Product and CS

Lessons Learned: The Importance of a Product-Led Customer Success Onboarding Strategy

Guest blogger Frederik Müller shares his experience with looping his product team into a redesign of the company’s onboarding process. We hope you enjoy his perspective on this critical part of the customer journey.

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By Frederik Müller

A successful customer onboarding is one of the most important steps in the SaaS world. As with many things customer success-related, applying best practices is sometimes easier said than done. Here at Klara, our biggest “lesson learned” with respect to customer onboarding was realizing that the product team, not customer success, should define our customer onboarding journey.

Our product team is amazing and has been a key contributor to Klara raising an amazing Series A round with an even more amazing investor. Even with all the best of intentions, it is easy for a gap between the product team’s vision and the customer success team’s implementation of the platform to open up and even widen over time. As a small, growing company with limited resources, our product team had always been focused on pushing the product to new frontiers. The customer success team, meanwhile, focused on developing and refining the most effective way of onboarding customers to our product. If we needed to invent workarounds for deficiencies in the product, so be it.

At Klara, the gap between the product and customer success team was caused by not having the product team lead our onboarding approach. Here are some of the key takeaways from our work to correct this issue:

The product team, together with customer success, needs to define the onboarding process

Having the product team involved in identifying key steps in the onboarding journey will ensure that the product is configured to deliver on the expected outcomes. Importantly, it will also help create very clear goals for customer success during the onboarding stage.

For example, prior to these changes, the customer success team measured a completed onboarding to not only include training and installation of features, but also customer usage of the feature up to a certain benchmark. This caused a lot of frustration for the CSMs because while they could control the training and setup of a feature, they couldn’t always control user adoption. As part of our work with the product team, we reduced the customer success team’s responsibility during onboarding to just training and installation of features. Now, every CSM can directly control the redefined onboarding process, and we are able to quickly identify and remove bottlenecks, further streamlining the process.

Product and Customer Success should establish an Onboarding Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Once the customer success team successfully completes the onboarding steps defined with the product team, what should the product team deliver? For a long time at Klara, the leading indicator of success was the number of patients that our clients communicated with using our platform. Understanding what an optimal level of usage should look like enabled us to create clear SLA: Customer Success will handle the training and technical implementation of certain features. Product will then guarantee that these features create an optimal level of patient adoption.

A clearly defined customer onboarding process will show the product team if the product is achieving the desired customer adoption levels post onboarding. Without a clear SLA from onboarding to product, it is tempting for customer success to compensate for lack in product adoption with human interventions, which robs the product team of a great learning opportunity.

Our experience over the past months and my conversations with others in the customer success community has validated my belief that product teams should continue to define the onboarding process. At Klara, we are hiring an experienced Product Marketing Manager who will jointly own onboarding KPIs with the CS team. A conversation with a leader of a 40-person CS organization drove the importance of these steps home to me. She shared that her team kept having to “throw bodies” at a product that was not driving the desired adoption levels. Because the KPI was only owned by customer success, the product team did not prioritize customer onboarding until the company realized that a weak Customer Success - Product alignment would stand in the way of the company going public. Don’t wait until then!

Need help defining customer onboarding in your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers consulting engagements that focus on onboarding as well as the entire customer journey. Visit our Consulting page more details.

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Frederik Müller - Frederik is the Head of Customer Success at Klara. He is passionate about Klara’s mission to revolutionize healthcare communication for everyone involved in the patient’s journey. As such, he has spent the last years researching how to maximize patient/user adoption of Klara’s platform and worked extensively with medical practices on streamlining their operations using better communication methodologies. In his free time, Frederik enjoys reading The New Yorker, cooking, playing sports, and traveling.

How to Tap Your Account Resources

By Natalie Macks

The notion of a simple one customer to one agreement ratio often fails to capture today’s complex business environment. Your success may depend on people that aren’t yet on your radar. A successful CSM works to ensure that they have at least a few active contacts for every account, as well as an understanding of who benefits from using the product. Here are some things to consider:

Broaden Your Reach

It’s easy to focus initially on the person signing the agreement, but remember they aren’t always the end user. Ask your main contact about their team and any other groups that come in contact with your product. These key players should be documented in your CRM and while you may not have full contact information initially, even having a name as a starting point can be helpful down the line. Folks frequently change positions or move on to other opportunities. Don’t be left high and dry.

