Big Things Start Small: Lessons for Customer Success

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Photo by: Angie Muldowney

Customer Success (CS) is one of those business functions that executives at B2B brands generally understand they need to invest in but often don’t know how to define. That’s because, unlike sales or engineering, the value of CS often isn’t immediately obvious. As a result, you’re typically on your own as a company’s first CS hire. It’ll be up to you to determine priorities, build out a program and determine ROI. If that sounds like you, then the best advice I can give is to start small. I can’t tell you how many CS programs I’ve seen fail because they were just too ambitious.

What ends up happening is that these far-reaching programs intersect with too many stakeholders and require too many resources in order to succeed. That’s a recipe for failure, particularly if the resources required for success need to come from other departments. Different stakeholders invariably have their own views and priorities. At best, you won’t get the resources needed to make your project a success. At worst, your project will end up being pulled in so many different directions that it will be impossible to define clear objectives. Instead, better to focus on a limited project where only one or two stakeholders is involved.

Think about your work with customers. If you’re like most B2B brands, your initial deployment will often take the form of a PoC, a limited “trial” designed to prove value before a larger deployment is authorized. Your first CS project follows the same pattern. It needs to demonstrate value on a limited scale before it can grow. If the initial project proves valuable, its success will feed on itself and if there are issues you can quickly understand what’s not working and make adjustments accordingly. Additional stakeholders reach out organically to get a “piece of the action” and offer you the resources with which to invest in further projects.

This isn’t just theory, it’s the playbook we followed to expand the CS program here at Liferay, beginning with Liferay Customer Connect (LCC). As its name implies, LCC is a program by which Liferay customers with similar use cases are introduced to one another to share insights and best practices — I’ll show my age by calling it “Liferay’s eHarmony.” LCC emerged from a need we saw at Liferay regarding how best to serve our customers. Specifically, we found that customers sometimes had specific questions that were not major enough to justify a consulting engagement. These questions were often essentially requests for a “sanity check” from others who solved for a similar business need and our consultants, though Liferay experts, did not always have the relevant experience.

Before setting up LCC each CS manager was responsible for 20 or so customers and largely operated on their own. There was no efficient way to share customer insights between managers. Through LCC, each of our customers now fills out a basic profile regarding their industry and use case. When a customer has a query, they submit a request and we scan our database for an appropriate contact to answer their question.

It didn’t take long for us to understand how powerful the LCC program was. A single conversation with a peer could completely reshape a customer’s view of a particular feature or challenge. However, in order to ensure its success we knew that LCC had to be limited in scope, at least initially. We therefore decided to roll out LCC only to our North American customers to start. As a result, LCC didn’t require resources from any other department to execute – the program was set up to be owned entirely by our sales department and managed by Liferay’s North America CS team – and customer queries could be resolved during business hours in North America.

Within a short amount of time LCC allowed us to demonstrate four areas of value. First, the program lowered the overall number of support tickets. As customers were able to share tips and best practices directly, the amount of requests directed to our internal support team began to decline, saving time and reducing costs. Second, data gathered through LCC gave us a deeper understanding of customer use cases, allowing us to shape our product roadmap to better suit their needs. Third, LCC ultimately resulted in higher adoption. With initial challenges addressed, customers felt comfortable expanding their Liferay deployments to additional use cases. Finally, and most importantly, LCC has helped increase the level of satisfaction of Liferay customers. At the risk of stating the obvious, customers whose challenges are resolved are happy customers. LCC allowed us to get there.

While LCC initially only consisted of phone calls we’ve since expanded the program to include in-person meetings at our annual customer Symposium. We now also offer rewards to the customers most active in LCC. Going forward, we plan on expanding the program beyond North America and eventually move it to an automated system. In short, while we’re often told to “think big” there’s a risk to do doing so, especially if your organization is new to CS. Instead, I recommend working with internal stakeholders as you might with a customer. Begin with a limited deployment that requires little to no action from other parties while allowing you to demonstrate ROI. Once you’ve done so I think you’ll find that your CS program, and your customer satisfaction, grows exponentially.

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