3 Tips to Stay Ahead in The Customer Economy

We are living in the subscription economy. Or as I like to call it, the Customer Economy!

The ability to provide a great customer experience while delivering desired outcomes is the very essence of Customer Success. It’s also the foundation of every business that is striving to stay ahead in the Customer Economy.

As Dana Niv, Strategic Customer Success Manager at WalkMe says, “Today’s B2B customers feel empowered. They demand a whole new level of customer focus, expecting companies to know them personally, recognize their challenges, and cater to their needs.”

In other words, your customers know they have the power. It’s no longer a secret.

If you’re still with me, allow me to share three tips that I believe are essential to staying ahead in the Customer Economy.

Customer Success is a Company Mindset, not just a Department

In a recent interview, Dan Steinman talked about the exciting and promising future of Customer Success. He talked about how important it is for the Product team and the Customer Success team to be on the same page.

“The only real scalable thing in your company is your product.” He said, “If you’re going to scale Customer Success, it has to start by doing things within your product. Nothing is as impactful than delivering on something in your product that makes a difference with regards to user adoption and clear ROI.”

When Product Success and Customer Success come together, world’s collide. In a great and scalable way!

Dan went on to talk about the relationship between sales and CS.

“If Customer Success is not a slide in your sales deck, you’re not doing it well enough.”

I’ll give you a minute to take that in…

Prospects these days aren’t only thinking about your product and what it can do for them. They are also thinking about what your company can provide as far as service and client experience. This can only be accomplished well if the CS team is on the same page with sales, product, marketing, and other departments.

The customer journey involves all departments to some extent. Make sure all of them know what they need to do to provide a legendary experience.

Full interview can be found here:

Track the Health and Success of your Customers

One of my favorite books on CS is The Startup’s Guide to Customer Success by Jennifer Chiang. You can’t find a more detailed book regarding what you need to do to become a successful startup.

In the book she quotes Jeff Cann, Senior Director of Client Experience at Sysomos. Here is what he had to say about tracking customer success metrics:

“There is an incredible amount to learn from customers outside of that 1:1 opportunity that you have a responsibility to know. Product usage behaviors, areas of your application customers may have challenges with, NPS, the frequency of support requests. All of this information is critical to understanding the health and success of your customers and you owe it to them to be diligent with how you not only learn from it but act on it.”

Understanding the health and success of your customers is vital. Some metrics are quantitative and others are qualitative. Both are important when determining how your customer is performing with your product or service.

ClientSuccess goes into detail about these metrics and how you can best use them. See what they have to say here: https://www.clientsuccess.com/blog/6-metrics-help-calculate-customers-health-successscore/

Be Ready and Willing to Adapt

As JFK said, “Ask not what your customer can do for you, ask what you and your product can do for your customer!”

I may have misquoted slightly but you get the idea.

Customers understand that the software and technology landscape is constantly changing and evolving. If they get the feeling that your company isn’t one step ahead of the game and not willing to adapt, they will shop around for a new vendor.

One of the first career lessons I learned is when I was still in college. I was working for the student housing office and they were rolling out a lot of new policies and initiatives. Many of these initiatives didn’t make a lot of sense to me. So I asked my direct manager why we were doing all of this extra work that, to me, just added a lot of unnecessary tasks for us.

He told me that any business that isn’t constantly innovating is not moving forward. He explained how vital it is, even for a student housing office for a university, to always be thinking of ways to innovate and adapt to inevitable changes. This lesson has stuck with me ever since.

Irit Eizips, CEO and CCO of CSM Practice, spoke with Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, about the importance of Customer Success in today’s business ecosystem. Listen to their conversation here.

What are your thoughts? In today’s customer-centric world, what are some ways businesses can stay ahead and really ensure their putting their customers first?

2020: A Year in Review for Customer Success

“Happy New Year” will take on a whole new meaning when we ring in 2021.

If this blog withstands the test of time and someone is reading this who hasn’t heard about 2020, go ask your grandparents to tell you the stories.

