Transaction-based businesses have dominated the corporate landscape for generations. However, with the advent of SaaS, these models are no longer the only way companies are generating revenue. The focus of SaaS companies on recurring revenue leads their success processes down a different route.
Not only is this route generally a lot longer, but it can come with a diverse and branching set of customer journeys that all need to be accounted for when designing the best experience. This is the new landscape of customer success, and in SaaS, it means learning fast.
So, what is customer success in SaaS, and how does it differ? The answer to these questions holds the key to how to do it right, and that’s what this article is all about. We’ve got a guide full of best practices coming up, but first, let’s set the scene.
What is Customer Success in SaaS?
SaaS customer success, as with customer success in general, involves managing the customer experience in a way that transitions between the various touch-points along the journey to their desired outcomes. Essentially, you’re ensuring their use of your product generates the value, ROI overall outcomes that they originally came to your company for.
Specifically, SaaS customer success involves a lengthy customer journey with a focus on retention and the recurring revenue that this provides. This makes customer success for SaaS particularly important after conversion. The substantial majority of customers who are nurtured well through their journey are likely to keep their subscriptions.
The differences between customer success in SaaS and other types of business come down to the difference between transaction-based and subscription-based revenue, and we’ll cover a bit more of that shortly. Essentially, ensuring the continued success of a happy customer experience with your product will encourage them to renew their subscription down the line, and that’s going to save you a huge amount on customer acquisition costs, as well as offer the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell along with creating opportunities for referrals.
SaaS companies typically measure customer success with a list of common metrics. The exact combination of metrics will depend on the company, but many are universal to monitoring the success of customers as a whole. Here are some of them:
Churn Rate – This is the obvious metric to track when dealing with customer success. The percentage of customers who cancel their subscriptions should be tied closely to how effective your success teams are. Churn is often calculated on both across logos (% of company churn) and dollars (% of dollar churn).
Sessions per Day – This is an engagement metric that covers how many times your customers use your product in a single day. This measure will vary for several reasons, so it’s not much use on its own, but it is handy in combination with other information.
Onboarding Rate – As we’ll reiterate, there is a lot more to customer success in SaaS than just sales. Onboarding is a critical component of succeeding with customers in a subscription-based business model, and tracking the onboarding rate is a good way to get a feel for how many of your sales result in the adoption of the product.
Active Users – After onboarding, there are other engagement metrics important to follow, and the number of monthly active users is one of them. This is a good way of getting a feel for how successful your success practices are and how well your customers are engaging with your product. As with most metrics, though, it doesn’t tell the full story.
Net Promoter Score – This metric is usually the product of a quick voluntary survey, meaning that there is already a selection bias at play, but it should represent how many people are happy to promote your service after all those who would not recommend you have been removed. If you have a low number of promoters left, it’s probably time to evaluate and alter your success process.
Referrals – This is the golden standard of customer success, and what the entire process is all about. The higher number of clients you get via referral, the better you’re doing in your customer success strategy. This metric helps you identify better ways to push for referrals too, perhaps by offering referral bonuses or discounts.
There are countless other metrics to follow, and while some are good stand-alone KPIs, many other, smaller metrics contribute to a deeper understanding of how well your customer success approach is working. The ones you use will depend on your specific product or service, and the customers you’re working with. Still, with SaaS customer success, in contrast with transaction-based models, there are some consistent differences to keep in mind.
SaaS Customer Success: How is it Different and Why is that Important?
The trouble with subscriptions is that a small loss compounds over time. A 5% churn rate every month may seem low, but it amounts to just under half of your customers gone by the end of the year. The nature of compound losses makes SaaS customer success so important.
Recurring revenue is what makes SaaS companies different. Customer success in transaction-based revenue models focuses primarily on sales and repeat sales, working towards maximizing how often customers return.
One report, published in Harvard Business Review, suggests that not only do good customer experiences reduce churn, but they also promote an increase in customer lifecycle value. The report claims that customers of a transaction-based business, who had the best experiences, spent 140% more than those who had the worst. And this is far from the only evidence available. And for subscribers, the story is more or less the same: customers who had great experiences had a 74% chance of sticking around a year later, as opposed to 43% of those who had bad experiences.
This translates to the difference between a year of subscription for customers having a bad experience and six years for those having good ones.
So, the power of a good customer experience is one thing that both business models have in common, but how they achieve this is where they tend to diverge. In transaction-based models, the majority of the customer experience that can be nurtured by the company exists pre-conversion. In SaaS, if you’re doing it right, your customers will be spending a lot longer interacting with your brand after conversion than before it.
This brings up the immediate concern of cost. How can you have an extensive sales funnel and a lengthy onboarding and post-conversion success strategy while still making any profit on your sales? The key to the power of customer success in SaaS is understanding the cost of customer acquisition and customer support. As it turns out, delivering a great customer experience reduces both of these costs considerably.
Still, the concept of customer success in SaaS is still in its infancy, and there’s a lot still to figure out. Next, we’ll go over some of the common challenges that success teams come often come across.
Challenges in Customer Success SaaS Companies need to be Aware Of
B2B SaaS is still a growing industry, and customer success still has a lot of lessons to learn around how to adapt to the new models. Renewal windows can be significantly distanced from the efforts of the success team, making it difficult to measure the outcomes of interventions, sometimes executed almost a year prior.
Further, the responsibilities of customer success teams for SaaS are a lot wider. Managers need to be able to cover the lifetime value, churn reduction, feedback, and renewal reinforcement components as well as work closely with onboarding teams to transition customers happily through their value points.
