Rethinking Customer Success and Loyalty in the Era of the Cloud
When you buy software, do you ever think of yourself as a "tier 2 customer"? We doubt it. Neither do your customers. If you're providing cloud-based software, it's time to rethink customer success. It's time to see every customer as an elite customer. It's time to go to the limits of what's reasonable—or further.
Customers expect real-time interactions, but they're also hungry for the human touch that leads to brand loyalty. The onus is on your company to deliver a customer experience that is not only responsive, but that builds community and, most importantly, provides customers with the kind of "wow" moment that keeps them coming back. In an environment where it is easy to switch from vendor to vendor, this is the secret to success in the era of the cloud.
Being Human in the Cloud
Fostering customer success through high levels of service has long been a growth strategy for successful businesses. Southwest Airlines has its no-fee baggage policies and exuberant flight attendants. Wells Fargo consistently implements the latest customer-friendly technologies and trains its bank tellers to be helpful. The "geniuses" at the Apple store specialize in giving visitors—and their Apple devices—lots of personal care.
But cloud-based businesses don't have a brick-and-mortar store, let alone tellers or attendants. Can companies still deliver the human touch that customers love? The answer is yes, but first you need to rethink your customer success practices.
First, the basics. You'll need to put new structures in place.
1. Internal Alignment
Today's customer success teams are often distributed globally, rather than being located in a central office. Collaboration itself has become a matter of having the right tools in the cloud. Teams must have the ability to track one another's progress in real time, collaborate via virtual discussion groups, video conferences, or instant messages, and have enough of a grasp on an operation's progress to hold one another accountable. If you relegate collaboration to the email inbox alone, teams will find themselves drowning—and losing alignment in the process.
2. Instant Gratification
Customers expect instant answers. Building a knowledge base and customer support forum are basics for addressing that need. Your customers expect a central location for both best practices and support needs, as well as an online community, enabling them to collaborate, engage, and learn from each other in real time.
Having a responsive social media team—one that catches issues either before they occur—or directly afterward—is also crucial. When customers feel like they're personally heard and addressed, they're more likely to stay loyal to your brand and spread positive word-of-mouth. The converse is also true—bad reviews travel fast.
Businesses must also learn to harness the cloud to provide the human touch that customers love.
3. Personal Touch
Most companies today express their personalities through social media, enabling customers to connect with them on an emotional level. Ford, for example, has its user- and company-generated Flickr stream. Marketo has its Facebook page. Such social media outlets have become a normal part of the customer success story, whether companies are based in the cloud or not.
Now Make It Cheeky
To go from standard to exceptional, you must find a way to scale the human touch. One way is to extend any of the above to their illogical limits. Zappos, that oft-cited example of exceptional service, stretches its concept of internal alignment by paying new hires $1,000 to quit. One employee took personal touch to a new level by driving to a shopping mall and purchasing for a customer a pair of shoes that Zappos didn't have in stock.
That kind of cheekiness makes for an extraordinary customer experience.
Consider taking that instant gratification one step further, and turning it into customer empowerment, which leads to educated and vocal customer advocates.
By offering free consulting in the form of a daily Webinar, for example, businesses can see dramatic results. Imagine having an expert on the phone delivering tips and answering questions, at no cost to customers, every business day. Although it takes a conscious effort to give away free consulting on a daily basis in an open forum, it is important to think differently about the challenges of on-boarding customers in the cloud era. It allows businesses to make their customers successful in a personal way, but on a broader scale—regardless of size or geography.
Other examples of customer empowerment techniques include user conferences, seminars, brown-bag lunches, and other hosted events. It's up to you to decide where to extend yourself beyond what's reasonable.
Aim for Unreasonable
In the era of the cloud, companies must be exceptional to stand out from the pack. Focusing on customer success—the kind that turns customers into advocates—demands that you look beyond all reasonable measures. Going out on a limb requires some creativity and experimentation, but once a business lands on the success methods that work, excited customers will soon follow.
Ariel Utnik is vice president of customer success and Lori Bush Shepard is vice president of corporate marketing at Clarizen.