Customer Success for SaaS Companies
“If you build it, they will come.” Famous words, but as many startups and customer success managers know, they often don’t ring true for SaaS companies.
Expanding your customer base, attracting new business, and retaining existing customers is a constant battle, especially early on.
Your customer success strategy is majorly important to your overall success as a SaaS company in a highly competitive market.
Customer success can make the difference between a successful company and one that loses ground to competitors who provide more value to their customers.
Read on to learn about what customer success is and why it should be a priority for your SaaS organization.
What is customer success?
Customer success refers to strategies, methods, and tactics that lead to customers achieving lasting value using your product or service.
This is different from temporary, moment-to-moment satisfaction; instead, customers should feel like they are getting long-term value by using your SaaS solution - that is, your customer should realize value both immediately from activation and continuously over time as they use your services through improved customer retention opportunities that enable companies to grow faster with less capital.
This realized value can take many forms but revolves around ensuring that your product or service helps solve customer issues and is constantly moving customers closer to achieving their desired outcomes.
Barriers to customer success include things like poor onboarding and convoluted UX/UI. Anything that gets in the way of enabling the customer to achieve their desired goals is bad for customer success and bad for business.
Making tasks easier for customers and saving time over alternative options are all examples of customer success that are more likely to lead to long-term customer retention.
What makes customer success in SaaS unique?
Customer success in the SaaS industry works quite differently from many other industries. For many product or service providers, the transaction has concluded once payment has been made and the product/service is rendered.
For SaaS companies, customers typically subscribe on a monthly or annual basis. This recurring revenue stream is great, but in return for this, customers expect constant and consistent value for their money.
In self-service SaaS companies, there are very often little-to-no barriers preventing customers from canceling their subscription at any time and switching to a competitor if they feel they can get a better price, product, or service elsewhere.
On the other hand, B2B SaaS contracts often require large investments on behalf of the customer in terms of training teams of staff and integrating solutions into daily workflows. This has the opposite problem, as it makes convincing teams to change harder.
However, in both cases, it highlights the importance of customer retention - studies show it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. This is why it’s absolutely crucial for SaaS companies to nail their customer success strategies.
Customers need to feel like they are getting value for their money. It is your responsibility to push for customer success as much as possible to drive value for customers and keep them coming back.
How does customer success differ from customer service or customer experience?
Customer success is closely related to, but not the same, as customer service and customer experience. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but this is a mistake. Each refers to a distinct concept as outlined below:
Customer service - This is a transactional service provided to customers at any point before, during, or after a purchase is made. It is typically oriented around problem-solving and generally requires the customer to initiate first contact.
Great customer service is really any interaction between the customer and the company and can mean different things to different roles. Salespeople, account managers, and customer support reps all provide customer service in different ways.
A salesperson asks great questions, sends timely follow-ups, and is informative. An account manager is polite and prepared. Customer support reps are friendly and helpful, etc.
Customer experience - This refers to the holistic journey from when a customer first initiates contact with a company to their last contact, whether that be from completing a purchase or resolving an issue using customer service.
The customer experience is hugely important, as customers with a negative customer experience are far more likely to churn versus customers who may retain longer or even buy more from you due to a great customer experience.
Customer success - This is a long-term strategy that is not transactional but rather relationship-oriented and focused on the overall relationship between a customer and the company. It also takes a holistic view of the entire customer journey, but the key difference is in the success metric.
Customer support and customer service are aimed at delivering customer satisfaction, whereas customer success is about showing the customer how they can derive value through using your platform. It is about making sure customers are moving in the right direction and, importantly, feeling like they are doing so because of their relationship with you.
It’s hard to separate customer service, experience, and success, but it is important to distinguish between them. Customer success is a relatively new concept and one that many companies are just now beginning to recognize and tackle.
Customer experience and customer service are aimed at providing positive experiences for an individual customer during the purchase process and shortly afterward.