Help Adoption Rates

Coach your client on the best ways to introduce your product to their team and encourage completion of any needed training. Send them some swag to pass along as part of the on-boarding process. Pay attention to usage and gauge overall adoption rates for the account. Instead of just checking in with your client, discuss how engaged their team has been lately. Ask them for the specific names of those that seem to be the most successful with your product. Again, you might consider sending some swag to the cream of the crop as a reward (and an introduction for you).

Create Internal Advocates

If your success tools allow you identify an especially active team member, consider reaching out to them directly. A little bit of praise can go a long way and help build an advocate for your company inside the account. Having an internal resource can be helpful when you are unable to reach your main contact for whatever reason. Often the main contact or buyer isn’t the individual that ends up being the power user. You want these folks on your side and vocal about how much they love your product when renewal time rolls around.

Get Referrals

The more people who are familiar with your product and enjoy using it, the more likely you are to get referrals. Practice ending any conversation you have with a new contact with the question, “Do you know of any other people (or industry contacts) that might benefit from our product or struggle with the same issues we’ve been able to solve for you?” It’s really that simple and the more you use this strategy, the more referrals you’ll get. Set up notifications internally that allow you to reward those contacts that have successful referrals and share the love. A handwritten thank you note and a bottle of wine can do wonders to keep the flow of referrals coming your way.

Avoid a potential drought. Resisting the temptation to focus only on the main account contact benefits your bottom line and sows the seeds of future success. Nurture all your account contacts and you’ll be well on your way to exponential growth.

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm focused on helping leaders and teams perform at their peak.  To learn how other companies have worked with us to develop their customer success groups, visit TheSuccessLeague.io.

Natalie Macks - Natalie builds a culture of dedicated customer evangelists, as well as the systems and processes required for success.  Her award-winning leadership expertise coupled with integrity and passion produce increased customer retention and generate revenue.  With over 15 years in customer-facing roles, Natalie excels in bridging the gap between business technologies and the user experience.  She holds a BA in Zoology/Genetics from Michigan State University and resides in San Francisco, CA.

Bridging the Gap Between Features and Benefits

By Ward Greunke

SaaS companies love to talk about the benefits of their software such as, “Increase sales,” or “Reduce employee churn”.  Unfortunately just buying the product will not help you achieve your goals unless you have the proper behaviors.  While marketing is focused on benefits and engineering is focused on features, it is up to the customer success team to bridge the gap by helping customers develop the proper behaviors.

I first encountered this problem at 1factory where we help customers analyze inspection data.  We developed the product using what we thought were industry standard techniques like histograms but found that customers had trouble understanding how our product would improve their business.

The problem was that our customers had built up processes and procedures using their existing technology - Excel or sometimes even pencil and paper.  Since it takes 15 clicks just to create a histogram in Excel, people rarely made a histogram and did not have experience interpreting the data.  Our application represented a new way of thinking which customers had trouble adopting.

To solve this problem, our customer success team created a poster that showed how to identify common manufacturing problems by looking at a histogram.  Once customers knew how to interpret the data, they were able to integrate our application into their business and achieve the goals that we had promised.  By helping our customer develop best practices that complimented our technology, we were able to drastically reduce the adoption time and allow customers to start receiving value in a single day.

If you find that your customers are having trouble adopting your software, here is a three step process that you can use to help your customer align their behavior with your application.

3 Steps to Aligning Customer Behavior with Your Application

  1. Define Success:  Work with your customer to define a realistic objective so that you are both working towards the same goal.  What are the short term and long term goals of the project?  What problem is the customer trying to solve?
  2. Identify Behaviors:  Have the customer determine the behavior that will help them achieve their goals.  What activities will people do on a consistent basis in order to reach the objectives?
  3. Align Product Functionality:  Finally, show how the functionality of the product can be used to support the behaviors that will help the customer achieve their goals. 

In some cases, you may find that the customer is not practicing the behaviors that they identified in step two.  If this is the case, help the customer identify intermediate milestones.  The first milestone should have customers mimic their current behavior in your application.  Once the employees have experience with the interface and are comfortable entering and retrieving data, then you can help introduce the new desired behaviors.  If you try to change behavior while someone is learning a new application, they will blame the application for their frustration.