2020 has been a ride. And not one of those fun rides you go on at Disneyland or Six Flags. It’s been more like the rickety, rusty rides you see at a local carnival that are assembled by a hungover 20-something with weed in his back pocket.

So while it’s been one of the hardest years many of us have gone through, there have been many highlights and things that have made this year memorable in a good way.

For Customer Success, this year has been one for the books.

Here are a few ways 2020 has positively impacted the Customer Success Community. These are simply my observations. Feel free to add your own observations in the comments!

The Rise of Online Communities

According to Kantar Profiles, 1 in 5 people are turning to online communities for stress management in 2020.

With online communities becoming more common, thanks to lockdowns and quarantine, the CS community has been a leader in creating and participating in these communities. Gain Grow Retain, Product-led Growth Hub, and RevGenius are a few examples of spaces where CS professionals have made their mark, grown in their presence, and collaborated with hundreds of other online professionals.

Online communities for business professionals will continue to grow and Customer Success will continue to be at the forefront of the growth.

The Emphasis on Customer Experience

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The companies that make Customer Experience a priority, will win in the end.

More companies have discovered this in 2020. Many have doubled down on their efforts to take care of their customers and provide a legendary customer experience.

Cisco and GitLab are great examples of this.

Cisco has implemented a Customer Experience initiative that has helped their customers deliver extraordinary experiences to their own customers. Today, they have more than 27,000 people around the world working daily with customers and partners to build solutions that delight and inspire.

GitLab has created, what I believe to be, a model Customer Journey Map that should be duplicated and tailored to every other organization. They created a Customer Success vision and put that vision to work through a well-thought-out journey map. Their goal with this customer journey is to “deliver faster time-to-value and customer-specific business outcomes with a world class customer experience, leveraging the full capabilities of the GitLab application.”

Follow these links to learn more about how these two organizations took 2020 by the horns:

https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/customer-success/vision/

https://blogs.cisco.com/customerexperience/intro

Many frontline CSM’s and CS leaders learned that putting their customers first was the best solution for driving success forward. Not only for their customers but also for them and the company they work for.

This podcast episode is full of CS professionals sharing their wins and success stories from 2020.

The Strength of the CS Community

I got my first official CS job in 2018. I knew right away that I was on a great career path.

Around mid-2019, I started getting more involved in the community on LinkedIn. It was great connecting with other like-minded professionals and reading their CS-related content.

Well, we all know what happened around the beginning of 2020. With all the uncertainty and stress that it brought, the Customer Success community became stronger and bigger.

Online communities like Gain Grow Retain and Success Chain started popping up and gaining new members on daily basis. People who had gotten laid off and wanted to start a new career in Customer Success were welcomed with open arms. CS job boards via LinkedIn and Slack were created. CS professionals were connecting 1 on 1 via Zoom to collaborate, network, and learn from one another in record numbers. Many of these Zoom conversations were posted on LinkedIn if one or both of the participants were looking for a job.

The more CS professionals I connected with, the stronger my network became and the more inspiring my LinkedIn feed would become.

Being a part of all this confirmed to me that I am part of the best professional community there is.

To see more of the progress CS has made in 2020, download this free report from TSIA: https://www.tsia.com/resources/the-state-of-customer-success-2020

Providing a Legendary Customer Experience

This is a piggy-back off my previous blog post Customer Success vs Customer Experience. I recommend reading that before diving into this post.

Personally, I live life by very few rules. One of these rules, thanks to my favorite TV character, Barney Stinson, is to be “Legen … wait for it … DARY!”

Be Legendary.

To be legendary is to make a lasting impact on those you come in contact with. To be legendary is to not do anything half way but to fully commit to your dreams, goals, and ambitions.

Now to tie that into the point of this blog post: to provide a legendary customer experience is to treat every customer as if they are your first. You commit to them. You do everything you can to help them see long-term value in your product or service. You see them as the key to generating more customers and long-term growth for your organization.

So how do we get to this point will all of our customers?

Well, it all starts internally within our organization. One of the best interviews on Customer Experience is on The Relentless podcast.

