How customer success can help you retain and acquire customers
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the recent times I’ve reached out to any kind of company for support.
All of these experiences have been pretty good. Quick, friendly, informative—everything a girl could ask for.
However, when I think about them more, I realize that while they’re all pretty good, good doesn’t really excite me anymore.
There was a time when good reactive (we’ll get to this in a second) customer support was something to write home about.
Today, competition and saturated markets have forced every company to start making good customer support the norm.
If everyone—including you and your nine competitors—are doing good customer support, then how are you supposed to stand out?
This is where you need to start thinking about customer success—helping your audience proactively in order to truly set yourself apart, and with that, retain and acquire more customers.
To help you get started with it, in this post we’re going to talk about:
- The difference between customer support and customer success
- Why customer success is critical for your business to grow
- Specific tips on how to get you into the success mindset
Let’s start by discussing how customer success is different from what your team already is going (i.e. supporting customers).
The difference between customer support and customer success
Customer success and customer support are often used as interchangeable terms. Even in 2019.
I used to think of them as the same, too, until I got lectured on the difference by our—you guessed it—customer success manager.
In a nutshell:
Customer support is the front line of your company.
Its function is reactive—dealing with incoming issues, questions, requests, etc—when the customer initiates it.
Customer success is proactive.
This proactivity has two sides:
- Making sure that your customers know how to get the most out of your product or service (before they have to reach out and ask for help).
- Making sure that as many fires as possible are dealt with before they’re even lit.
Customer success works with customer support, but the individual functions are separate.
Here’s a little more detail on the specific differences:
Customer support is (usually) a one-time, short-term effort per customer.
Customer success dives much more deeply into the relationship your customers have with your product or service, making sure they have everything they need before they even have to ask.
If you’re a small business, you don’t need a designated customer success specialist (yet).
Just make sure your support person or team is aware of the importance of customer success as a separate function with its own goals and is working towards implementing it.
Why is customer success important?
Customer success will help you bring back that “wow” moment that will differentiate you from your competitors.
It aims to:
- Minimize effort on the part of the customer;
- Inform your customers proactively so they can start getting value out of what you’re offering immediately;
- Provide them with every possible piece of information, should they need it.
It makes them happy.
- Stay with you instead of going to a competitor with the same solution but less effort involved
- Give you good ratings and increase your Net Promoter Score
- Recommend you to other people
- Are way more likely to purchase more from you
All of the above increases your bottom line.
Check out this research from HubSpot about the connection between customer success and company revenue:
Basically, growing companies are 21% more likely than their stagnant counterparts to say that making the company’s customers successful is “very important.”
If you feel your focus on customers success isn’t strong enough yet, here are the steps you should take in order to prioritize it.
1. Always strive to reduce customer effort
Success means that your customers are getting the value they need without having to specifically ask for it.
What you need to do is to utilize information and knowledge from the get-go, so your customers have all of the resources and information they require, readily available at all times.
At all times does not mean just during onboarding. It means before, during, and after they have started using your product or service.
Customer success needs to be ongoing.
It’s not enough that your customers know which buttons to press in your app when they first sign in.
Think about the experience your customers go through when they use your product or service—from signing up and going through onboarding to using it regularly.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do they know you have a knowledge base they can refer to instead of contacting you?
- Do they get a walkthrough that explains your main features?
- Do they know where they can most easily contact support if they need to?
- Do they have an option to book a personalized onboarding session?
- Will they know about all your features if you don’t point them out?
- Do they know all the different use cases for your features if you don’t point them out?
All of these things are important and when they are easily accessible they have the potential to reduce customer effort substantially.
Remember, you want to make every single customer successful in their business with you. That requires providing as much as you can on your side so that their life is easier.
2. Bring everyone into the process
Customer support is often an only-support-team job.
Issues are often escalated to find a solution, but that’s usually where everyone else’s involvement ends.
This doesn’t only silo customers and their issues in general, but also the information that comes from them. Information is crucial for being able to improve in any way.
Customer success has to involve every single department in your company.