If you are expecting your customer to automatically change their behavior in order to use your SaaS application, both you and your customer will fail.  As a customer success representative, it is your job to help customers align their behaviors with your application.  This alignment will speed up adoption, reduce churn and increase customer value.

Ward is a guest blogger for The Success League. The Success League is a consulting firm that partners with customer success leaders to unlock the retention and revenue potential in their team. Unlike approaches that focus on soft skills, we present customer data in a way that allows success teams to advocate for customer needs and drive true change in their organization. www.TheSuccessLeague.io

Ward Greunke Ward led the original customer success efforts at 1factory, helping grow the company from a small customer base to serving the Fortune 100 industry.  He studied behavioral economics during his MBA at Santa Clara University and writes a blog that shows how product features can drive behavior that is valued by the customer.  You can read more at latentvalue.blogsplot.com

Shifting Through Change - A Story About Managing Product Releases

By Natalie Macks

It’s easy to take something for granted. There are skills you don’t notice until a change happens and suddenly you are struggling to do something that has always seemed second nature.

I’ve recently returned from a visit to Australia and had the experience of renting a car and driving around Tasmania for a week. I had ample warning going into this trip that there would be a change to navigate. Every time I mentioned renting a car, invariably someone would ask if I’d ever driven on the wrong, I mean left, side of the road. “No,” I’d answer “but it will be interesting to try it.” 

On picking up our rental, I noticed there was a small “Drive to the left” sticker directly on the speedometer. How helpful! Lucky for me, my partner likes driving and had even once driven a friend’s fancy car that had been imported and modified for the USA. So he had indeed driven a car from the passenger seat. I was all set.

Except sitting in the left side of the vehicle and having no control over the direction the vehicle was heading was unnerving as well! In those moments when the driver made a decision different than what my brain was directing, it was downright nerve wracking. And didn’t he realize how close to the edge of the road he was?!! Suddenly I was the worst back seat driver ever. What had happened to my trust?

Eventually I had my chance in the driver’s seat. I smugly eased on to the highway, using my turn signal on the left side of the steering wheel. I changed lanes with no issue and made it through the first couple of traffic circles on our way to the mountains. No problem, I thought. Until that third intersection when I suddenly realized that I needed to be one lane over. Like now. On went the windshield wipers. Oops. 

This experience reminded me that no matter how much warning you have, how thoroughly you prepared for it or how careful you are trying to be, when change comes your instincts and habits kick in. I have much more compassion for customers who have to go through a “simple” product change that my company expects to be intuitive and an improvement. Customers have a set amount of time in their day to accomplish a task that was routine, a habit. With this kind of change even the most patient and conscientious user will have moments when they just want things to work like they did before, no matter how many bells and whistles your marketing team lauds. Previous trust that has been earned can easily slip out the window. What can your success team do?

Communicate

Give folks a heads up. Sometimes even small changes can have a big impact. The old maxim “better safe than sorry” applies. In app messaging, splash pages, even emails can all serve to alert users that “hey, something is different here”.

Gauge usage

Your best product experts are likely your customers. Set up your product usage alerts prior to launch so you can monitor how customers are interacting with new features. Are things taking longer? Are they dropping out of the sequence before completing a task? Are they skipping it entirely? 

Watch out

Track product changes in a calendar that you can easily correlate to your metrics. You’ll be prepared to identify any trends quickly and respond accordingly. You’d be surprised how many dips and peaks can correlate to releases.

Check in 

Product changes provide an excellent reason to reach out to your customers after launch. Give them a quick demo if needed and don’t forget to relay feedback to your product team.

Do your best to be prepared, be willing and able to respond to the unexpected, and keep on driving. The view from the top is almost always worth it! And I’m very happy to report that we returned our rental in excellent condition, even though we had a couple of “ARggggH!” moments.