Customer Experience Expert, Liliana Petrova, is interviewed and talks about the importance of “starting from the top” when creating your customer experience. “It starts with culture. This is the only thing that allows you to scale.” She says. Regarding CEO’s, if they can be engaged with their employees and make them feel valued and happy, then the employees will have a greater desire to make their customers happy.

“It starts with your connection with your team and building that trust. And they will become even better versions of you, who knows?!”

She also emphasizes the importance of having a vision for your customers. Otherwise known as a customer journey. A quality customer journey has touchpoints and each of those touchpoints needs to be constantly evaluated to ensure the customer is getting the best experience throughout their lifecycle.

Listen to the full episode here:

Check out Liliana’s website: https://thepetrovaexperience.com/

I grew up in McKinney, Texas — a suburb of Dallas. There was a Papa Murphy’s pizza store not too far from my house. Since my family is of Italian descent, we love pizza. Like a lot. We would go to Papa Murphy’s more times than I care to admit.

For those that are not aware of this particular pizza chain, it’s “Take and Bake”. Meaning, they put the pizza together with fresh ingredients, and then you take it home and bake it.

Every time we would go into this place, the incredible aroma of fresh pizza dough and toppings filled the air. The workers were lined up at the assembly line with smiles on their faces ready to put the pizzas together. The owner and manager were always warm and welcoming. The service was quick, the prices were reasonable, and the product was always exceptional.

Well, my senior year of high school, I got a job at this Papa Murphy’s store and learned very quickly why their customer experience was the way it was.

The owner and manager ran a tight ship and expected the employees to deliver exceptional service. And at the same time, treated us all with the same respect they expected us to deliver to every single one of our customers.

They also trained us well enough so we knew what duties we had to do all hours of the day in order to be prepared to deliver a legendary customer experience. Such tasks like keeping up with toppings and ensuring they are well stocked, baking and cutting pizza dough, cleaning the assembly line and floor, and ensuring the promotions and discounts were up to date and well advertised were some of the many duties they expected us to keep up with.

While I may have only been 17 at the time, I learned a very valuable lesson from David (the owner) and Karri (the manager). It’s the same lesson taught by Liliana Petrova.

Happy employees and a well-thought-out customer journey are exactly what every organization needs (whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a local pizza chain) to scale and succeed. Doing this will lead you to make a long-lasting impact on your customers. Or in other words, a legendary impact!

In other words…

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer [journey] a little bit better.”

jeff bezos

Voice of the Customer: A Strategy You Need

The customer may not always be ‘right’ but they are always the most important.

It’s easy to say that the customer is important to your organization. There are many companies that say that but, let’s be honest, we all know a few that could use a little help with that statement.

One of the most important ways a company can demonstrate their desire to put their customers first is to implement a customer-feedback program.

Otherwise known as Voice of the Customer (VoC).

Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a strategy that, if implemented, can be the ultimate customer feedback program for your company. It can generate real-time insight into your customer’s experiences.

“Companies use VoC to visualize the gap between customer expectations and their actual experience with the business.”

Hubspot

Implementing this can help any organization do the following:

  • Identify risk of churn early
  • Increase customer retention
  • Help identify ways to improve brand image
  • Know what product customizations need to be a priority
  • Improve the overall customer journey

The Aberdeen Group conducted a study entitled The Business Value of Building a Best-in-Class VoC Program. In this study they came to the conclusion that top performers using VoC best practices retain up to 87% of their client base and, as a result, enjoy nearly a 10-times greater year-over-year increase in annual company revenue.

See the full study here: http://meritdirectlistmanager.com/creative/aberdeen/10449-RR-VoC-business-value.pdf

A quality VoC program can take many different forms.

