How to build a customer success team that will grow your business
Feel like you’re filling a leaky bucket? That’s frustrating. No sooner have you won a new customer than a couple more have headed out the door. Customer retention is critical to solid business growth. Once you’ve invested time and money winning new accounts, you want to keep them as long as possible. And you want to maximise their lifetime value.
It’s all down to the people who ensure your customers get the most value from your solutions – your customer success teams. I avoid the phrase ‘customer satisfaction here. Too mediocre. It smacks of ‘Our customers don’t hate us’. Success is a better word. This covers your and your customers’ success. The two are mutually dependent.
Functionally, my background is in sales and marketing. But I’ve previously been Chief Customer Officer and built customer success teams to get on top of our service offerings. It’s an area I’m constantly discussing with the clients I now coach. Let me share with you what I’ve learned along the way.
1. Have a decent measure of customer success
This is first because it can make the most significant difference. Find the right metric to track, measure and analyse. I always recommend NPS (Net Promoter Score). It’s simple, easy to implement and will tell you whether your customers like you enough to refer you.
When I think of clients growing fast, it often comes down to referrals. Take SmartSourcing. They’re growing 100% year on year. On average, one of their customers will refer them to three more they then do business with. This is how you get exponential growth.
Bring in NPS and obsess about it. Your score doesn’t need to be a certain level. It just needs to be materially better than your competitors. You want the slope in your direction. And your score needs to be high enough to get a reputation in your marketplace.
2. Stratify your measurement into client cohorts
As well as general NPS scores, you must break your customers into cohorts. Make sure you have individual NPS scores for your larger customers in particular.
A few days ago, I talked to a client who told me ten of their customers were worth 60% of their revenue. When I asked him what the NPS was for those ten, he shrugged and said, ‘Don’t know – they didn’t reply to the survey’. That’s not an excuse! If they don’t reply to the email, get on the phone and call them. Ask for the information in the call. And do this often so that you can keep a critical eye on your scores over time.
3. Get your customer success team to do pre- and post-survey communications
Pre- and post-survey comms will boost the effectiveness of NPS. Too few companies do this. I suggest you write to customers beforehand to tell them they’re about to receive a survey. In that communication, I’d clarify the feedback you had received before and what was fixed. We’d say, ‘Our goal is to be the best supplier you work with, irrespective of what you buy. We seek criticism’.
After the survey, you should do a wrap-up and detail the feedback received and what you are working on. Next quarter, the pre-survey would tell them you’d fixed it, so it should go on.
This is how you build engagement in NPS. Making customers feel that it’s worth their time and a meaningful exercise. In my experience, only about 5% of companies close this loop.
4. Separate customer success from sales and debt collection
Specialisation, specialisation, specialisation. Don’t expect your customer success team to sell. Make sure you have a completely different set of people to do this. Customer success and sales require very different skills—likewise, debt collection. Get your Finance team onto this.
You’re likely selling into a specific sector if you have a tight ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) or core customer. Let’s say you’re selling software to accountancy firms. So your customer success people need to know how to help accountancy firms. It might be saving them time, making more money or driving customer satisfaction in their businesses. Whatever it is, they need to understand the accountancy sector and speak their language.
5. Focus on maximising customer value
Stop and think. What is customer success? What are you trying to do here? Every member of the team needs laser focus on one aim. Make sure your customers get the value they anticipated when signing on the dotted line. If it’s a software product, are they using it? If it’s a service, are they getting it? Because if they’re not, they won’t renew.
One of our clients put a transactional NPS survey into their software. They found that many of the users in their larger customers didn’t like the product. They felt it had been imposed on them after their company had been acquired. ‘It doesn’t do X or Y’, they’d complain. And yet the product does these things. The users hadn’t been trained. So our client flagged it up with his customer, suggesting investment in training, and his customer success team focused on educating the users.
6. Get fanatical about onboarding new clients
Make sure your customer success team is fanatical about onboarding. The first three months of any new contract are critical. Define what success looks like when landing a new customer. There’s likely to be a design, onboarding and training phase. Too often, people say, ‘The customer didn’t want to pay for training,’ and they go live without it. And guess what? The customer has a shit onboarding experience. Stick to your guns.
The first three months will predict the renewal. What is it that you sold this customer? What was the value proposition on the table? They need to feel it was accurate beyond question and then give you an NPS score of 9 or 10 in the first three months. If it’s lower, then you can bet they’re continuing to pay you because they’re in contract. They’ve churned already after three months but haven’t told you yet.
Always do an NPS survey at the point when a new customer goes live. This will measure their setup and onboarding. Then another at three months – are they getting value? And another at six months, giving us the remaining six months to solve any teething problems before renewal.
7. Ensure contracts auto-renew
Regarding renewals, I suggest to our clients that they put contracts on auto-renew with a price increase. It’s so much easier. It saves your customer success team the burden of renewals—such a waste of their time.
The other advantage of autorenewals is they happen at different points of the year. So you avoid the avalanche of renewals and price increases in January. Why would you do this to your teams? Too many companies write to their customer base in December and face a flurry of churn in the new year. There is a better way!
8. Ensure meaningful contact with customers regularly
Decide with your customer success teams the number of touch points needed for each customer. Big clients might need more than once a week. Some only once a month. And I’m not talking about automated emails here. All touches need to be meaningful. It’s about saying, ‘OK, you’ve bought our product. Now it’s our goal to ensure you get maximum value from the money you’re spending with us.
This is very different from companies that see service as a cost. Mobile phone companies spring to mind. They want to minimise in, and outbound customer calls because they cost money. Yes – you may want to minimise the numbers of times customers call you. But only because you’ve ensured they know your product inside out.
9. Watch out for low usage and adoption
One of your customers isn’t using your product. Big, red, flashing light! Measure and monitor usage regularly. You’ve got a hypothesis around touch points for this customer. Maybe you need to increase the frequency? What else can you do to rectify this?
If you roll out new features, check they’re being adopted. If they’re not, it tells your customer success team that all is not well.
10. Ensure a maximum of 40 clients per agent
Don’t overload your customer success team. My feeling is an agent shouldn’t handle more than 40 customers. Too expensive? Then maybe your product shouldn’t have a service component. Could it be put on a self-serve basis? Perhaps you need to change your value proposition.
Be realistic here. Any more than 40 customers per agent will make it hard to touch customers as frequently as you need to.
11. Steer away from pricing per user
Finally, look carefully at how you’re pricing your products. Most tech companies come at this based on price per user. But this can drive the wrong behaviour. If you’re not careful, the customer will start being vague about the number of users in their business. Maybe they begin to share passwords along with other dodgy stuff.
Can you get out of this mindset? Going upmarket from an SME to a mid-market enterprise, you need to consider other pricing models. Maybe you could base the price on value rather than users? Perhaps a price placed on a suite of features? Then it’s more likely that every user will adopt your product in the business, which will maximise its impact.
When you look at SAAS businesses that are quoted or go through IPO, they can extract more value this way. It’s how they become larger and more profitable – they’re able to go upmarket with less friction.