It is customer success that aims to deliver extended value to all customers, such that they retain your services on a long-term basis. Driving customer success and showing customers the value they get from using your service results in improved customer retention.
For SaaS companies, in particular, this metric is highly valuable. Research shows that even a modest 5% increase in customer retention results in increased profits of 25-95%.
The SaaS Customer Onboarding Experience
The onboarding experience is a crucial step for any customer success manager. It is imperative that the onboarding process goes smoothly.
First impressions count, and studies show that up to 30% of customers are willing to walk away from a brand, even one they love, after a single bad experience.
Combine this with the ease-of-access and availability of competitor SaaS solutions means that delivering customer success from the very beginning is crucial.
Owner.com had exactly this problem when they originally started onboarding new customers. New sign-ups would run into difficulties using their platform and customer service reps struggled to help them over the phone without being able to see what was on their screen. In addition to this, onboarding times were long, which led to frustrated customers and lower retention rates.
Traditionally, the onboarding process was thought of as simply a way to familiarize your customer with your product or service by walking them through the steps of how to use it. This process was very impersonal and generally focused more on the SaaS solution itself rather than on the customer.
More modern onboarding processes flip this on its head and instead focus on understanding a customer’s current situation, what their priorities are, what they wish to achieve with the SaaS solution, and demonstrates to them how their service helps to achieve the customer’s desired outcome.
In the case of Owner.com, they ended up integrating ServiceBell as part of their onboarding process. This gave customers the option to talk to reps live and see them within the browser, while also allowing reps to see what was on their customer’s screen and even take over if requested.
Reps went from having a hard time verbally coaching customers over the phone, to taking over their screen and walking them through exactly what they needed to know, live in their browser.
This eliminated friction points, cleared up any verbal confusion, drastically lowered onboarding times (by 66%), and improved customer retention rates.
SaaS Customer Onboarding Software
There are many different software solutions available to help with the customer onboarding process, such as InlineManual and WalkMe. These both offer a range of tools and services to help get customers up and running quickly.
These solutions work by providing a customized and personalized onboarding experience that nudges users in the right direction to help get them started.
Features such as contextual tooltips, modal popups, checklists, and walkthroughs can all be added and personalized for each user. Users may be segmented into groups to help with targeting and real-time analysis of customer behavior patterns can be used to tweak onboarding practices.
These features may be appropriate for B2C and other lower-value clients, but for high-value, B2B customers, the end-user is still being left to figure things out largely on their own.
80% of self-serve customers do not reach activation, so features like tooltips and walkthroughs are simply not appropriate for high-value customers.
This is where the value of a solution like ServiceBell comes in. If these other services are self-serve, ServiceBell can be thought of as the premium concierge service.
ServiceBell allows companies to be proactive about the onboarding experience. Whereas solutions like Intercom allow customers to get in touch with a support agent if they run into trouble, it still requires the customer to make contact first and is largely limited to text-based support.
The customer must type out their problem and customer support must try to understand it and provide a solution in a chatbox. This is not a concierge experience.
ServiceBell allows customer support agents to monitor and proactively engage with customers if it looks like they need help. When a customer needs help, customer support agents can use ServiceBell to proactively call them.
Should the customer accept and answer the call, they will be put in touch with a live service agent through a video call interface, which puts a face to a name and provides a more ‘human’ experience. The customer has the attention of a real-life person, who can also optionally monitor and even take over a customer’s session.
Rather than having to explain the problem and have a customer support agent walk them through the solution, the customer can instead talk to the agent and explain their problem as if the support agent were in the room with them.
The support agent in turn can visually see what the customer is describing and then can take over the customer’s session to directly provide whatever support needs to be done. This saves a lot of time and confusion for both parties and helps speed up the activation process, which is important for customer retention and lifetime value.
For B2B and other high-value customers, this is the best possible onboarding experience. These customers are looking for a solution to a specific problem and the quicker you can directly show them how your solution solves that problem for them, the more likely they will be to choose and stay with you.
