I mentor startups that go through Microsoft Accelerator’s London program. Because of recent experience I focus on customer success management practices and enterprise software startups, but not exclusively. I recently joined a startup (again) and here too I’m helping with building out a customer success practice.
In all cases what often comes up is the importance of an online presence to deal with various elements of customer success. So I thought I would capture what I have recently been communicating as important and that is the purpose of this post. If you are not sure about what customer success is, I’ve written a simple primer on SlideShare.
To clarify what I mean by online presence, this doesn’t just mean a website with some documentation. This could be a basic starting point but there are many more considerations. I’ve broken these out into sections in this post, explained each and tried to give examples from companies who I know do it well.
The purpose of a good online presence would be to educate, support and add value to the way the customer uses products and services. As an extension of a company’s support, service and customer success department it’s intended to scale those efforts. If done really well it will enhance the customer experience, build an army of customer advocates and ultimately drive loyalty.
This goes a step beyond basic product information that would be well served by a good document library. Incorporating rich media like a video series and even going as far as incorporating a certification program could really enhance a learning program. Pixelmator does an awesome video tutorial series.
Education doesn’t just have to be delivered on the site itself. Offer a webinar series where customers can sign up and attend predetermined sessions with other customers. These would be delivered using screensharing, chat and audio/video software. This could be added to a formal training program as a way to top up and refresh learning.
A webinar series needs a team to run regular sessions that customers can get a calendar view of from a page on your site, sign up for and drop in to. If you have a global customer base, stagger the times to cover all time zones.
This is the dark horse of a well delivered customer success presence. Not easy to deliver well, it takes serious and authentic effort. If achieved it can deliver substantial benefits:
- Customer on customer support, scaling and reducing your own support efforts and costs
- Building an army of customer advocates they scale your marketing efforts
- Incorporating good collaborative and content features can really help drive the learning process for customers in the community.
Salesforce have done an amazing job with this incorporating their own community platform on the back of their success site.
On the risk side, you may have customers mounting an insurrection if things go wrong or they don’t quite appreciate a new product release. Having a good community management contingency plan in place is critical. The Community Roundtable has an excellent Community Manager Handbook if you want to develop this further.
This is a fairly obvious area and the cornerstone of any attempt to help customers. Mostly a case of helping them with problems they are experiencing with your product or service, it’s often a question of turning a negative situation into a positive one. But that is a golden opportunity to enhance the customers experience if done well.
In an enterprise environment with a complex product or service that’s especially tricky. Support for the enterprise may have to take many different user types into consideration like the end-user, someone who acts on their behalf, an IT help desk for instance, etc.
A means to log issues and track responses would be table stakes but even this is not done well by many, if at all. In my view this is best done on a site (main site and/or a support or success site and also “in app” ideally) and personalised to the individual so he or she can track progress and responses, rather than via email. Other things to think about (and check out Code School who does a great job with many of its activities):
- Do you offer a good FAQ (and good search) where users can find a solution without needing to raise a support ticket?
- Is there a way to contact a human immediately in the event of a pressing problem, either by phone or by chat?
- Can and should you go beyond problem resolution to feature requests, e.g. an area for users to submit and vote on ideas?
- With all that is possible these days with AI and chatbots, can you automate the process?
Again this is a really basic area that should be relatively easy to do well. Surprisingly many companies don’t.
You should at the very least have a well laid out and searchable or filterable document area on your site. The structure should be intuitive in relation to your product and service or offering. You could go further and structure the content for user type or proficiency level.
In addition to this there are some really basic things you can do to enhance the experience. For instance, you can incorporate rich media like video but if you want to keep that to a learning section, you could simply include gifs which are simple, animated images.
Percolate where I currently work does a really good job of this in my view.
If you have decided to expose your thinking about the future direction of your product (this is something more specific to product features than service elements) you can make this a compelling part of your efforts. This is also most often a consideration with complex enterprise software products where future enhancements might impact on a customers operations. It’s of special interest to those responsible for the platforms use.
There are risks to doing this. Customers holding you to ideas that are in essence just ideas, not commitments to develop something. The risk is you add something to the roadmap and then for some reason or another it has to be removed or changed. Expectations that this created then have to be managed. If done well this can be an incredibly powerful way of engaging and ultimately committing customers to the future of your product and company by making them co-creators.
If you were to offer a feature request and/or ideas section on your site, this could even be incorporated into the approach. Submitted ideas that are incorporated into the product roadmap is an incredibly tangible way of showing customers that they are co-creators of your product.
Microsoft does this really well for Office 365 features and they took this approach from Yammer where I used to work until we were acquired by Microsoft and we then perfected the approach.
Other things to think about:
Positioning and branding
Showing customers how committed you are to their success seems a natural strategy. You could make your customer success efforts a substantial part of the selling proposition by emphasising them boldly. Salesforce is probably the best example of this (link shared further up). Like them you might do it separately or on your main website, with pro’s and con’s to either. You could give them a specific identity that employees who focus on this and in general, as well as customers, can align with.
Customer success stories and use case library
Use cases are the currency of a good customer success program. Both to show customers how they can use your product or service as well as to capture good use of it (thereby inspiring further use). If you turn the latter into well told stories that resonate then even better. Some way of capturing and categorising them for easy reference would be useful.
Customer success program
Have one in the first place (I cover this in my primer shared at the beginning) and then lay it bare for customers to see. The benefit of this is that customers are shown you are serious and have a well laid out approach to making them successful. It should also show what resources you are putting behind this but also the commitment required on their side – because you cannot always outsource customer success.