What is Customer Success Responsible For, Anyway?

I often forget this is a legitimate question, but all I need to do is talk to people entering SaaS and this is completely revolutionary. This approach does not always work in a non-subscription economy. However, in a subscription economy it’s vital. So here goes.

Most everyone understands Customer Success owns Gross Retention. But beyond that, does it own anything else? If so, why? Here are the bare minimum that seem to be agreed on across the spectrum:

  • Onboarding experience
  • Renewals (thus, Gross Retention)
  • Cancellation/retention calls (see above)
  • Some content
    • Partial ownership of the Help Center
    • Perhaps video production
    • Webinars

I think we’re missing a lot here.

Sometimes Customer Success is it’s own division or department, sometimes it’s under Marketing, Sales, or Product…But usually it is its own. It’s not just a subteam. The resources and focus leadership gives to Customers Success is directly correlated to the impact to your bottom line. It’s an investment.

Metrics

Next, Gross Retention and Net Retention are inexplicably connected at the hip. The happiest of customers are the ones upgrading, adding seats, and sending you referrals. You want to turn customers into fans and fans into raving fans.

Ask yourself who interacts the most with your customers and has the best opportunity to upgrade a happy customer? The focus on the renewal, while necessary, should be the bare minimum. Great Customer Success teams are not only playing defense trying to assist customers. They have direct insights to customer needs and are the number one resource to share upgrades or new products (free or paid). They allow your company to add offense beyond a sales team.

Compensation

If CSMs are only compensated on the renewal, they won’t help the Sales team or focus on expansion because there’s no incentive. Some will help, and others will try. However, as soon as we inevitably get slammed with tasks, the things we want to do will often fall to the side. Instead, ensure these are included in your CSM job description and comp package.

A CSM’s role is to grow the customer, not keep them stagnant. A CSM should heavily influence:

  1. Renewal (Gross Retention)
  2. Expansion (Net Retention)
  3. Referral (Net Retention? Or as a CS qualified lead?)

So using these three metrics as guiding principles, here’s a better list of what Customer Success should/could own and be responsible for:

  • Onboarding experience
  • Renewals/ongoing relationship (Gross Retention)
  • Cancellation/retention calls (again, Gross Retention)
  • Customer content
  • NPS/CSAT
  • Voice of the customer
  • Optional: Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)

Why?

For one, because we should center our roles around what the customer needs. The customer doesn’t want to talk to one person about renewing, another about expanding, and another about product enhancements. We hate being bounced around with our vendors, why should we treat our customers any different? Let’s own their question and get them their solution—whether a downgrade, upgrade, answer, or creative method of using our software.

Team alignment

Second, because it’s aligning CS with the entire company.

Sales

Sales and CS are often at odds with one another. Why? Because their incentives are misaligned. Make them both responsible for account expansion and you may find they want to talk to each other instead of avoiding each other like the plague. Churn already creates enough friction. No need to make it worse. They should be aligned on Net Retention. CS is as responsible for net retention as Sales, if not more.

How often does a customer call their sales rep 2 years later to upgrade? Okay, maybe sometimes. Most of the time they’re going to reach out to Support or their CSM for the upgrade. When their CSM is reaching out to them to check in on their renewal, that’s when they’ll bring up the recently launched features. If there are no Net Retention incentives, why should the CSM bother talking about paid upgrades? It’s more time and energy than it’s worth and the CSM has a million things on their plate, just like everyone else. Align their interests to create collaboration, not conflict.

Marketing and Product

Same is true with Marketing and Product. With new product marketing and product rollouts—CSMs should want to share new features and upgrades. And not just the free ones. If your Marketing and/or Product team(s) are responsible for increasing user engagement in new features, tools, and apps, you better get Customer Success involved. There will be many CSMs who will do it because they care, but if you want 100% adoption across your company now and forever, you’d best align your department’s goals.

Who knows more about your product than the people you hired to help your customers use it? Whether it’s best practices, FAQs, or small tips and tricks, your CS team knows about it. Also, customers like seeing the people they speak with in videos, reading their ideas in blog posts, and talking with them at conferences. Customers build strong relationships with their CS teams and enjoy seeing their success.

Customer Onboarding

Or take the onboarding experience. A trained Onboarding Manager should absolutely focus on the renewal first, but to make that renewal even surer, they need to show them the full ecosystem. First, how many times have we heard, “I wish you had ______ feature” when you already do, but it’s in a higher tier?

Second, Imagine if a CSM for Apple never tried to upsell a customer who only has an iPhone. That customer is more likely to leave than if they have the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. The magic of ecosystems like Apple is that each additional device enhances the experience of all the other devices.

The reason this is important is that the onboarding experience, training calls, content we create, and Knowledge Base should all be optimized for the growth of customers, not just keeping what we have.

No matter the area (content, renewal, training call, QBR), Customer Success Management is at its best when they influence renewals, expansion, and referrals. Otherwise, the company will miss out on terrific reference customers, marketing success stories for prospective customers, and expansion. The focal point for a CS Manager is not retention, but the customer. A proper CS team has the perspective of whatever the customer wants and needs, not just one aspect (renewals).

Conclusion

It’s true that every department should think about the customer’s success and how they can help the customer achieve that. CSMs play a major role in quarterbacking the needs of the customer. Without this explicit ownership, dysfunction easily sets in with all of us touching our noses and saying “not it.”

CSMs are there to be the voice for the customer and be their main connection for the company. Empower them, give them incentives, let them serve the customer and they will serve you and your company. Empower them and they will strengthen your bottom line.

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