In working with entrepreneurs and consultants, and in my own business, I’ve seen that many of us are experiencing a fascinating shift in our thinking and our goals, from customer and client “support” to customer success – moving away from just helping a client or customer use our programs and services well, to ensuring that they succeed in a very big way from the total experience of working together and leveraging our materials.
Interested in understanding more about this shift in conceptualization of support, I was excited to catch up with Shreesha Ramdas, CEO and cofounder of Strikedeck, a Customer Success automation platform. Previously, Shreesha was the cofounder of LeadFormix (acquired by CallidusCloud), and on the early team at Yodlee. Shreesha’s company, Strikedeck, is a Customer Success automation platform that supports companies to power renewals, enable upsells, and fuel engagement by integrating data and automating workflows. The goal of their work is to make customer relationships rewarding and mutually beneficial.
Here’s what Shreesha shares about how to support true customer success.
Kathy Caprino: Shreesha, tell us about Customer Success – is there a Customer Success “aha” moment for entrepreneurs?
Shreesha Ramdas: Every entrepreneur/founder/CEO who regularly interacts with customers is likely to have an “aha” moment when the company transitions from product-fit (product is ready for deployment) to market-fit (product is ready to scale). For me, it started with my previous startup eight years ago, Leadformix, a marketing automation solution.
As it was a relatively new concept back then, I saw marketers struggling to not only use the platform but to even get started. This led to a realization that it is not enough to just support a customer, but to help them succeed by utilizing our platform. Support seemed so passive and lacking in action. The keyword here is success – Customer Success. Success is dynamic, it is proactive, more collaborative. We decided that it was better to have a Customer Success department rather than just Customer Support. The Customer Success department’s objective would be to get customers to succeed with our platform. I remember back then our customers looked at the business card of our Head of Customer Success and remarked that “the title sounds cool”.
Caprino: Why is this a new phenomenon? Doesn’t customer support do the same thing?
Ramdas: I will make a bold statement here: No customer support is required if customer success is done 100% right. Customer Success (CS) is a professional function that maximizes the value customers receive from a product or service, and by extension, aids business success by maximizing the customer lifetime value (LTV) to the business. Unlike Sales and Marketing, it is relatively new as an independent function, but the components that comprise this function have been around for a while.
The growth of Customer Success is a direct outgrowth of the subscription economy. Let’s look at software for example. In the old days, companies would sell relatively large-sized perpetual licenses. While maintenance revenues were involved, most of the money was made up front. SaaS turned that model on its head, because, among other things, it broke up revenue over multiple terms. All of a sudden, customer churn became a measure of success on pretty much every quarterly financial statement. Stopping churn required a proactive, all-hands-on-deck approach that is predicated on delivering outstanding value throughout the customer life cycle.
Customer Support is still important, but it is a reactive function that covers a specific part of the customer life cycle — dealing with issues that arise primarily from product usage. Make no mistake, this is a critical function, but delivering outstanding support is not the same as delivering outstanding value. This is because customer value is a function of product usage and adoption and the overall customer experience, and great support is only a part, albeit an important one, of the overall equation.
Customer Success involves every part of the organization. Each employee needs to be held accountable for Customer Success, and encouraged to add more value at every stage of the customer life cycle. Customer Success is not just a post-sales or post-go-live function, but rather a philosophy that brings a company together around its customers to ensure customer happiness, and help build lasting partnerships.
Customer success is equally relevant in both B2B and B2C situations. However, specific strategies and tactics manifest differently. B2B companies have to deal with a smaller set of customers, mostly in a professional context. B2C companies on the other hand have to deal with a much larger and more eclectic set of customers under a far more diverse set of circumstances. Let’s take customer communications for example. In a B2B context, communication is typically one-on-one over private channels, at a usually predictable frequency. On the other hand, in the B2C world, this happens in broadcast mode, both from the company to its customers and vice-versa, usually over social media, and at rarely predictable intervals.
Caprino: What are the characteristics of a good Customer Success professional? And from your view, what role do women play in the Customer Success space and how do you see that role evolving?
Ramdas: Customer Success professionals need to have a broad range of interpersonal skills and the versatility to adapt. However, there are three soft-skills that are an absolutely must-have.
Empathy is first on the list. Customer communication can sometimes be spotty and hard to interpret. There is often a gap between what the customer asks for and what they need. An empathetic customer success representative understands her customers’ needs and acts as the customer’s’ voice within the organization.
Strategic vision is also important. Not every issue is important. Besides, the 80/20 rule is definitely applicable here. Therefore, it is vital that the CS professional be able to strategize in real time and prioritize customer issues accurately.
Excellent communication skills are an essential tool in every CS professional’s repertoire. To be effective, customer communication has to be timely, appropriate and delivered through the right medium.
At Strikedeck, we have done an extensive survey of the state of the profession, and we see some interesting statistics on the role of women in the Customer success arena. Management positions in this profession skew distinctly male. Three out of four executives and 54% of management are male. This could be related to the fact that two out of three CS professionals, especially at the executive and management levels, have moved from traditionally male dominated functions such as Sales.
However, at the individual contributor level, the distribution reverses, and 54% of Customer service professionals are female. These are early days, and as this function matures, I expect this distribution to change and we are doing everything we can to enable it. For example, we organize regular Customer Success meetups where we promote women in customer success leadership roles. We have promoted posts by women on the Strikedeck blog. As part of our evangelization, we have been promoting the thought leaders in this domain, and I am proud to say that the first leader we promoted was Jeanne Bliss. As today’s junior staff grow into more senior roles, I expect that this function will see a more even gender distribution.
Caprino: What are the top strategies businesses can engage in to increase customer success ROI (return on investment)?
Ramdas: Here are the five top strategies I recommend:
Make the right investments in people and processes.
Hire the right team – people who are comfortable dealing with uncertainty and change.?? Shift and retrain redundant resources in sales or support who are looking to pivot to a new function. Explore Customer Success Automation solutions that allow you to optimally serve all your customers.
Base it on lean growth.
Establish an ROI with the least cost input. Initially focus on delivering the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to all of your customers. Query customers on what success with your product looks like to them and match your product offering. Reduce “Time to First Value” – the time period it takes for your customer to derive value from your product.
Record all micro-costs.
Set realistic cost estimates when talking to your executive team and set realistic expectations. Spend judiciously on areas that are likely to result in the most renewals and upsells. Record what each revenue increase needs in terms of new investment and personnel.
Reduce the need for Customer Support.
Streamline the troubleshooting process. Enable self-support for customers through in-app help and documentation. Create a knowledge base that customers can use.
Metric your pitch.
• Choose KPIs (key performance indicators) – a business metric used to evaluate factors that are crucial to the success of an organization) that accurately reflect performance.
• Determine best practices. Focus on areas that can help minimize customer churn.
• Actively utilize surveys, NPS (Net Promoter Score) – an index ranging from 1 to 10 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others) and QBRs (quarterly business reviews with your client to discuss their business and how you can support them) feedback to establish and track customer satisfaction.
In the end, every entrepreneur who thinks about Customer Success from the get-go when starting a business has taken the first important step towards building a sustainable business.
Read the original article on Forbes.