success. And it’s fast becoming the only model for maintaining strong customer relationships.

This shift from customer support to customer success came about with the rise of SaaS. In SaaS products, because customers pay a subscription, month-to-month (sometimes yearly, etc.), they can cancel anytime. A SaaS company is therefore only as good as its last month’s performance, and a new version of customer support was born to put every customer’s ongoing success with the product front-and-center.

Your designers design and optimise interface layouts based on what customers need. Marketers write content based on what your customers and prospects find useful or inspiring. Your sales team discovers the value your product can bring to customers, and department heads are analysing all types of customer data to determine what improvements to make next, all based on a constant engagement with the customer. Your entire team focuses on customer success.

4. Unhappy employees = Unhappy customers

Remember we said traditional support was miserable for employees, too? You’ve got to get your internal culture right if you want happy, retained customers.

Since entire company operations are aligned towards customer success, it makes sense that each employee’s well-being and happiness will impact customer success efforts.

An unhappy team can mean unhappy conversations and interactions with customers. If sales reps don’t feel valued, they’re not going to do their best to understand needs and close deals. If customer success reps don’t feel valued, they might be cranky and get defensive with an outraged customer.

Those foosball tables aren’t a corporate folly, they’re a subtle tool of internal branding. People that are happy with their jobs are more productive and positive. According to a Gallup report, engaged employees are directly more likely to improve customer relations, which results in 20% more sales.

Get to know your customers and their communication styles during the sales process. Keep them happy by understanding their journeys, when they experience aha! and where their frustrations occur. Use data. Draw insights. And keep your entire team happy, because they’re all focused on the customer.

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