Historically Software-as-a-Service (SasS) companies were led by the sales function. As the business model evolved, product teams took the lead. But today, successful SaaS companies are truly built out to be customer-led. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this change in cultural philosophy, and ultimately both the customer and the organization reap the benefits.
At Pipedrive, a CRM platform made for salespeople, we have watched the evolution of Customer Success (CS) from a standalone function dedicated to targeting at-risk accounts into one that aligns with the entire organization to deliver a positive customer journey. Done well, a CS team can impact the bottom and top line, improve ROI on technology and human resources, and develop and engender a deeper sense of customer loyalty.
The Importance of Aligning CS with Other Departments and Functions
An organization that is truly built around the customer journey will recognize that every function has a role in delivering customer success and will strive to break down the silos that prevent it. The COVID-19 pandemic has physically separated organizations even more than normal, making it crucial that everyone in CS understand the operations and motivations of other departments within the organization. By aligning their goals and processes with corporate goals, you can dramatically improve how your team delivers CS. Our team regularly invites other functions to participate in our all-hands meetings to help further this mutual understanding and collaboration across the entire organization.
The four most natural functions to align with CS are marketing, sales, customer support, and product teams. The first two, marketing and sales, will have the most contact with a client (prospect) pre-sale. It is critical for Customer Success to understand how they are setting expectations to avoid disappointment later.
Customer support becomes the primary contact after the sale, and their regular customer interaction is an important source of data regarding common questions and challenges customers face. There needs to be a well-defined line of communication to convey these challenges to CS. In a well-aligned, customer-centric organization, CS can serve as the gatekeeper for all feedback and provide analysis and insights to inform the future roadmap for product development.
And it’s not just functional alignment. You need to align teams from different geographic locations as well. We have seen how different corporate culture can be from office to office in the same city, so aligning a company on a global scale requires significant and intentional effort. This is where the pandemic hurts. Email and text are not the best ways to make these personal connections. If at all possible, do it face to face. If not, pick up the phone and have a conversation, rather than volleying short, impersonal text strings back and forth. When we understand each other’s motivation and workflow, we can better align our Customer Success efforts to work for everyone, everywhere.
Throughout your customer’s journey, they will interact with several touchpoints within your organization. Billing, operations, and the C-Suite all have the opportunity to shape the customer’s journey positively or negatively. Understanding and aligning the operation and interaction of these functions is a critical step in building a truly customer-centric organization.
Prioritizing Empowerment of the Individuals on Your CS Team
At the macro level, it is important to align organizational efforts at a cross functional level. Still, it is also critical that we empower each individual within Customer Success to help them deliver on those goals. This means creating (and communicating) well-defined roles and responsibilities for CS, providing them with the proper tools and technology to do their job, as well as regular training on both technical skills and “soft skills.” These are the table stakes for empowering the CS team, but in our experience, three other key factors are present in most successfully empowered CS organizations.
1) Open Access to Information – Data needs to inform every interaction your CS team has with your customers. To be effective, they need access to the business intelligence (BI) used to shape your goals and organizational objectives. They also need to understand how those BI tools collect and process data, and savvy leaders will regularly solicit their input on how to improve the process. We have three different BI tools, and every single person in our CS team has access to all of them and has been trained on how to get the most out of the insights they provide.
2) Autonomy and Authority – CS team members are on the frontline with the customer, and nothing will frustrate them (or your customers) more than micromanaging them. Let them trust their instincts, experience, and training to make on-the-spot decisions that can positively impact the customer.
Have you ever sat at a car dealership and waited for the salesperson to “go talk with the manager”? That’s exactly what your customer experiences when you don’t empower your CS team. Let them take some risks; reward them when they are successful, and turn mistakes into teachable moments. When your CS team members feel a sense of ownership of the customer relationship, their mindset shifts from being a vendor to being a partner.
3) Define a clear path for their personal and professional success – An ideal CS team should be made up of professionals chosen because they meet a very specific criterion. They have the technical skill, product knowledge, personality, and experience to manage your most important asset – your customers – and they need to be recognized and rewarded for it.
CS team leaders should be meeting regularly with everyone on their team and showing them how their personal success over the next 3 to 5 years maps directly to the company’s plans.
Customer Success within SaaS and other Recurring Revenue Businesses
The Customer Success function is very hot right now. Look at any job board, and you will see the massive uptick as organizations scramble to staff their CS teams, particularly in SAAS companies.
The pandemic has been good for cloud-based industries (the SaaS market was estimated at 157 Billion in 2020 and forecasted to gain $60 billion by 2023) because they offer remote services that help customers implement their work-from-home initiatives. Organizations that are not customer-driven will be exposed if they are unable to accommodate their customers during their greatest time of need while those that can roll out new services and features will only improve their standing with their customers.
All organizations that rely on recurring revenue need to shift their focus away from short-term revenue realization and think more about customer acquisition costs and a customer’s lifetime value. A “customer for life” journey must be the ethos, mentality, and experience of every person you put into a Customer Success role. This can be a scary change to people who are entrenched into positions of power at some organizations. Finding the right talent to match challenges with opportunities is critical when changing corporate culture.
Most of the organizations that will ultimately weather the pandemic storm have already decided to place customer success as a priority. They may not call their department “Customer Success,” but they have instilled values and processes into their workflow that incentivize every member of the organization to take a customer-centric approach.