In our five-part Customer Success blog series, we have covered:
- Blog Post #1: Foundational views on customer success
- Blog Post #2: Getting the process right
- Blog Post #3: In this blog post, we’ll focus on “getting the platform right.”
Once the core value-added processes in Customer Success are defined and documented, the next step is to identify, select, or build a platform (toolset) to support employees doing their work. Invariably, this entails either a standalone system(s) designed to support conversations, customer relationship tracking and documentation, onboarding, or others, or linking to and leveraging established customer relationship management (CRM) platforms like Salesforce, Oracle, or Microsoft.
The Customer Success platform and application market is broadening and diversified. There’s a wide variety of function-specific applications for different parts of the Customer Success world. Your challenge is to determine how focused (best-in-class, standalone) or integrated (end-to-end support, workflow, analytics) you want to be as you move to a platform decision.
Here are some key ideas to consider when selecting, designing, and/or implementing the tools to support your business.
Map the tools/platform to the core, value-added steps in your Customer Success process.
For example, if your process is based on transitioning customers from Sales to Customer Success and then having Customer Success drive adoption, expansion, and renewal efforts, you want the key tools or capabilities of the platform to map to those main efforts.
Keep it simple and easy to use.
Sophisticated systems that are not widely and consistently adopted are the same as having no system at all. Keep the platform as simple as you can, within reason, to encourage ease of use and consistency of application.
Identify the most granular or specific data for major steps in your process you want to capture regularly to use in managing the business.
For example, if part of your Customer Success process is to help answer questions 30/60/90 days after software is purchased and installed, how are you going to track the frequency and severity of those questions? A great database of questions should lead to improved product design, reduced support calls, and more satisfied customers. Where in the process are those captured? Another example might be training—either online or remote via webinars. Do you track the completion rates by users or satisfaction of the training by attendees? Can you track these course evaluations? The point here is that you don’t want to be kicking yourself six months later wondering how you’ll ever establish or get credit for value-added work that you can’t track. And, if your analytics are meant to measure how well the process is working, you’ll want those indicators as well.
Ensure the data you collect is stored in ways that allow for a variety of analytics and reporting.
I recall, once, a customer asking me, “Can you do a multi-year comparison of how we’re doing now versus when we started three years ago?” The platform at the time didn’t store historical data beyond the current year. It was hard to get at the data from the prior two years. That same customer also wanted data sliced and diced by location to compare one business unit with another; again, the data wasn’t stored in a way to reformat according to that line of questioning. Think ahead and anticipate customer needs (and your own).
Will the platform scale as you and your customers grow? Is there headroom in data storage? What about global or pan-national customers—can you support them with multiple locations (in the U.S. and/or abroad)? Is access scalable to groups or sub-groups of client organizations?
Think self-service for simple tasks and expect the insights from data to be driven by Customer Success.
There’s no reason to hold on to information your own client has generated just for control—let ‘em have access to it. Transparency will raise trust, minimize misunderstanding, and the balancing act of creating data access (via cloud and mobile tools) and allowing clients to run their own reports with the opportunity to add value through more thorough analysis will keep Customer Success (CS) “on their toes,” forcing CS to look for value as much or more than the rest. Self-service can also apply to customer satisfaction surveys like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and others, so your team can focus on higher value-added activities while ensuring appropriate touches in the lifecycle of your process.
Think integration early.
If you choose function-specific tools, ensure that early on in your architecture design, you’re thinking ahead to integrate data from varied sources. The goal is one source of truth (gold standard) that reflects customer and company activities, and you want that information integrated so you and your team can focus more on what the information means, not how to make sense of in the first place.
- Keep it simple. A consistently-used platform will deliver more value than one that’s complicated but not used frequently or correctly.
- The platform must map to your core value-added processes to be useful and effective. And making it granular and flexible to meet changing needs will allow it to scale readily.
- Consider secure yet transparent systems that combine self-service with company-led activities—allow your clients access to the same core data you have to encourage self-service, stickiness, and collaboration.
What it looks like when it’s not working
- Doesn’t meet CS needs – Hard-to-track activities and platform doesn’t meet CS needs. For example, CRM might be great for Sales but not for Customer Success.
- Inflexible – Platform inhibits the ability of the CS team to flex as customer needs or core process steps change.
- Friction – The platform overwhelms the process.
- Time-wasting tasks – Illogical activities (data entry, etc.) that don’t seem to fit the customer or business.
- Limited – Access is tightly controlled and limited.
What it looks like when it’s working
- You don’t see it; it just works – The platform more seamlessly integrates with the workflow and feels natural as part of the job.
- Engagement – Clients use the platform (self-service/analytics/others) while you’re not “looking” and hence the engagement with your value-add is cemented behind the scenes.
- Minimal Support – IT support is minimal and focused on innovation, not correction, fixes, or rework.
- Customer Success reps want to be in the platform – It helps them gain insight, save time, and do their job; including prescriptive “what to do next” workflow tips.
- In the cloud, open yet secure – Data is transparent and accessible with proper levels of security for you and your clients
- Status of value-added work – Value-added work can be tracked, monitored, and ideally corrected to minimize errors.
About the Author: Morris Wallack is currently an active mentor, teacher and advisor with over 36 years in high technology executive roles. Skilled in business planning, marketing, sales and services operations he held executive roles at Hewlett Packard and 3D Systems, with experience with new business startups, global management, service (XaaS) management, remote team management, customer success management and sales operations. He currently serves as a mentor with SCORE, CED VMS (Venture Mentoring Service) and NC State (BUS501/Poole School of Mgmt). Morris holds a BSEE from Cornell University and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.