This week, I'd like to review THE handbook for Customer Success, published by Gainsight in 2016.
With any experience in a subscription economy, you probably know that "you can't...sustain real growth if customers are leaking out...at a high rate." (p. 5-6). The book begins with how Salesforce created the template for the subscription economy and what it takes for your recurring revenue business to succeed. It's a simple formula:
new customer acquisition + high retention + positive upsell results
In other words, customers must remain your customers AND buy more stuff from you in order for your business to succeed.
This first chapter of the book also gets into the history of SaaS and why you need to manage or at least nurture the installed base of customers. It describes how Customer Success is all three of the following: an organization, a discipline, and a philosophy.
Chapter two gets into strategies, defining where Customer Success fits into a new high-level organization chart. It defines the activities of the new group and the metrics for defining success. I'm particularly interested in how training fits under the Customer Success leadership, rather than sales or support. Customer Success would have onboarding, professional services, classic customer success, customer support, and training team members reporting to the VP of Customer Success. Later in the book, there's even an argument for Sales Consulting to fall under Customer Success, because the Customer Success leader "has to live with the sales decisions" (p 196).
The rest of the chapter talks about what Customer Success is NOT, provides a thorough definition of what Customer Success IS, and explains it's cross-functional impact on the entire company.
Chapter three points out the differences between high touch, low touch, and tech touch Customer Success strategies, based on a company's customer value and number of customers. To put it simply, lower value customers (that may be more likely to scale to millions of customers) require more low- or tech-touch models for success like self-serve documentation and on demand training, while companies with higher value customers "can afford to throw some bodies at their customers..." (p. 50) and provide a higher touch strategy.
The second part of the book presents the 10 laws of Customer Success. These laws were commissioned based on Bessemer Venture Partner's success with their 2010 Ten Laws of Cloud Computing, also known as the 10 Laws of SaaS. The Customer Success laws were authored by ten different experts, and each law is graded for relevance to specific scenarios, including B2B SaaS, Subscription-based, Pay-as-You-Go, B2C, and traditional models. The chapter for each law provides the author's explanation of the law, as well as an executive summary and additional commentary on how the law applies to high touch, low touch, and tech touch models.
The laws are:
Part Three of the book goes into more detail on the role of the Chief Customer Officer (or other variants of the top Customer Success job) and where and how the role fits into the overall organization. It also talks about technology that can help manage the "plethora of customer information" (p. 199) and possible coming changes to this new and constantly evolving landscape.
The book is an excellent example of a company (Gainsight) providing education on the broader industry, rather than just their specific product. It talks about Gainsight as a tool very little, but the book can be an excellent guide as you restructure your organization and practices for incorporating a Customer Success philosophy.
This week I have two experiences to share that relate to Saas companies and the importance of customer education.
Recently I wanted to solve a problem of scheduling short meetings with new contacts. I decided that Calendly had a good solution for my needs, but I stuck with the free account, as I only needed one event type - the 15 min meeting.
I geek out over all things efficiency and productivity. One of the main ways that I can be successful as a content development consultant is by focusing on one project and client at a time, also known as time blocking. But I've found it increasingly challenging to communicate my schedule availability with a number of different clients and project timelines.
When I started looking for a solution to the problem of scheduling longer blocks of time, I found my way back to Calendly, but it wasn't an easy or intuitive use case that would solve my particular problem. I asked for and gratefully received another chance to evaluate the upgraded account with my new use requirements so I could figure out whether it would work for me or not.
However, I found it difficult to implement the solution I needed. As an author of self-serve customer education content, I naturally turned to their online help.
Their knowledge base did include a few scant articles aimed at freelancers and solopreneurs. However, the educational content didn't really offer any help or instructions, other than feature-based instructions on how to set up an event type or make it secret. I didn't need help using the tool itself. What I needed was a little more conceptual help, as well as guidelines on setting up my Google calendar to make it work with the Calendly events.
I contacted support again with more information about what I was trying to do, but I got back a rather vague question requesting more details. I read between the lines of the support ticket and decided the support team didn't quite have the answers I wanted. Besides, like many users these days, I wanted a self-serve solution on my time frame, not a hand-holding "let's-figure-it-out-together" solution.
