Apr 06, 2015 | Sales Executive Corner

Uncomfortably-Close Customer Success

Manny Medina's Avatar

Manny Medina

CEO

“Don't go on discussing what a good person should be. Just be one.” - Marcus Aurelius

Historically, Customer Support’s job was limited to fielding questions and putting out fires as needed. These teams cost money, so naturally managers optimized exclusively for cost. Self-help user groups, wikis, and ticketing systems such as Zendesk, Uservoice, and Groove emerged during this era.

However the emergence of SaaS and the subscription economy is progressively diminishing the tolerance for anemic and reactive customer support. Bad experience is no longer the sole trigger for attrition; customers are empowered by a growing market of options and the ease of opting in and out of services. If their experience of spinning up your product is oppressive, if they run into glitches, or if your service no longer solves their problem, they can now vote dissatisfaction with their feet. This can even be true if your product works perfectly but fails to absorb and solve associated problems.

To take it up even another notch, the potential of a good or a bad review to reach millions of customers with a single tweet makes customer success no longer a support function but one of marketing and sales! When was the last time you tried to enforce collections on a 12-month contract when a customer was fed up with your product and simply walked away? Try doing that and see her unleash her wrath on Twitter or Product Hunt.

Enter Customer Success teams. Beyond reactive support and retention behaviors, Customer Success teams have had to start looking for early indicators of churn and early opportunities to reactivate an account. Bluenose, Totango, and Gainsight, among others, were born from this need. It doesn’t stop there, however. Not nearly.

Intrusive service as a driver of excellence

Success in the subscription economy means further embedding yourself in the life of the customer and figuring what she is trying to get done with your product. You are not second-guessing customers; instead you are putting them through a path of continuous improvement – sometimes even if they don’t realize they need one.

In our case, if we don’t see 20%+ reply rates on emails sent to at least 250 prospects by week two of a user’s life with us, we descend on that user like a worried Jewish mother. And we get involved. We look for signs of potential bad user experiences or technical glitches. If none are obvious, we contact the customer to walk us through her copy, her user profile, her sales process, testing strategy, etc. We brainstorm with them and come up with a solution.

Sounds like too much? You bet it is. And we like it that way.

Just as the practice of intrusive college advising – proactively intervening at the first indication of academic difficulty – works to increase retention in some populations of college freshmen, Uncomfortably Close Customer Success leads to a greater proportion of successful customers, customers who achieved what they set out to do with us. And often more.

Success teams as sales drivers

Success should not stop with success. Beyond proactively driving the customer experience and manhandling customer’s ROI, Customer Success can graduate to a profit center by anticipating gaps and driving targeted upsells.

Thought leaders like Jason Lemkin encourages Success teams to be put on commission to grow sales faster . This is barely in the realm of optional; as Jason points out in his article, in a subscription business model, a sales bump of even 10% compounds to real money in a relatively short time.

Customer Success is becoming part of the ongoing sales cycle, tasked with not only preserving revenue, but now, in line with the call-to-arms “land and expand,” expanding it. How far have they come!