What's Customer Success Management and why do we love it?

Dr. Jonas Steeger

Next to not selling at all, losing customers (i.e. churn) is the greatest enemy of all SAAS solutions. Systematic churn makes it near to impossible to offer a viable solution in the long run. But what to do? Offering a great product is just the baseline. And adding technical support does not cut it either. However, so-called Customer Success Management can help. This short article gives a little background to the matter and also showcases what we do here @Nordantech for customers using Falcon.

Just a few words on falcon

We develop and sell a transformation software called Falcon. It’s meant for companies shifting into new ways. More often than not, our clients are in a tight spot. In the worst case, liquidity is running low and the pressure is up.

Our clients put up numerous improvement measures to bring their business back on track. Falcon helps structuring, planning, analyzing, reporting, and actually going through with these measures with a set of specifically designed features. We came up with the idea for Falcon when working in large scale transformations for years – always on the hunt for the one tool to help us with the many painpoints, we had on a daily basis.

School of hard knocks

When we sketched up Falcon, we thought that the great features along with intuitiveness would suffice for success. So we started plugging away. Once In the beta-phase, we worked closely together with several companies testing our solution. We had loads of discussions on how to use Falcon. Everyone was happy. In fact, these customers still use Falcon today.

Our Betas loved it and we ourselves would have greatly benefited from having Falcon back in the days. So we figured future customers would love Falcon, too. Makes sense, right? But we quickly learned that offering a great product is simply not enough.

The trouble is that Falcon is meant for transformations - and they tend to be quite difficult. As a consequence, our customers always face lots of challenges and questions next to their daily business. Sometimes these challenges relate to Falcon. In a technical sense. A client could for example ask how to set permissions and roles in Falcon. But more often than not, challenges relate to the transformation at hand.

Example? Clients tend to ask how they should structure their transformation. Or what KPIs they should track to truly measure transformation impact. We call these two types of challenges technical and content-related questions.

Whilst working with our beta-testers, these challenges were somehow overcome along the way. But we were not prepared to do so at scale once we launched. So we saw a lot of transformations in Falcon set up for failure. No measurable goals. Complicated structures. Too few people for too many milestones. And so on and so on. Falcon still worked fine. But we naturally suffered from churn nontheless. So... what to do?

Why mere support does not cut it

The first thing we did was creating a help center. Every single feature explained, FAQs, and so on. We believed that our clients would read up on technical questions. We also hoped that understanding our solution better would entail better setups, too.

Providing a passive source of information did help a little. But our clients did not really engage in our help center for the most part. At least not by themselves.

So we integrated a support chat. We hoped that our clients would get in touch when having issues. We could point them towards the right articles or simply help immeditately.

Offering a place where our clients could talk to somebody already went a long way. But it was all reactive. Besides, the content-related challenges still had us puzzled. Not only did they grow in sheer quantity, but also variety. Trying to help required deep knowledge of the client’s transformation at hand.

This brings about two problems at least: it’s hard to know what’s going on in a transformation without being there on a daily basis. And trying to do so is not easily scalable. It’s basically consulting. And we did not set out to be consultants.

We hence quickly learned that merely offering passive support did not cut it. We would need to come up with a scalable solution that helped customers be successful with Falcon from the get-go.

Why Customer Success is king

That is when we learned about a concept coined “Customer success”. To the non-German audience this might sound puzzling. Especially in the US, Customer Success (CS) has become a buzzword in the high-tech industry in recent years. US SAAS-solutions nowadays often have CS as a core pillar to their business model. But in Germany, this concept seems not as wide-spread... yet. So, what is CS?

If you get it right, CS is more than just support. CS is everything you could do to help your clients to success with your solution. It brings together technical support, account management, sales, R&D, HR, and more. It is the business method ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service.

When you think about how wide this definition is, the differences in regards to support become apparent quickly. Here are a few:

  • Mission: Reacting to customers when they come with a problem vs. Bringing the customer to success.
  • Approach: Reactive, as a little as possible vs. Proactive, exactly as much as the customer needs
  • Classic jobs: Answering the phone or support chat vs. Feature prioritization, client training, use case creation, product adoption analysis, and many more.
  • What your colleagues see: cost center vs. revenue driver
  • Ownership: designated support team vs. the entire company

When you look through the CS lens, it hard to miss its importance. It is critical to your own business’s success. It aims at improving customer happiness and loyalty and directly drives your bottom line.

What do we do to help our clients to success?

It's impossible to answer this question for good. CS became such a central part of what we do, that it is ever-changing and adopting to what our clients – and potential clients – may need to be more successful. But here is the picture in broad strokes and no particular order:

  • We offer reactive support to customers with a fast chat system, and an easy to understand and always up to date help center. Yes, having CS at heart still means you offer great technical support in the classical sense.
  • We generate use cases and let our clients explain how they use Falcon and overcome challenges.
  • We create snackable, free of charge resources. They go far beyond Falcon. We have resources on how to plan transformations, how to analyze your business to see if a transformation might be needed, how to set measurable goals, what transformation KPIs are important, how to report progress, how to deal with the 20 most common challenges along the way... and many many more.
  • We train and onboards our clients and offer to set Falcon up for already running transformations. We even offer an academy where anyone can learn about transformations in a broader sense.
  • We ask our clients. All the time. We ask how things are going. We ask what features they enjoy, miss, hate, and so on.
  • We measure usage and success. We call it Customer Health Scoring and we proactively engage with our clients based on the outcomes of the weekly score.
  • We ask experts. For example, we go out and ask hundreds of industry experts what they think makes for a great transformation and where the game is going. We provide the results free of charge.
  • We make use of loads of data. We analyze which measures tend to help. We try to understand which way of structuring a transformation is the best. And so on. Again, we naturally provide the results free of charge.
  • We facilitate a customer community. Our clients may share feature ideas, rate them, discuss use cases, issues, and best practices.
  • We say no. That is, we try to not just sell Falcon as much as possible, we try to sell it to companies that provide a good fit to Falcon. This might sound trivial. But it is not.

We bring all of the knowledge we gain by doing the above to the table when deciding what feature to develop next, what elements of Falcon to market, what price to ask. CS is now at the center of our business.

Does it help?

Every little thing we do is part of a greater CS strategy. This is extremely important. Comparing your strategy to actual outcome over time helps you understand whether you are doing the right thing. And we do not forget to modify our strategy — since the needs of your customers are bound to change over time, especially as our product evolves.

So is all the trouble worthwhile? Yes. We understand our clients and their needs better. Our sales approach changed as a result, and our roadmap did too. Most importantly: We doubled down on churn and our clients seem so much happier with the product. This does not only hold true for us.

A wonderful study - with >17k companies participating - and put forward by Profitwell shows the impact customer success has.

"Customer success has an aggregate impact on net retention with those companies with some sort of customer success function seeing at least a 10% boost in net dollar retention compared to their non-customer success peers. Note though that dedicated customer success, meaning a full customer success organization that’s staffed in an account management fashion sees an additional 5% bump."

CS & transformation?

So why are we writing this here? There is a straight forward reason: we want to assure you that your transformation is at our heart, and that we truly try to help you succeed.

But this is more than mere marketing. We believe that CS is an important concept, which goes far beyond SAAS solution from the valley. In fact, we believe CS to be of such importance, that centering your transformation around it might lead to success itself. It is at least worth a little mind game. What would your company do, if it solely revolved around bringing your customers to success? Does answering this question hurt a little? Do you have to admit that your customers' success is maybe not at the center of your company's doing? Then you are on the right track for improvement measures.


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