Let’s start with why digital Customer Success matters. This will give us context when discussing digital CS tools.
Customer Success has undergone two evolutions, and is currently in the midst of a third. If you don’t believe we are in the midst of a Digital CS revolution, allow me to share a recent experience. I was recently at a large Customer Success and Customer Service conference put on by Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). Not all of the 100+ talks were on customer success, but of the ones that were, over 50% (!) focused on digital customer success in some way or another!
Here is a brief history of these evolutions:
- Support + Early adoption
- Customer Value Focus
- Scale + Digital
Support + Early Adoption
Technology companies originally focused on implementation and support. To buy a software generally required a large upfront cost, so customers were a bit ‘trapped’ into that software. There were two primary functions of what we would now call customer success – Implementation and Support. Customers had to get started with software, and support focused on technical know-how. The goal was to enable a customer to get value through feature usage and adoption.
This type of customer success was/is dependent on the customer to drive value, and the Customer Success/Support rep to enable the customer by talking about and teaching features
Customer Value Focus
In the early to mid 2000s companies (such as Salesforce, an early pioneer) began to launch customer success departments. As SaaS became more prevalent, switching costs for software dwindled. SaaS companies realized to retain customers, they had to focus on customer value rather than features. This led to the second phase of customer success. Key markers of this evolution were:
- 1:1 Relational CSM:Client assignment
- KPIs based on retention/expansion of accounts
- KPIs based on user adoption
- Consulting motion. The CSM focuses on customers achieving business goals with the software, rather than simply using the vendor software
This model has worked well for almost 2 decades. As SaaS, customer success, and customer requirements and expectations have changed – so has customer success strategy. This leads to the 3rd evolution of customer success
Scale + Digital
There will always be a place for high touch, 1:1 engagements. As SaaS business moves more and more into the small to medium business environment, it is harder and harder to justify or enable a customer success manager with 100+ clients. At some point the value of that CSM gets marginalized because they are not able to provide value to such a large book. This leads to the CSM tiering their book, and marginalizing their low spend customer (who often have the most potential to grow!)
Customer expectations have also changed. When a customer invests several hundred thousand dollars (or sometimes millions!), they usually have a dedicated administrator or champion for these tools. That person has time and desire to work with a dedicated CSM for several hours per month.
When a customer has invested only a few thousand dollars into a software solution, that person is less inclined to dedicate large swatches of time to an outside resource pushing the adoption of that tool. Layer on top that the person responsible for driving that solution likely has 3-4 other jobs – that person doesn’t have time or inclination to meet with CSMs to chat through strategy. In the tik tok and twitter world, this person (and many others) want bite size pieces of information they can employ when THEY are ready. This leads to a need for digital customer success
To stay ahead of the digital wave – there are several tools you need to engage customers digitally. I’ll break these down by category and then go more in depth on some of my favorites in a few of the categories.
Category Explanation: The goal of customer engagement is to keep your customers engaged with your CSM teams. This is best done through a mix of drip campaigns (timed campaigns with follow ups) and data driven cohorts (triggered emails based on customer behavior)
My Winner: Outreach.io
Why: I currently work at Outreach, so take this with a grain of salt. However, the majority of the reason I work at Outreach is due to my experience with Outreach before I joined the team. I was looking for a platform to engage customers in a scaled manner. We had about $110M of ARR spread across thousands of customers spending less than $40K per year. We needed to consistently engage these customers, and also track all activity our CS was doing with these customers so the rest of the business could engage as needed. We used outreach and had stupendous results!
Category Explanation: In digital customer success you often have back and forth interactions with customers over email. The customer doesn’t want to schedule a 30 minute call in 2 weeks – but also wants help now! Often describing something through email has 2 drawbacks, 1 – It is impersonal, and 2 – it creates several back and forths which frustrate the customer and hurt brand perception.
My Winner: CloudApp
Why: It’s a very simple platform (hopefully they don’t get mad at me for saying that!). I can easily record my screen, myself, and annotate myself while describing an issue. Other things I enjoy are simple sharing, and a very easy to navigate repository of my videos. It’s useful with for customers, and also internally
Category Explanation: At some point you will need both pre-recorded and live webinars to share with your customers. Hopefully you determine which webinars to produce based on incoming demand or customer feedback. In this category you want something that allows a customer to interact live, connects to your CRM, and has a clean interface which doesn’t require external downloads for your customer to attend
My Winner: Hopin
Why: In my experience Hopin has been the cadillac of webinar platforms. The interface is extremely smooth, and you don’t have to download another platform. I particularly enjoy that feedback and questions are easily tracked real time. It also has the essential feature of linking to your CRM so you can track who attended your webinars and create triggered follow ups.
Voice of the Customer
Category Explanation: In the digital world, we send a LOT of information out to customers. We engage in webinars, 1:many campaigns, live webinars, on demand webinars, community, and many other methods. It’s madness to put all this information and interaction out to customers without getting any kind of feedback to improve your digital offerings.
My Winner: Qualtrics
Why: Qualtrics does a great job with insights. You get back end data that not only shows descriptive statistics, but also inferential statistics and drivers of key outcomes. You’ll be able to easily go one click deeper, without needing a strong statistics background. Most platforms you sue in digital CS will have a survey option. I recommend using Qualtrics for EVERY type of interaction instead of breaking your feedback up by tool. If you break your feedback up by tool you may save a dollar or two on software, but you’ll pay for it in time and lack of cohesive insights on the back end.
Health Scoring + Insights
Category Explanation: At some point you need a way to determine which of you customers are likley to churn. This allows you to send them different campaigns than those who are unlikely to churn. Even better, you want to be able to determine which customers are likely to churn for which reason. Knowing this allows you to send campaigns that are specific to the customer need. You’ll be able to drive engagement by directly addressing customer issues. It also allows you to forecast a segment that has thousands of small customers
Why: You can go one of two ways here. You can us an insights platform and then have an analyst provide those insights. In that situation I like Domo. The platform does have a steeper learning curve than some others in the space, but once you learn the platform it is WILDLY customizable. You can create individualized dashboards for each CSM that make owning a book of business simple.
If you don’t have a high quality analyst and are looking for something a little more straight out of the box, I reccomend gainsight as a CS platform
Bonus Round: Automated Content Creation and Coordination
I’m including this a bonus round because I haven’t actually used this software yet – but boy am I excited to use it!
Category Explanation: We create a LOT of content for customers. We also spend a lot of time creating that content. Rather than have each CSM spend time individually making Business Review decks, you can set your decks up to pull from your data lake and create individualized decks for your customers
My Winner: Matik
Why: Matik integrates with several standard databases such as snowflake. They also likely integrate with your CRM. What really sets Matik apart is the level of IF statement logic you can use within the platform. For example, you can create specific decks and presnetations for customers if their usage is falling off, which are different from those created for customer who have strong usage. I wouldn’t recommend sending these decks directly to high touch customers without a CSM reviewing – but they are perfect for low touch customers!
Bonus Round 2.0: Categories of other tools you should think about including in your stack
- Community Platform (InSided, Vanilla)
- Learning Management System (Skilljar)
- Automation Tools (Workato, Tray.io etc.)
- Engagement (Sendoso)
- Content Organization/Hosting (Seismic)