Want to hear more about Natalie's amazing trip to Australia?  Connect with her on LinkedIn - she is an experienced traveler and customer success guru!  Want to learn how your customer success team can make sure that customers are prepared for new products?  The Success League helps SaaS companies achieve their potential by building and developing amazing customer success teams!  www.TheSuccessLeague.io

Natalie Macks - Natalie builds a culture of dedicated customer evangelists, as well as the systems and processes required for success.  Her award-winning leadership expertise coupled with integrity and passion produce increased customer retention and generate revenue.  With over 15 years in customer-facing roles, Natalie excels in bridging the gap between business technologies and the user experience.  She holds a BA in Zoology/Genetics from Michigan State University and resides in San Francisco, CA.

Product feedback - Walk the walk

By Natalie Macks

Everyone likes to talk about customer feedback and how important it is. And how it's valued. And of course how "you listen". But it's what you actually do with feedback that makes or breaks your product, your revenue, and your customers. Today I'll focus on the key area of product feedback, specifically feature requests and bugs. Here's a framework for setting up your processes to take your customer feedback beyond "thanks for your suggestion!"

Set customer expectations

The customer needs to know that their feedback did not fall into the abyss and when or if they can expect any follow up. Describe your process a bit and how things get escalated. 

With bugs, ask for additional information up front if it's needed for troubleshooting. Let the customer know that you're sorry and are working to make it better. Give a timeframe for when they can expect any response.

For features, ask for more details if the request is unclear and don't be afraid to ask them why they need something. Often it's more important for the product manager to know what exactly the customer is trying to accomplish than how they want to accomplish it. Not all customer ideas will be actionable. It's okay to let them know that something is not on the roadmap, but that you'll keep it in mind as you consider future revisions.

Track the issue

Establish a way to document feedback that ties it back to your customer data. Once there is more than one customer with a specific request, set up a parent case and roll all cases or tickets under the same issue. Adopt a standard title format for cases and make sure everyone uses it.. For bugs, consider adding an identifier that ties it to a specific release. This can help quickly answer that inevitable question from the CTO, "Are you hearing of any issues?" with a simple search.

Use buckets and tags

Set up general case categories for your product that make sense for customers, customer-facing teams, and internal teams. It's okay to include subcategories, but add these sparingly. It's tempting to try and get as granular as possible, but remember that simplicity is your friend. Don't add too many steps to the process or you'll discourage your team from recording feedback.

Assign a specific person on your team to vet, compile, and create parent cases. Empower them to escalate critical bugs immediately. Ensure that they have time set aside to accomplish this task, especially with feature requests.

Create reporting

Start out with a basic view of parent cases sorted by the number of reported instances, and then an additional sort by associated revenue. For bugs, consider adding a color coding for severity. For feature requests considering adding in data for company size and industry. Decide a set number to highlight in the reporting and include the rest of the data file in case others want to view the full data set.

Establish regular meetings

A regularly recurring meeting ensures that internal teams understand what is impacting customers and uses that information to drive change. Start out with a weekly meeting with a representative from the engineering team to discuss bugs and fixes. Feature requests should be covered monthly at the very least, and with a greater frequency depending on how quickly your product evolves. 

Don't spend valuable meeting time going over the reporting or dashboard. Send out or update any reporting at least one day prior to the meeting to allow everyone time to prepare. At the meeting discuss how this feedback will shape product and engineering plans, and what information is appropriate to pass back to your customers. Ask if any additional information is required from customers. Don't be afraid to push back if those requests seem unreasonable or are likely to upset a customer. Make sure that everyone at the table knows where to find more details about the case.

Close the loop

Don't forget to let customers know when that annoying bug they reported has been fixed or that sweet new feature goes live. Thank them for playing a pivotal role in making improvements. These wins provide an excellent reason for your CSM to reach back out to the customer and keep the relationship fresh.

A comprehensive process around customer feedback drives product innovation and helps to ensure that your customers stick around. Every customer touch point is an opportunity to better understand and serve their needs. Your team has a finger on the pulse of the customer.  Don't just talk the talk.

Need help setting up your customer feedback loop?  The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that can work with your existing tools to build strong processes that scale with your team.

Natalie Macks - Natalie builds a culture of dedicated customer evangelists, as well as the systems and processes required for success.  Her award-winning leadership expertise coupled with integrity and passion produce increased customer retention and generate revenue.  With over 15 years in customer-facing roles, Natalie excels in bridging the gap between business technologies and the user experience.  She holds a BA in Zoology/Genetics from Michigan State University and resides in San Francisco, CA.