You can achieve this with two steps:
- Get people across the whole company involved in customer conversations regularly
- Make sure all support insights are relayed to the rest of the team
The first one—everyone doing support once or twice a month—is a popular approach that many companies are starting to practice.
It’s not only good for team spirit but also gets people who are usually pretty distant from customers to see the communications with their own eyes.
This is important because they will notice things customer support agents might not.
A developer might go through a day of conversations and reorganize their bug fix priority list because they noticed a recurring issue.
A product owner might come up with improvements to the onboarding flow because they noticed a few people were struggling with it.
The all-hands-on-deck approach means that customers will see improvements in all areas, not just the ones that are about support.
However, these people have their own jobs, too, and you can’t expect them to do this too often.
This is where the second step comes in—making sure that everything going on in support is regularly communicated to everyone on the team.
This is best done with a weekly/monthly support meeting, where whoever is in charge of customer success puts together a report, including:
- Recurring issues
- Extra pressing issues
- Outstanding ideas or feedback
- General satisfaction rating (if you’re using NPS or a similar satisfaction indicator)
This overview will help everyone get into a discussion.
For everything in the above list, your team can gather ideas for improvement, and make someone responsible for actual tasks for getting there.
The all-hands approach will also improve your company’s functions outside of support.
For example, I’m a marketer.
Why should I give a rat’s ass about what happens to customers that I’ve somehow reeled in, as long as they’re paying money?
Here’s why—knowing what the biggest value points are for our customers helps me to better target new ones.
For example, we want all of our customers to be successful with our product, so we offer personalized onboarding calls.
During one of those, our customer asks if a feature could be used in a different way than what it’s originally intended for.
Our agent says “Sure, that’s a great idea!”.
I find out about the alternative use case through our monthly support overview. The next time I’m talking to a potential customer from the same industry, I can mention that.
I can prove why our product is valuable for them and how they can have success with it in ways that they didn’t even know—and they sign up based on this brownie point.
Would I have been able to use this information if we had skipped the extra onboarding that we do to guarantee success, as well as the support overview?
The more insight anyone in your company has into what really makes your existing customers tick, the more you can tailor all your business activities for improvement.
3. Ask for feedback regularly
Many companies make the mistake of asking for feedback or a satisfaction rating only right after a support interaction.
Something like this:
There’s nothing wrong with it. But it can’t be only that.
There are two issues with only asking for feedback after a customer-initiated support interaction:
- Emotions get in the way
- There’s no proactivity involved
Firstly—how many customer interactions with support start from a good place?
Mostly, customers get in touch with support when something is broken.
Even if you manage to patch things up, there’s still most likely some kind of bad taste in their mouth.
That’s completely understandable.
Imagine yourself in a situation where something was broken with a solution you use, you lost a ton of time (and money) contacting support about it, and it got fixed.
You’re relieved, and now less mad… but you’re willing to let it go.
And then they ask you to “rate your experience”.
I’m not saying everyone would give you a bad rating because a crappy situation just happened at your fault.
What I am saying is that asking for a rating only when something has just gone wrong can definitely skew emotions—and your support satisfaction data.
Secondly, the golden key to great customer experience is proactivity.
You need to put the fires out before they get lit. Ask your customers how they’re feeling, coping and working before they come to you—because, at that point, it’s too late.
- Have a quarterly user survey
- Ask for feedback on your product feature posts
- Put a pop-up NPS score window on your product sign-in page
Get your customers when they’re just doing their thing, not when they’ve just had to reach out to you for something.
This is the best way to get real, non-skewed feedback from your customers—and it will be the basis for product improvements and fixes before they become a major issue.
Use customer success to drive your business
We’re going to say it again—good support isn’t special anymore.
With increasing competition and options, your customers don’t have to stay with you.
And—if you don’t pay enough attention to them, they won’t.
Good customer support will get you a good reputation, but a focus on real customer success will do that, help retain your customers, and increase your company’s bottom line.
It’s the normal course of development for every business, and you’ll have to learn to adapt to it and switch your focus to success, not just support.
What are your most important principles of customer success?