3 Tips for Creating a Solid Customer Success Initiative

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Customer happiness isn’t guaranteed just because you have a great product. As it happens, developing, marketing, selling, delivering, and supporting products in fast-moving markets are tremendously complex processes, and offer up numerous opportunities for things to go wrong—or to go exceptionally well. The latter is pivotal; the software companies that succeed in the future will be those that go to great lengths to help customers get maximum value in meaningful ways. Brand, experience, and loyalty companies will emerge as victors, which is why customer success should be the top priority for every company.

All companies need a multi-pronged way to drive customer value, identify hidden opportunities, and, of course, identify sources of friction and respond with solutions that benefit their entire customer base. In fact, software companies need an internal ecosystem of customer success advocates who work together on behalf of the client.

It’s a tall order, but well worth the effort. The dividends you’ll receive in terms of customer referrals and testimonials will more than make up for the investments needed to build a first-class customer success organization. Here’s how our company approaches customer success, which you may or may not find completely applicable to your own organization. I hope, at least, it will give you some food for thought.

1. Align Expertise to the Customer’s Journey

We’re a modeling and planning software company that provides solutions across a variety of verticals and industries (manufacturing, healthcare, etc.), each with slightly different needs. Despite the differences, our customers tend to follow a similar multi-year journey and relationship with us. In the beginning they focus on technical topics, setup, configuration, and meeting project deadlines. As the relationship evolves, attention shifts to more advanced topics, such complex scenario planning and expansion of value, like rolling forecasts.

This reality means we need to train and organize our teams so they complement the customer journey. Specifically, we need to ensure each and every customer has access to the right expertise at the right time. For us, that means building and training five separate teams: implementation, customer success, data and integration, customer care, and consulting. Each plays a very specific role in supporting our clients.

For instance, the implementation teams are trained by industry (e.g. we have a dedicated team of implementers who are trained in the manufacturing vertical, and they focus on our manufacturing customers). This specialization means they’re familiar with the unique models each sector requires, as well as strategies for driving higher levels of value for these organizations. Our customer success team is made up of experts in project management, on-boarding, and generally ensuring that we help our customers meet their deadlines and business outcomes.

Because our platform is only as good as the data that gets fed into it, we’ve built data and integration teams who specialize in connecting and organizing how data flows from the customer’s environment into our solutions. The customer support team is available to answer questions and troubleshoot issues our users may encounter, and our consulting team works with our customers so that they derive higher levels of value from our solution.

It’s a lot of teams, to be sure, but it works out well for our customers. They always have the right expert to help them with what they need to get done right now, and aren’t told, “We’ll get back to you.”

2. Empower Customers on their Journey with a Rich Knowledge Base

While it’s important to provide the right expert at the right time, sometimes customers want to find answers or get help on their own. For this reason, we complement our teams with a self-service portal, called the Maestro Help Hub. The Help Hub has tons of detailed product information and tutorials on just about every aspect of our products. Customers can also use it to submit and track help tickets, and to interact with team members and other customers.

We were rather surprised at how quickly the Help Hub became a go-to-place for our customers. It makes sense of course, because it allows users to get the help they need and on their own terms. I’m now convinced that robust self-serve tools are table stakes for corporations.

Best practice: Make sure you populate your knowledge base with truly useful tools, like release notes and tutorials. Asking customers to wade through generic FAQs is adding needless friction to the relationship.

3. Build a Community

As mentioned earlier, we created an online community in order to foster communication with our team, and among one another. We decided to register all of our clients automatically in order to eliminate all barriers to joining. We felt community building is too important not to.

Here’s why—and we are not alone in this—our software serves the needs of a very specific niche: the finance team. These are people who don’t have a lot of peers within their own companies—i.e., fellow employees who need to think about the intricacies of a CFO’s job. Sometimes, the peers they need to speak to are the CFOs and finance team members of other companies. We get that, and we want to promote it.

An online community provides a seamless way for our users to ask one another questions, share best practices, and brainstorm. This can lead to complaints too, but we don’t see that as a bad thing; we see it as useful advice for improving our product and company. Acknowledging a complaint, and sharing with the community how you plan to address it, builds trust and transparency with your customers. Never be afraid of it.

Developing a solid customer success initiative should be a top priority for every corporation. Customers have more choice than ever before, and that means you need to ensure every customer you bring on board succeeds.

John Murdock serves as CEO for Centage. Centage’s Planning Maestro offers the sophisticated features needed by small and mid-market organizations to integrate budgeting, forecasting, and deep data analysis within one easy-to-use, scalable SaaS solution. With over 25 years of experience in the high-tech industry, Murdock is the driving force behind the company's growth and transformation to become the leading cloud-native planning and analytics platform that delivers year-round financial intelligence. Follow on LinkedIn or Twitter @centage.

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