I ended up persevering enough to get my availability and event types set up in such a way that I could time-block for different types of meetings and/or projects and still set aside time for all my administrative tasks. But it took me several tries over the 2-week trial period to get it right, which involved not only how I set up Calendly, but also how I set up my Google calendar and specific appointments. I finally put the finishing touches on my implementation by the end of the trial, without actually having testing it with clients. However, I decided to take the leap and give the upgraded subscription a try without having yet put it to the real test.
From a customer success perspective, they almost lost the sale of my upgraded account, and as it stands, I'm likely to become "churn" the moment another option comes along that might serve my needs better. I'm not likely to forget the hours I spent trying to figure out how long to make my event types or how to block particular things on my Google calendar to make it work. And here I am, telling you I had an experience that was less than stellar.
The point? Now with hindsight, I see that an easily accessible well-designed story-based lesson or two of around 5 minutes could have communicated what I needed to do and saved me lots of time - turning me into an excited advocate for the product instead of using it as a customer education cautionary tale. I should reiterate that there was nothing the support agent could have done (i.e., the reaction) differently to change my experience. This was all about the lack of self-service educational content (i.e., the proactive actions they hadn't yet taken).
I don't believe most users would perserve enough to work through the issues I had. Maybe I don't represent Calendly's main base of premium subscribers, but I can't be the only missed or nearly missed sale amongst however many non-conversions they probably have all the time.
In the scope of their product and customer base, a super small investment either in their team's time (being proactive instead of reactive) or by outsourcing a relatively small project to a person like me. No they aren't going to create Calendly university overnight to provide users and potential users tons of educational content. But I hope they have more educational content in their long-term plans.
To contrast, I have a second recent experience to share.
I use Review My eLearning to share my eLearning projects and collect comments from reviewers on those projects. The account that I have only allows a few courses to be hosted a one time.
Review My eLearning has a fairly intuitive interface, so I had never visited the online help or investigated all of the capabilities in depth. As a result, I didn't know there was a way to upload new versions of a course and retain comments through multiple reviews. Because this didn't come up super often for me, I hadn't taken the time to find out what the right way was. Instead, I was exporting comments, deleting the course to make room on the account for the new version, and uploading the new version. I knew it wasn't the most efficient way of handling it, but it wasn't painful enough for me to figure out the right way.
But Review My eLearning recently updated their software and the update included a new tour. The next time I went into my account after the update, they had a WalkMe style in-app tour that showed me the main features in just a few seconds. I learned about the feature I hadn't previously known was there (or maybe it was a new feature, I don't know): that I could in fact replace a course with a new version, retaining the previous comments. I had reason to use it right away, and the beautiful AHA moment happened. Problem solved. Time saved. Customer Happiness.
I don't know how much of an investment they had to make in that education - it wasn't more than a few sentences. But it showed up in front of the right eyes at the right time.
What do you think I'll do when my subscription comes up? I'm likely to remember how happy I was that they made something easier for me and continue subscribing to their product.
It's worth nothing that the issue I had with Review My eLearning was feature-based and the issue I had with Calendly was not. But as a user, I don't care about the difference. I just want to solve my problems as quickly and easily as possible.
Whether you have a B2C or B2B software business, you can no longer ignore the importance of the right customer educational content in helping your customers be successful with your product. Customer education affects the company's balance sheet, whether you know how to recognize the effect or not. I related in my last post some of the reasons you can justify the expense of customer education as related in the Skilljar/SuccessHacker webinar on How to Create a Successful Customer Training Strategy: reduced support costs, faster time to value for the customer, improved product adoption and overall better customer experience.
My experiences highlight the fact that these issues don't simply justify the cost of developing customer education; the right customer education is a fundamental imperative to the success of your business. You simply must find the right person (ideally a technical communicator or instructional designer or someone with experience at both) and allow them to prioritize creating content to help your customers succeed by solving their problems as quickly and easily as possible.