I might be a bit biased here but I currently work for a company that has this whole Customer Feedback thing figured out. Currently, we have three different methods our customers can reach us:

  1. A dedicated Customer Success Manager. Since we are a global company, we have 1 or 2 CSM’s for almost every region in order to give every customer a main point of contact.
  2. A 24/7 support line. This not only is great for our customers but also great for me. If I need some help answering a technical question, our support team is always on call and very quick to respond to employee and customer inquiries.
  3. A chat feature on our website. This is also a quick method our customers can use at anytime to get in contact with a company representative. Our product is virtual data rooms and we recently implemented this chat feature in each data room to make it easier for data room users to receive answers to their inquiries.

Every time a customer interacts with our support team via chat, we ask if they could rate their experience with the representative. Seen here.

We send the customer a similar inquiry for email conversations as well. This feedback is used to determine how well we are communicating with our customers and how they feel about the experience they are having with us. We also gather feedback data through exit interviews and NPS surveys that I, as their dedicated CSM, conduct.

To see how other companies are revolutionizing the way modern organizations are implementing VoC, check out this article: https://www.myfeelback.com/en/blog/top-brands-collect-customer-feedback

So whether you’re a start-up or seasoned organization looking to make some positive changes to your customers’ overall experience, I highly recommend implementing a quality VoC program.

As I like to say, Voice of the Customer isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a highly effective strategy.

Additional Resources

Start-ups: Creating Your Customer Journey

The Customer Journey. Like Americans and budgets, most business owners know they need one but few actually create one and implement it.

*Dave Ramsey has entered the chat*

The Customer Journey has evolved in recent years. Back in the day it mainly consisted of getting the customer interested in your product and selling it to them. Now, it involves all internal departments working together from the time your customer first hears about your product all the way through to when they are a happy and productive customer.

This can only be accomplished through consistent collaboration between sales, marketing, CS, support, product, and executives.

Salesforce recently explained in an article why every organization needs a Customer Journey Map and how to create one.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is redefining customer expectations every day, with the average consumer now using 10 channels to communicate with businesses. All these touchpoints create increasingly complex customer journeys, making it more difficult to always ensure a great customer experience. But customer experience is more important than ever and according to recent research from Salesforce:

80% of customers now consider their experience with a company to be as important as its products.

69% of consumers want to talk with a company in real-time.

60% of customers in the UK expect the customer experience to be connected.

Read the full article here: https://www.salesforce.com/uk/blog/2016/03/customer-journey-mapping-explained.html

Now that I have your head spinning, let me let you in on a little secret that’s really not a secret at all: The companies that implement this the soonest will be the companies that win in the end.

Hence the title.

So, Ms. or Mr. Start-up owner, if you’ve read up to this point, you’re probably wondering how to best map out a quality customer journey. Well, the truth is, there is no one-size fits all for a successful journey map. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Every start-up is different regardless of how similar your product or service is. Every client is different also.

The most successful journey maps ensure that the product can be tailored to meet the needs of each client. When needs are met, outcomes are achieved. When outcomes are achieved, customers becomes long-term and successful.

Like Jeff Bezos says, “We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards.”

When mapping out your first customer journey, here are 3 questions I recommend asking yourself. I call this The 60/24/3 Rule:

  1. If I could put 100 of my niche customers in one place for 60 seconds, what would I want to say to them to get them interested in my product or service?
  2. If every new client had 24 hours to use my product or service before they could get a full refund, what would I do within those 24 hours to get them to sign on for another 3 months?
  3. If every client that signed on for 3 months could get a full refund after their term was done, what would I do within those first 3 months to ensure they see long-term value in my product or service?

Answering these questions will give you a pretty clear vision of how you want to attract your niche customers, what their first experience as a new customer will be like, and what you will do to consistently show them value.

How potential customers hear about you is vital. But the first experience they have as a new client and the 90 days following are the two most critical parts of your customer journey. These two components are what will help mitigate buyers remorse and affirm to the customer that they made the right choice by signing with you. This will ultimately help reduce churn and pave the way for a more loyal and happy client base.

Remember, each journey map is different depending on the product or service, and the individual needs of your clients. If you are part of a SaaS or Digital Marketing start-up, and are looking to construct your customer journey, I would love to connect.

