It’s a pretty provocative statement, I know. To be clear, I’m not suggesting humans won’t be involved any longer or that there won’t be a need for them.
If anything, humans will be liberated to carry out the high-touch, heavy lifting work we are uniquely qualified to do and should be focusing on instead, like complex and creative problem solving, relationship building, strategy setting, and more.
The work that is repetitive can be automated and managed by AI, bots, etc. Things like onboarding new users, growth hacking (tracking use and suggesting amplifying or mitigating actions) and general product optimization, will be able to be programmed and managed by these advances.
This is particularly relevant when faced with the increasing burden that a growing rate of bureaucracy places on individuals in organizations, especially those like CSMs, who are most directly involved in creating customer value.
Based on this HBR study (see chart), you can see that customer-facing roles have the highest rates of increase in bureaucracy. Mitigating the increase in bureaucracy for these roles by implementing tools with automation and AI capabilities could be an ideal solution.
To provide some context, this research will be a part of my new eBook – I’m exploring this angle in a chapter (see point 8).
My heading is not so alarmist when you consider the claims that robots and AI are going to be the drivers of productivity in just about anything in the near future. Lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, and programmers are all going to be affected. In my opinion, Customer Success as an infant profession is not going to be immune either and it’s the way it should be.
To reiterate, I’m not saying humans won’t have a role. I’m saying they can and will, but it will be a smaller one and much more focused. I’m not sure to what degree – maybe the 80 / 20 rule will apply? If that is the case, there is still the potential that humans can play a disproportionately large role in daily CS operations.
The human’s role notwithstanding, in this post and indeed, in the chapter, I want to explore how AI and automation are already starting to play a role and how that will be enlarged over time. Another factor to keep in mind is the function of the product itself.
The product’s role in customer success
To explain my last point briefly, I am referring to the role an excellent product plays, one with superb usability, that delivers critical business benefits, etc. No amount of AI or automation is going to solve the issues that emerge when a product is convoluted to use, and creates mountains of arduous and unnecessary work for users. Metaphorically, it’s like pushing a proverbial boulder up a hill and this is made worse when there is no clear business benefit.
To take it one-step further, people have even anticipated “anti-active usage” products. From this excellent article, The Next Generation of SaaS Won’t Optimize for User Engagement:
“With anti-active usage products, you don’t necessarily need to use the product to get something done because the product (1) understands the problem, (2) works out a solution and (3) outputs a result. Anti-active usage products don’t need human interactions at any level of their value-chain.”
I mentor startups, and several of the ones I have worked with are already moving into this space. TIQ probably best illustrates this premise – their software facilitates time tracking by connecting to the tools you use to get your work done. TIQ automatically creates an overview of the time you have spent on separate documents, emails, meetings, and other activities, and all you do is confirm (tick off) what gets logged. The objective is to spend less time on the function AND using the tool, reducing the need for manual inputs entirely.
Current state of activities
My interest in this whole area was piqued when I listened to Derek Roberts, the Director of Services, Strategy, and Operations at HubSpot, speak at Pulse 2017 (the annual Customer Success conference) earlier this year. I documented my learnings from the event, including a summary of his talk, here: State of Customer Success – Learnings from Pulse 2017. (Here are his slides and audio, if you’d like to see more details).
I then, coincidentally, bumped into the folks at Strikedeck, who are in the Customer Success space as well, and are doing an excellent job in this area. I arranged for a few conversations, and a demo of their tool, so I could find out more.
There are two things Strikedeck focuses on, amongst many others, that I wanted to explore in detail, that are relevant to this whole area.
Integrations, Data, and Dashboards
Strikedeck seamlessly integrates with at least 50 connectors already, and is architected to easily be able to build out more, as long as the other systems have open APIs, web hooks, etc.
They integrate with marketing automation, CRM, event trackers, call centers, billing systems, and many other data applications so you can reach out to customers at just the right moment and see all their information in one place. Connecting to Salesforce, Marketo, Zendesk, Google Analytics and more is entirely self-service, and done in a few clicks. Each integration can be completed in less than 20 minutes.
This is fundamental to be able to start some of the necessary automation work, and because you need access to the data on product usage to be able to act on it.
It is all presented in easy to view and modify dashboards – screenshot below:
In my mind, the three steps I outlined in the sub header are the critical setup to follow sequentially and have available as features to carry out the necessary work.
In the demo, I also noticed that customer experience can be tracked in terms of progress across predetermined paths. It can be taken from other systems (renewal data from CRM), but can also be included manually from input into the tool upfront.
This last area above fits nicely into the role I see Customer Success Managers playing in determining the optimal customer experience that I cover in my eBook. After all, to properly affect optimal customer experiences, you need to be able to map them and track progress on the path.
Detailed segmentation is also possible in Strikedeck, with relevant slicing and dicing of views. This then leads naturally into the next important area in which automations are activated and set up.
Workflow, Tasks, and Playbooks
An automation workflow allows you to activate email campaigns, survey series, slack & text messages, schedule meetings and calls, activate in-app notifications for your customers, create tasks for your Customer Success teams, update customer data objects in any of the target sources (CRM, Help Desk etc.) based on the trigger criteria set (support ticket, product usage, stakeholder role change, billing information, and more). This functionality can be customized to display the triggers that are critical in your business use cases. Some screenshots below:
Playbooks are another area that support CSMs in how they automate their activities. Playbooks are essentially an execution script of tasks, notifications, and escalations with relative dates and dependencies. Playbooks ensure consistency and standardization of best practices across the organization.
The best way to think of a playbook is to see it as a set of automated workflow actions that are launched as soon as the first trigger is activated. You can specify if the workflow is a task or action, set priorities, determine dependencies, and create timelines for completion.
Playbooks can be used in situations like:
- Dissatisfied Customer – Triggered by a low NPS or support ticket
- Product Usage Drop
- Account Renewal
- New Customer Onboarding
AI, Bots, and Beyond
I asked Strikedeck about these areas of functionality in their product, and they have some really exciting features coming up:
Coach: A Bot that lives inside the product and is a coach to the users of the product, helping them get more ROI from the product. Based on how a user is utilizing the product, the Strikedeck ‘Coach’ will automatically suggest what the user can do to improve usage. This can be activated through a ‘Coach Me’ button inside the product. The ‘Coach’ is rule-based initially, and over time learns to give better suggestions.
Zen: A Bot (initially on Slack and Gmail) that provides information on a customer. Anyone in the organization can ask a question, like – what’s the revenue for Customer A? or When’s the renewal due for Customer B? or Which customer could be a good reference advocate for telecom industry? – and the bot will search the database for the correct answer so CSMs don’t have to do the research themselves.
I can see a combination of trends coming together to facilitate how a user will get value from a product and how this will allow Customer Success Managers to expedite help for the user.
What do you think – future or fantasy?