SaaS Customer Onboarding Emails
Emails can be a great tool to help gently guide and nudge customers during the onboarding process, but they need to be considered carefully.
Emails should be data-driven based on behavioral patterns rather than simple, time-based auto-mailers in order to deliver meaning and actually provide value for a customer.
An impersonal email sent a week after onboarding simply recapping what they already know is not likely to help a customer or provide value in any way, but a follow-up email expanding on a particular feature a customer has only used once before could be extremely beneficial in delivering value.
Emails should be used sparingly and in response to customer actions. Segment your emails into a few different groups and filter customers according to their responses.
For example, a welcome email is very standard for most SaaS solutions. If a customer responds to this email, then they can be moved from a catch-all group to a filtered ‘interested’ group.
The interested group may then receive another email, which then further gets filtered by users that respond into an ‘engaged’ group.
It is suggested that each email in some way requires the customer to perform an action that can be automatically tracked on your SaaS solution.
For example, an email marketing platform may first send an email encouraging customers to create a custom email marketing campaign as part of the welcome email.
Customers can then be tracked and filtered into a different group if they follow through with this on the SaaS platform. In this way, you can pinpoint the users that derive value from your emails and avoid annoying the ones that don’t.
Understanding SaaS Customer Success Metrics
Customer success exists to create more profit for the company. Understanding whether your customer success strategies are working or not relies on good data tracking and paying attention to the right KPIs (key performance indicators). Getting data-tracking right is as much about understanding what not to track as it is about what you track.
Here are some factors to consider when determining your customer success profitability:
CS Profit = New ΔCLV from CS Efforts - Customer Retention Cost (CRC)
CRC = CS Team Salary, Office Costs, Software costs, Existing Customer marketing efforts, customer training programs, customer loyalty programs, etc.
Customer Life Time Value (CLTV) = Lifetime Value (Average Value of Transaction x Number of Transactions x Retention Time Period) - Cost of Sale
Maximizing CLV and Minimizing CRC = Maximum Profit for CS Team
Maximize CS Team Profit by Maximizing New $CLV Creation ^ to New $CRC Expenses
We’ll dive into more of the formulas in the sections to follow, but in general, CS profit is achievable by ensuring the following are as low as possible per dollar of CLV created:
- CS team salary
- Office costs
- Software costs
- Existing customer marketing effort cost per acquisition
- Customer training program costs
- Customer loyalty program costs
Good data tracking based on relevant metrics is the key to understanding whether your customer success strategies are working or not. You’d be surprised how much this puts you ahead of the crowd.
For example, 89% of businesses view customer service as a leading factor in customer retention rates, yet only 18% of companies report focusing on customer retention rates.
Clearly, companies recognize the need for quality metric tracking, but few seem to know how to implement them or what metrics to track. Below are some of the customer success metrics we recommend tracking.
As many customer success managers for SaaS companies will know, getting people to try your SaaS platform is only the first battle.
Even with free trial options, many companies struggle to convert these into paying customers. Measuring this properly requires setting goals: what do you count as a success? Customer churn is usually a good place to start.
Customer churn refers to the percentage of customers who stop using your service within a particular time period. Reducing churn is always the goal.
One key tip for tracking churn rate is to measure not only when a customer started using your service and for how long but to also track when they stopped using it.
Aggregate these churn rates by the time periods in which they stopped and see if you can spot any particular patterns.
If many users stopped using your service in a particular month, then investigate that month and cross-reference any changes made to the platform at the time. Were they unpopular? Was there a bug that otherwise went unnoticed?
Reducing churn rates can have a significant impact on customer lifetime value metrics. For every sale made or customer acquired, there is a cost behind that acquisition. To calculate your acquisition cost, plug in the following information:
Cost of Sale = Cost of Goods Sold + Acquisition Cost
Acquisition Cost = Marketing Cost + Sales Cost
The acquisition cost will be much higher for a new customer than an existing customer. Money must be spent on advertisements, marketing, sales staff, and other related services that should be factored into new sales. By reducing the customer churn rate, the acquisition cost is lowered, as customers can be reached through cross-selling and upselling without the need for expensive, external marketing and advertising campaigns to reach them in the first place.
