According to a CEI survey, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a better experience. Yet only 1% of buyers feel that their vendors regularly meet their expectations.
This means there’s a lot of room for growth. If you can improve the customer experience, your organization can charge more for your service and move customers into higher priced plans more often.
In the past, improving the customer experience meant designing a worthwhile product and responding to support tickets quickly. The former is still true, but with a twist: A SaaS product can be made better over time, so that experience can be improved. Waiting for problems to appear is a reactive approach to pleasing customers, which is shortsighted, ineffective, and stressful.
Customer success can manage the customer experience by solving problems proactively. Instead of waiting for the customer to complain or fail to realize the product’s value, the customer success manager should adjust the SaaS (the software and the service) to put a solution in the customer’s hand immediately and prevent the problem from occurring for future customers.
Being proactive is simple, but not easy. How do you know what to fix or improve? How do you know where your experience is lacking before the customer complains? How do make sure your customer feels like the product adds value to their lives?
One way is to dig through your data. As someone who works closely with SaaS organizations every day, I understand the importance of good data. You can capture eye-opening insights from the right metrics to improve your product and your service.
But, data doesn’t take you all the way. If you want to deliver an exceptional experience for your customer, you have to actually engage with your customers and discover their goals.
It’s easy to get caught in the race to hit key metrics and fail to see the big picture.
Large public companies fall into this trap all the time. They seek to please their shareholders this quarter at the expense of the next. If they were willing to look ahead a few years, even if that means taking a loss this year, they could tackle bigger problems and create greater total revenue. (Amazon is the exception to this phenomenon. They are notorious for reinvesting everything.)
Customer success is a big picture role. Stop asking yourself “How do we get this customer to renew?” Instead, ask yourself “How do we get this customer to stick with us forever?”
This answer, of course, is to make your relationship so valuable that the customer can’t bear to part ways. You want them to grow dependent on your organization.
Natalie Chan, customer retention manager at Outbrain, says it well:
“Businesses that focus on customer engagement are focused on value creation, not revenue extraction. These are businesses that know how to engage their customers by providing them with real value whether it be through an exceptional end-to-end customer experience, great content, or strong customer support that is about delivering more than the traditional sell.”
For instance, B2B customers generally care little about your interface, your branded emails, or your slick marketing. They want a product that works and provides real, easy-to-measure value, usually in terms of ROI. In your quarterly business reviews, you want to be able to tell your customers that the product created more money for them than it cost. It’s easy to capture renewals when the customer is making money.
So actually, the process is quite simple: Figure out what your customer values and deliver it.
Image: Heisenberg Media / Flickr
If you think spontaneous phone calls or random email outreach are effective tools to build relationships with your customers and add value, you won’t have great results.
In most cases, check-in phone calls provide little value. Your customer will most likely give “yes” and “no” answers to your questions. “Yes, we’re happy with the product. No, we don’t have any feedback. Can we hang up now so I can get back to work?”
Furthermore, spontaneous calls don’t provide your customer with any value. They aren’t getting anything from you. They’re being asked to give, but that isn’t how this relationship is supposed to work. They only thing they’re supposed to give you is money.
Sure, giving you information will serve them in the long run, but keeping their business is your problem. Unless you’re providing value, why would they help you?
Any conversation that you have with your customers should happen in the framework of how you can add value to their business. Usually this is done through the quarterly business review. In these meetings, remind the customer how your product has provided value (remember to speak in terms of ROI, if possible) and set goals for the next quarter.
By setting goals with the customer, you’ll better understand their needs and learn exactly how to please them. This approach is far more effective than drawing assumptions from data. It’s explicit and clear. At the next quarterly review, you should be able to say something like this:
“At our last meeting, we said we wanted to improve your compliance check period. I’m happy to say that using the new automation script, we were able to verify compliance one day faster without sacrificing accuracy. It should save you about $230 per project, which is over $16,000 for the year.”
Phrasing like that is real value for your clients. In the client’s mind, you aren’t some vendor they buy software from. You’re an integral part of their business that makes money.
When the marketing team launches a campaign, they see new leads in a few days. When sales tries a new technique, their close rate will change right away. When production pushes a new feature, adoption is immediate.
But customer sentiment can’t be measured right away. Experience is hard to quantify.
Yes, we can make some assumptions from data. If their usage is up, they like the product. If they have created a dozen user accounts, they are adopting it well within their organizations.
But, data rarely gives you the why. If usage is down, why did they stop? Unless they triggered an error or came across a clear obstacle, it’s usually impossible to draw a conclusion. What’s more, the reasons they stopped using the product can be different depending on their individual situations. You have to actually speak to someone to get the whole picture.
This isn’t to say you should ignore data. On the contrary, data is tremendously important. But sentiment is often hard to gauge unless you actually talk to your customers. At scale, this is a notable challenge.
You can’t distribute a quarterly business review to 10,000 customers (but you can learn to prioritize). You have to target the ones that you can help using scaled techniques and accept that poor-fit customers are going to leave. (Just don’t forget to work with sales and marketing to focus on the well-fit customers who can be helped without direct attention.)
There are ways to gain feedback from large groups of customers, turning qualitative data into something you can explore in aggregate, but you absolutely need an emotional understanding of your customer, which can rarely be transmitted through a spreadsheet or dashboard.
Segment your customers as best you can and talk to a few from each group. Apply their thoughts, emotions, and concerns to the other customers in the same segment to create solutions for everyone.
Remember: Customer success is a service role. Our job is make our customers better by whatever metric they decide is important. If they want sales, that’s our goal, too. If they want to reduce costs, that’s what we want, too. The only way to find out what matters to them is by building relationships.