The What, Why, Who and How of Adopting a Customer Success Platform
Customer Success was born as a result of software moving to the cloud and subscription contracts mandating the ongoing demonstration and realization of value. That said, just because a business has a Customer Success function dedicated to ensuring that ongoing value doesn’t mean they need a Customer Success platform.
Want to know more? Here’s a comprehensive library of Customer Success resources that will help guide your thinking and strategic approach to adopting a success Customer Success platform.
Who needs a Customer Success Platform?
There isn’t a simple answer to this question. There are plenty of small SaaS businesses that are starting up with a Customer Success function already in place and the software to support them. And, there are well-established B2B businesses within the subscription economy that are operating fine without one. There’s no question that a Customer Success platform with strong work management functionality will make life easier for CSMs.
Consider the life of two CSMs–one with a Customer Success tool and one without one. Clearly, the daily routine for a CSM with a Customer Success platform that provides full visibility into his accounts and helps him do the right work at the right time is ideal. But, is every organization ready to make this investment? There is a certain degree of maturity that a business and their Customer Success team must have to justify adopting a Customer Success platform.
How do you know if your business is mature enough?
Most businesses that have (or are on the cusp of) chartering a Customer Success function begin with identifying what’s working to retain their customers and what’s not. This trial-and-error stage provides important learning that is then used to document offerings and playbooks for delivering Customer Success expertise. The results of this approach can be very fruitful in building out a high-value menu of expert services, as our customer Coveo did.
Businesses that are in an early Ad-hoc stage of Customer Success likely don’t have data consolidated and processes defined. Even if they are having some success in retaining customers, they don’t yet know what’s working and are unlikely able to operationalize any best practices. These immature businesses are probably not well-suited to invest in a Customer Success platform.
However, once a company matures into a Managed, Repeatable, Measurable or Optimized stage of maturity in chartering and delivering Customer Success, they are definitely candidates for investing in a Customer Success tool. In fact, once a team has consolidated data and has defined their best practices, they will benefit from a Customer Success platform. The account data – inclusive of contacts, contracts, lifecycles, health data and more – then becomes actionable in delivering value, and the best practices become automated so that customer experiences are consistently excellent. This capability facilitates the ongoing maturing of the Customer Success function.
Chartering a Customer Success function to optimally adopt a Customer Success platform
Once you’ve decided to invest in a Customer Success management platform, you still must hone your Customer Success charter to optimally adopt the platform and benefit from its functionality. In fact, as you refine your charter and mature your operations, you will increasingly benefit from the platform. While not all Customer Success teams look and function the same, they do all share the same goal: retaining and growing customers into loyal and vocal advocates. That said, even if the Customer Success team is well-defined, getting a customer to find continuous value and have consistently excellent experiences is the responsibility of the entire organization. In other words, Customer Success charters should take into account the roles and responsibilities of all within an organization who have contact with customers. While a Customer Success Manager may be in charge of the account, they must be able to communicate and lead cross-functionally, knowing that everyone who interacts with a customer has access to the same data and knows what has and is being done to retain the customer. From Support to Marketing to Finance, all business units should have transparency into the account and know the approach being taken to facilitate loyalty and growth.
Scaling customer success and platform adoption
Adopting a Customer Success platform goes hand-in-hand with scaling Customer Success. While it may seem attractive to start Customer Success off with a platform, it’s even more impactful to adopt a customer success platform so that you can replicate the work your true Rockstars do and standardize excellence across the organization. In other words, take the time to define your best practices and know your delivery approach as you scale, and then adopt a platform that helps you operationalize those practices.
Note: A Customer Success software that only measures usage data or aggregates health scores will not be as effective in helping you scale your team as one that enables and automates workflow management through actionable account data (such as contacts, contracts, lifecycles, health data and more).
A CRM Tool is not a Customer Success Management Tool
Many organizations that are chartering and scaling their Customer Success function try to jerry-rig their CRM to manage their existing customers. This is not ideal. While Salesforce is a great software for managing pipelines, it doesn’t support the agile workstreams of Customer Success management. Additionally, most CRMs come up short when integrating all the account data required to accurately understand the health of your customer.
Our customer Connect First replaced Salesforce with Bolstra for their Customer Success team to manage their entire workflow from pre-sales through the entire customer lifecycle. They have greater visibility into their work and the account data their team needs, and have replaced 100% of their CS team’s Salesforce licenses with Bolstra.
Access to ACTIONABLE Data is Key
What originally set Customer Success platforms apart from CRMs was their ability to integrate with and aggregate account data (such as usage and surveying) to accurately understand the health and churn risk of customers. While this data is important, it’s not the holy grail for knowing and delivering value to your customers. To be able to accurately predict the churn risk or growth potential of a customer, you’ll need access to both quantitative data (usage, NPS, etc.) and qualitative data (documentation of customer feedback, reviews, conversations, etc.). Note, too, that having all the data in the world and not being able to create actionable workflows from that data is futile. As you explore Customer Success platforms, take time to understand how various sources of data are integrated and accessed to support the work that Customer Success managers do to deliver real value to customers.
In conversations with executives who are trying to decide what their priorities should be in vetting a Customer Success platform, we hear some repeated themes. They all want a platform that helps them reduce churn and increase ARR, and have identified five Must-haves in a platform:
- Agile workflow management
- Cross-functional data access
- Historical perspective
- Time-tracking capability to use for capacity planning
- Ease of entry and administration
The Selection Process
Now that you’ve decided to invest in a Customer Success platform, you’ll want to outline the process to select the right one. It’s worth noting that not all Customer Success platforms are for all businesses. Some are designed specifically for large enterprises that are most interested in incorporating artificial intelligence to accurately identify how at-risk a customer is. These platforms focus on measuring the data around customers. Other platforms provide mechanisms for low-touch or tech-touch delivery of content to keep customers receiving value. Only a very few platforms are designed specifically to automate and standardize the delivery of value your CSMs (and other employees) do for customers.
As you determine the process you take in evaluating and selecting a platform, you may find value in reviewing the approach one B2B enterprise organization used. From garnering organizational support, to digging deep into your desired outcomes, to identifying and prioritizing specific functionality, the process should be comprehensive. It’s not a small investment in money and change management. Taking care to ensure that there’s buy-in across the organization and that you know what you want to accomplish with the platform are prerequisites in conducting a search.
Evaluating Your Options
There are several excellent Customer Success platforms on the market. You may start at a crowd-sourcing site, such as G2 to see the options and how they stack up on customer reviews of specific features and functionality before you decide who to contact. As you learn from various vendors about their Customer Success software, use a rubric or checklist to assess the fit of the technology and the company.