Tips for Reducing Churn
Reducing churn rate is worthy of an article in and of itself, but here are some high-level tips you can put into practice with ServiceBell to help reduce customer churn.
- Smooth onboarding process - Smooth and reduce friction in onboarding processes with live agents that can view where the customer is navigating, take over their screen, and reduce some of the pain around asking customers to scroll down or click on the top left button over a phone or video call.
- Activate more customers faster - Get alerted when there's a website visitor on a pricing page or a demo request page. Proactively call those website visitors and generate leads who might not have otherwise have filled out a lead form.
- Improve customer experience - Provide easily accessible help when users are introduced to new features. Give users an opportunity to explore while observing their behavior then proactively engage at just the right moment to provide customer support.
- Increase customer satisfaction measured by NPS (Net Promoter Score) with constant customer interaction and feedback collection - Empower your product team to set up regular and impromptu interviews with customers to see how they’re doing.
Tracking customer engagement lets you know how much your customers are actually engaging with your product.
As you may imagine, this is quite important for measuring customer success! This is an area where many companies lack - the data reveals a large gap between company perception and reality.
Research shows that 80% of businesses believe they are offering a superior customer experience, while only 8% of customers believe they are receiving a superior customer experience.
If your customers are not engaged and you are not proactive about reaching out to them, how do you know how well your company’s perception matches with reality?
ServiceBell shows you a live feed of what your customer is doing and how they are engaged with your app at any moment. Tracking these app movements gives you insight into the best times to engage with customers.
These are often the times when users aren’t clicking, scrolling, or engaging with your app at all. Take it from tech titans like Google and LinkedIn, tracking dwell time (time visitors spent not doing anything on the site), is highly beneficial for understanding customer engagement.
Clicks and viral actions are comparatively rarer and are one-time events. They tell you if the customer clicked on something, but they don’t tell you how engaged they are with it.
Tracking dwell time in addition to clicks and other forms of engagement can help you build a bigger picture of what works and what doesn’t.
NPS or other scoring systems
NPS stands for Net Promoter Score and is considered a way of tracking customer loyalty. It essentially involves asking customers how likely they are to recommend a particular SaaS solution to friends and colleagues.
NPS = % of Promoters - % of Detractors
The average NPS for SaaS solutions in 2021 was 41%.
Adding one or two follow-up questions in addition to a 0-10 scale can help contextualize scores, though response rates can vary drastically depending on where you run the survey.
Email surveys generally have lower response rates than in-app surveys. Getting in contact with detractors to follow up on negative feedback also offers an opportunity to turn around dissatisfied customers.
Customer retention is the name of the game for SaaS companies. Retention refers to methods and strategies of keeping your customers engaged and loyal in the long term.
Customer retention rates show that it’s invariably more difficult to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing customer. The likelihood of finalizing a sale with a repeat customer is 60%-70% versus 5%-20% for a new customer.
This equation quantifies the impact of customer retention on customer lifetime value:
Customer Life Time Value (CLTV) = Lifetime Value (Average Value of Transaction x Number of Transactions x Retention Time Period) - Cost of Sale
ΔCLV from CS Efforts = ΔTransaction Value x ΔNumber of Repeat Sales, ΔRetention from CS
For SaaS companies, the retention time period multiplier is where the most value will be extracted. SaaS models often rely on a subscription model, which means that the value a customer offers is inextricably tied to how long they use your service.
It is therefore financially incentivized to invest in strategies to help improve customer retention rates, as these will in turn drive increased revenue and boost customer lifetime value.
This is backed up by findings from the Harvard Business Review, which suggests that onboarding a new customer is 5-25x more expensive than retaining a customer you already have.
Tips for Lasting Customer Retention
- Run loyalty programs or discounted rates for existing customers - Offer your customers an incentive to keep spending with you, whether that be through reduced rates or rewards for repeat purchases/staying loyal.
