Driving growth in a BtoB SaaS company is a hard job.
With acquisition costs hitting the roof, customer retention has become the cornerstone of success.
To ensure maximum retention, personalized human interactions are key.
And maintaining qualitative relationships with hundreds of customers can be a challenge.
As such, the search for efficiency and productivity has become essential to Customer Success teams.
CS automation helps them in their quest.
1/ Customer Success automation - a definition
It started in manufacturing factories… and now automation is the hot stuff of the software industry.
In short, these are instructions to create a repeated process that replaces an IT professional's manual work. Automated tasks should be conducted with minimum administrator intervention.
The scope of IT automation ranges from single actions to discrete sequences and, ultimately, to an autonomous IT deployment that takes actions based on user behavior and other event triggers.
Automations are now broadly offered by SaaS solutions and can be categorized according to the vertical covered by the solution.
Several types of automation can be used to improve customer success:
These are sequences of pre-defined tasks or communications systematically suggested after a compelling event.
- Workflows (or campaigns)
Workflow automation is a sequence of autonomous actions which follows customers’ behavioral milestones. Once set up, workflows and campaigns do not necessitate human involvement. These are typically used for product onboarding and educational content push.
Here we talk about event-triggered alerts & assignments of actions that are designed to let the person in charge know that an action is advised on his side.
Increasingly used in the Customer Success process, these automation still have a long way to go before unleashing their full potential.
So what is the state of Customer Success Automation?
A day in the life of a CS
A Customer Success team’s work can be divided into two equally important parts: being efficient with customers and productive with the team.
Efficient with customers
Talking, writing, and chatting with the customers is a crucial component of a customer success day.
Some might even say that’s what CS are for.
The process is by nature different from support service operators - who also spend a lot of time interacting with customers - but come into play when the user is experiencing difficulty.
Customer Success should however be a proactive effort, deployed to drive the customer to his desired outcome with a solution and the completion of his objectives.
This is notably achieved through personalized, goal-driven relationships between a customer success and his attached customers, built throughout timely, regular, and personalized, interactions.
Productive with the team
You might have guessed it already, when it comes to the daily tasks of a CS, interactions with the customers are crucial and takes time and energy.
It is however just the tip of the iceberg.
Think of Customer Success Managers as music conductors with two music sheets to orchestrate at the same time to find harmony.
Harmony is reached when the Customer Success team achieves satisfactory results for both their customers and the company they work for.
Generally speaking, there is evidently a very strong correlation between the two.
Indeed your customer’s success and subsequent retention is the Holy Grail of the CS team.
But success of both actually occurs within established multifaceted strategies and processes requiring teamwork & alignment, task definition and appointment, and a lot of follow-ups.
And that’s the reason why half of a CS day is devoted to internal team collaboration.
Customer Success can be more proactive with automation
When it comes to reaching out to a customer, the first move is always made by the customer success team.
And reaching out at the right time with the right context and topic requires a lot of knowledge.
Putting aside the stage your customer is in at the time - which is also paramount - the basic knowledge the CS team needs and uses every day emanates from their customers’ behavior in their product.
All the actions of the CS teams are triggered by the knowledge of a defined set of events, actions, and milestones accomplished by the customers.
These reveal essential insights regarding the user and/or customers which in turn define their health, satisfaction, and adoption levels.
All 3 cardinal points of the customer success world.
Beyond wonder, this should make the CS crowd the most data-oriented team of a tech company.
Hence the ideal candidate for automation - providing they have the tool to do so.
From one-time actions to bespoke sequences, automation deployment is intrinsically built and triggered by data points and events.
Once programmed with fine and right triggers, CS automation is of considerable help - drastically improving the 2 main aspects of the CS’s life:
- Efficiency with customers
- Team's productivity
It is indeed no surprise that state-of-the-art automation, triggered by meaningful events, raises the level of personalization offered by the customer success actions.
For instance, It is much easier to have an email discussing upsells automatically sent to the customer when he has reached the limit of his contract than bringing the topic out of the blue at a QBR meeting.
Similarly, the automatic assignment of tasks to team members can trigger much more productivity and efficiency.
At the end of the day, automation can make a CS team ubiquitous, and improve the quality of the service it provides.
2/ Maximizing the impact of CS automation
That said, it is possible to maximize the positive impact of CS automation by looking at them in light of your customer’s lifecycle.
Every kick-ass CS team will give it to you straight: each action should be specific to each stage of the customer journey.
And, again, this has much to do with the 2 types of success a CS team much achieve: theirs and their customers.
As a CS team, you must divide your goals according to the stage your customer is in and shape up your actions - manual or automated - accordingly.
For instance, no need to push full feature adoption to a trial user straight away - think baby steps instead.
Success will appear much more attainable.
Free trial and freemium are trendy.
On top of increasing virality potential and awareness around a company, it is a great acquisition channel (when your company’s product and sector fit - but that’s another story..).
At that stage, actions should be dedicated to increasing your conversion rate.
Setting up automated product onboarding content for your new users is a good place to start.
In addition, it is crucial to use event-triggered automation to guiding your user to his Aha moment.
Here we’re thinking long-term, with a clear goal in mind - ensuring customer’s long-term value and subsequent retention.
This means creating the conditions for the optimum adoption of your product.
From event-triggered nurturing content to timely renewal and QBR alerts… all the many tricks of the Customer Sucess box are allowed.
For instance, it is highly beneficial to set up automation sequences which will track the new user of an account and his position (regular, visitor, admin) and action adapted product onboarding workflows.
BtoB solutions may get hundreds or thousands new users each month in a single customer account. It would be impossible - or not very wise - to waste CS team’s precious time on onboarding them personally.
Key takeaway: If the new detected user is considered an admin, or a new “champion”, automated onboarding workflows should trigger a discussion with the account’s customer success.
All previous actions aim at limiting the churn of customers. Unfortunately, it will happen.
Your goal at that stage should be dual: learning from the experience and trying to get your customer back.
Automated behavioral tracking and action will help you with that.
A good win-back tactic would be to set up a workflow that will identify the churn reason and offer a solution to the customer. For instance, if the reason is related to the price of the solution or product, the workflow will consist of offering a discount.
No doubt this will have a strong impact on your retention!
3/ Product-led teams own CS automation
SaaS recurring revenue model means that growth revolves entirely around your customer’s lasting satisfaction with your product - hopefully long after sign-up.
As such, every team should be concerned about the way the customers interact with the product at all times.
But while many SaaS monitor a certain amount of data - never enough! - it is often siloed and aggregated in a way that only serves its supposed assigned role within the organization.
Instead, and for all SaaS sake, a product-led team should be any team using product insights as the foundation of its actions.
This mindset is shown in the way you relate and assess your customers’ satisfaction with the product you provide, how you share this information across your company and how you use it to increase your revenues.
The following actions, which can take the shape of automation, are shared responsibilities between the teams involved at succeeding at each stage of the customer journey.
At conversion, for instance, several teams are strongly implicated in the successful outcome:
- Key trial or freemium event milestones are in turn defined by the Customer Success team in collaboration with the Product marketing team
- Product onboarding content is usually drafted by the Marketing team in collaboration with the Sales team.
- And upsell/conversion discussions initiated and concluded by the Sales team in collaboration with the Success team to ensure long-term success potential.
Only once the product is put at the center of all things, and CS automation ownership shared by all product-led teams within the company, will the CS team be able to reap the benefits of this amazing tool.
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