Gainsight created a great video about the importance of journey maps and how to create them.

Feel free to reach out and we can collaborate on how to give your customers a great experience during their time with you.

Cheers

Additional Resources

The Customer Success Manager: Why the Hype?

The Customer Success Manager is the single most important role a company can hire for.

Now, if I were Bill Gates or Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank, you might have taken that first sentence a little more seriously.

Let me see if I can convince you. Stay with me.

The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook is a must-read for anyone wanting to get a deep dive into the impact CS can have on an organization. One page 4, it describes perfectly why the CSM role is so vital especially for the SaaS industry.

“Because of the current business landscape, the customer’s requirements have evolved. Customers expect outcomes, not just a completed transaction. Businesses have realized they must deliver value in a way that fulfills their product’s promise and meets clients’ expectations. Enter Customer Success! The CS function is the bridge between customer expectations, the experience they receive, and ultimately their retention. As a result, Customer Success is now one of the most significant contributors to company growth. In 2016, McKinsey & Company published a report that was titled “Grow Fast or Die Slow: Focusing on Customer Success to Drive Growth.” They concluded that ultimately the focus on customer success not only accelerates revenue growth but also creates a more efficient and effective go-to-market organization.”

Check out the full study here: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/grow-fast-or-die-slow-focusing-on-customer-success-to-drive-growth#

Kellie Lucas says in her book, The Customer Success Pioneer “It is literally life or death for your business, if you are not fully and demonstrably committed to knowing and understanding your customer. Return on Investment (RoI) has been crowned as being king for your customer; this is absolutely a key objective. In a business economy where customers have the freedom of movement more than every before, the urgency for embracing Customer Success is a reality.”

She then goes on to quote Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, and a true pioneer for CS. He says, “Nothing is more important to Salesforce than customer success … And that’s why I believe being so committed to the customer is more important than it’s ever been … because it’s really this culture that’s driving us forward.”

Zendesk, a customer engagement software company based in Silicon Valley, weighed in on the importance of hiring CSM’s for your organization.

In a recent article, they shared this analogy, “Have you ever gone out to eat and were overwhelmed by the menu? And what you really want is someone to help you decide? That’s how I view [Customer] Success,” explains Delores Cooper, Customer Success Associate at Zendesk. “[We] look at the picture in its entirety; what will provide immediate gratification as well as long term stability. Success members accompany the customer on their journey and stick around for the entire lifecycle.”

Read the full article here: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/customer-success-manager/

There’s no other way to say it: Software companies are no longer living in the days where they could sell a product, make a profit, and not have to speak with the customer ever again unless for emergencies.

As SaaSX puts it, “SaaS companies have to keep customers happy to make a profit. Instead of selling a piece of software for a lump sum, you might sell a subscription to an app for a monthly fee. That means customers have to keep getting value out of your software in order to maintain their subscription. If your customers succeed with your product, they’ll keep using it, and your business will profit.”

Full article here: https://saasx.com/2020/04/08/the-importance-of-customer-success-in-saas-and-how-to-help-your-customers-succeed/

So there you have it. The need for a quality Customer Success team has never been more important especially for SaaS companies.

And if you’re a start-up, then jumping on this bandwagon can be the single more important decision you make. I’ll explain more in my next post.

Cheers!

Additional Resources

The Key to Start-up Success

Back in the good ol’ days when we could gather in large groups, I attended the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City.

Among the incredible line-up of speakers and presenters, the one that stood out to me the most was Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot. I honestly don’t remember much of what he said but I do remember one golden-nugget of wisdom he shared.

“These days, your product or service will seldom make you stand out from your competition. The companies that will truly win in the end will be the ones that make Customer Experience a priority.”

Brian Halligan, CEO, Hubspot

This simple piece of advice is what gives me, personally, a vision for the future of Customer Success. CS is what will catapult companies towards massive growth and customer satisfaction.

If I could give advice to anyone starting a business, it would be this:

Figure out who your target customer is and invest in them first.

Your customer may not always be “right” but they are always the most important!