- Introduce gamification into your systems - Things like progress markers and milestones are great for showing customers what they have already achieved, but you should also display the rewards ahead of them to keep them engaged.
- Engage with your customers while they are using your app - Their first visit may be their only visit, so being passive could mean losing potential customers. ServiceBell lets you take a proactive approach, and unobtrusively nudge customers towards customer support when they need it by being able to track customer movements and let your sales or support people call the customer first.
- Personalize the customer experience - Give customers quick access to their favorite features. Use their name. Remember their preferences. Make the customer experience personal rather than impersonal to make the customer feel more connected.
Understanding Your Unique Customer’s Journey
Understanding how your customers actually use your app requires tracking each customer’s user journey - the route they take through your app from start to finish. This will be unique to each customer, though some routes will appear more frequently than others.
Laying out these routes in a diagram is known as a customer journey map, and having one prepared can help you better understand customer behavior and help improve your customer success strategies.
Effective customer maps must be data-driven, but they involve more than simply tracking an IP address as it moves through your app.
Customer journey maps need to account for things such as users changing devices, changing channels (i.e moving from your social media profile to your app), and more. They should track time spent on each page and consider how the user engages with the app at each stage.
Customer journeys should identify inflection points where major decisions are made. For example, GoDaddy understood that after a customer bought a domain and hosting, many would be under the belief that they would have a website ready to go.
Once they realized they then needed to build a website, that was the perfect time to reach out to the customer over the phone and ask if they needed support with building a website.
This worked incredibly well for GoDaddy because they were proactive about providing customer support and they identified exactly the right moment to do so.
ServiceBell allows you to provide this same level of proactive support at just the right moment programmatically, by setting triggers that monitor customer behavior and launch a support call as soon as a particular action is completed.
Customer journeys can generally be split into five stages::
Identify these stages in your SaaS solution and map them to customer touchpoints, such as calls to action and important engagement events like signing up.
Once you’ve done this, you can start to develop customer personas - abstract representations of typical consumer behaviors that can strongly hint as to how likely a particular customer is to advance to the next stage of the user journey, for example.
Deploying Customer Success Software
Onboarding software and ongoing customer success software are two different, though interconnected, things. Customer success is about delivering value at all stages of the customer’s journey, which does include the very beginning, so there is overlap.
However, once a customer is fully onboarded, they graduate from onboarding software to customer success software that supports them throughout their journey with your product.
Customer success software will always be necessary. Though things like guided tours and welcome screens may no longer be needed, having easy access to customer service that is unobtrusive and flows with the app still matters, however experienced the customer is.
Services such as ServiceBell serve an ongoing purpose as a bridge between the company and customer, ready to provide the most seamless help and support whenever needed.
In addition to this, things like product tweaks, A/B testing, and further customer experience optimization based on data-driven analysis should also be an ongoing process for all customers.
How Does Customer Success Work With Other Departments?
Due to the aforementioned need for constant testing and tweaking of everything from button placements to banner designs, a customer success manager’s duties involve working with several other departments to achieve their goals.
This will include working with developers to help tweak the in-app experience and make adjustments based on data-driven analysis.
Customer success managers will also work closely with marketing in order to create marketing material that is personalized and optimized to each customer, based on each customer’s profile.
This means also working with the analytics department to gather this data and guide what metrics need to be tracked to be able to make these data-driven decisions.
The Greatest Customer Success Strategy Centers the Customer
At all stages of the process, the best customer success strategies are those that are centered around the customer.
Customer success relies on understanding your customer, and to do so you need the right tools and strategies in place to track the right things and effectively make use of that data.
This is where customer success software can help bring all that data together and help to create effective solutions that drive customer engagement and customer success.
If you are interested in optimizing your SaaS solution for customer success, then get in touch with ServiceBell today. We’re here to help drive user engagement, increase customer retention, and onboard new users faster. In short: we’re here to help to drive customer success.