As the leader of the customer-facing parts of a SaaS organization, I was quick to take accountability and responsibility for “customer success”, which of course really meant customer retention. It took me many years to realize how flawed my thinking was and to come to understand that Customer Success is bigger than any single department.
Since the moment I came across this Gainsight quote, my thinking about customer success’s role in the SaaS organization has evolved:
Customer Success is the business methodology of ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service.Gainsight
Business methodology. Not a role, not a department, not people. Methodology.
So much of my focus on customer success now is about creating a company-wide culture of customer success. Here are some of the most important elements to truly embracing customer success across the organization.
1. Customer retention KPIs for every department
The customer success team simply can not be responsible for customer retention alone. Every department from marketing to sales, to operations, product and engineering are directly responsible for customer retention. The customer success team is only one piece of the overall strategy. Every department needs a shared KPI for customer retention.
2. SaaS renewal starts on day one
A renewal strategy can’t happen 90 days before the renewal date, as is common. We must think of renewal, and renewal risks, from day one and design our entire approach to customer experience around securing the renewal of our happy, healthy customers. By paying close attention to your customer health metrics and building strong customer relationships designed to help meet their goals & objectives, you can spot a renewal risk early and work to overcome it.
3. Customer success takes a village
Similar to #1, with shared KPIs for customer retention, every part of the organization needs to participate in creating happy, healthy customers who renew. It’s not just about a KPI, it’s about everyone in the company having a fundamental understanding of how the product fits into the customer’s world. In many SaaS organizations, there is a lack of clarity about what makes for an ideal customer, what their day-to-day priorities are, what problems are solved by the product and what customers need to achieve in order to have their desired outcomes met. Everyone needs to “know” the customer base. What they care about, what they are like, what’s important to them, why they buy, what causes them friction and what makes their lives easier. And everyone needs to understand the way their role and their department can impact that. That’s how organizations win the battle for the customer’s time, attention and dollars.
4. Customers don’t grow or stay on their own
Unless you are a unicorn, like Slack, you are going to have to put in the effort to have customers stick around and grow. Gainsight talks about the natural tendency for customers and vendors to drift apart. Too few companies understand this and put in the real work to forge strong relationships with their customer base. It’s wonderful when users inside a company choose your
5. Keep customer health status very visible to everyone
Everyone across the organization needs to know what makes for a healthy customer, and what the red flag metrics are for an unhealthy customer. People should be empowered to spot issues early, bubble them up in the appropriate channels and ensure they are acted on. Create a customer success playbook and share it with everyone. Keep your customer health metrics visible to the organization in a real-time dashboard so your staff can see what percent of your customers are healthy/unsure/at risk (or green, yellow, red if you prefer). Bubble up concerns in a visible way so people can take swift action.
6. Whatever it takes…within reason
Fight to retain good-fit customers, and move on quickly from bad-fit customers. If you are certain a customer can receive value from your product, work hard to win their hearts and minds. “Whatever it takes” means retraining customers if you must, teaching them strategy if there is a gap in knowledge, ‘re-selling’ when new team members join and flying to their doorstep to get their attention when needed. The responsibility for a happy, healthy customer falls on you, not them.
Customer success is a culture, not a department
When companies embrace customer success beyond the limited definition of a department the entire company can be empowered to be focused on the success of the customer base. At the heart of SaaS is retaining