So there are unique challenges faced by SaaS customer success teams.
One such challenge comes from poorly-orchestrated onboarding procedures. Success teams without a complete and efficient onboarding strategy are at particular risk of worsening churn rates. In SaaS, more than any other, onboarding is critical to the transition from prospect to loyal customer, and if teams aren’t making use of all the available onboarding tools at their disposal, they’re not contributing strongly to overall customer success.
Not only is it important to use the appropriate strategies to maximize onboarding, but it’s also equally necessary not to go overboard. Designing the process with the customer’s perspective in mind is critical to avoid bombarding them with annoying reminders or feedback requests. In B2B SaaS, this often requires a more hands-on approach to onboarding, designing custom onboarding timelines for each client.
Another common issue that arises is related to mismatched experiences. The entire customer journey needs to be designed in a way that meets customer expectations, and this requires effective account segmentation to allow for and accommodate a diverse set of these experiences.
It can also be hard to keep track of the right KPIs, and many companies rely on estimations, rather than accurate record-keeping to assess the state of their customer experiences. Deloitte showed that around half of CS teams aren’t measuring the right metrics to get a solid grasp of what’s going on with their customers.
This challenge doesn’t arise out of complacency; instead, it’s simply a more substantial task for B2B SaaS CS teams to record such vast databases of customer experiences. There can also be a lack of specific knowledge and a dwindling talent pool as the principles of customer success for SaaS spread faster than the education and talent pool can keep up with.
These are just a handful of the challenge modern-day challenges in customer success SaaS companies need to mitigate. However, there are solutions available.
SaaS Customer Success Best Practices: A Tactical Guide
To help you identify weak points in your success strategies, we’ve put together a few tips to act as best practices in relation to the challenges listed above.
Tip 1: Onboarding
A major concern for SaaS CS teams is onboarding. The first goal of your success team should be to iron out the creases here. A successful onboarding creates value for the customer every step of the way and is tailored to their specific needs and expectations.
Onboard.io can help you with this. Our solution helps organize, automate, and manage the entire customer onboarding process with visibility across all stakeholders and transparency all the way. With dynamic launch plans, you can make bespoke pathways for each customer to boost their success from handover to launch.
Tip 2: Account Segmentation
Dealing with mismatched expectations is the strength of a detailed segmentation of your customer demographics. Collect the right data, follow the right trends, and your entire customer journey can be designed with innumerable customer experiences in mind. This practice gets easier, the more you do it, so start with the most common customers and work your way out to other profiles. This way, you’ll be left with a bunch of templates to use that can be tweaked and customized on a case-to-case basis.
Tip 3: Monitoring your KPIs
At the risk of sounding repetitive, there are so many metrics that go into the right KPIs for you. Consider the following, but make sure you add any other relevant ones that are unique to your company:
- Churn rate
- Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
- Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)
- Net Promoter Score
- Conversion Rate
- Active Users
- Onboarding Rate
- Sessions Per User
Tip 4: Attracting the right talent
This is a really tough one. There just isn’t enough talent to go around, so it’s important to prioritize your CS hiring by offering competitive salaries and a mission driven environment. To attract the top CS talent, make sure your organization is customer-centric, meaning that you truly support and enable your CS team to advocate for your clients.
Tip 5: Understand the customer perspective
This may sound like Customer Success 101, but it’s still a hurdle that topples many teams. Customers are individuals, with their own interpretation of what success looks like, and if you’re not in alignment with that, you are jeopardizing the customer experience.
There’s no better way of finding out what customers think than by asking them. Surveys are a great way to collect data like this and can help tremendously in understanding common themes of what your clients are looking for. This allows you to tailor not only the customer journey but in many cases your product itself to the expected value of its users.
Tip 5: Consider Offboarding
Churn is a certainty in business, and while avoiding it like the plague goes a long way, at some point, you’ll have to face it. Neglecting ex-customers is a sure way to guarantee they won’t come back. You can improve your overall revenue by simply tweaking your “goodbye” process.
The cancellation process should be as pleasant as the onboarding one, allowing customers to leave on a good note. Forcing them to jump through hoops or pestering and begging them to stay only serves to create a negative association as the last memory they have of your product.
By all means, implement retention tools in the cancellation procedure, but do it tastefully, with compassion and support.
Tip 6: Offer support
Finally, there’s nothing more likely to turn an engaged customer into a churned customer than neglect in their time of need. Not only should it be remarkably easy for customers to get the support they’re looking for (this should include a shortcut to a real representative where necessary), but the support itself should be thorough and accessible.
The more options you can afford when it comes to reaching out, the better, but you will save some costs if you identify the preferences of your customers and channel resources into making that the main way of getting in touch.
Support can come from your support teams, but it should also be part of the responsibilities of your success team. As such, make it easy to contact a success representative without having to rifle through old emails to find a contact number.
Chatbots are particularly good for this. They allow customers to solve problems themselves where possible, and make it easier on your resources by filtering out the easy problems, saving your teams time to work on those that need a little extra work.
Customer success in SaaS differs significantly from customer success in traditional, transaction-based business models. For one thing, the customer journey at the point of sale is only just beginning. Then, there are countless metrics to track and perspectives to follow to make sure that your value points align with those of your customers and that they reach them in quick enough succession to remain engaged.
This all comes as a brand new science in a rapidly-growing industry, meaning there are numerous challenges in customer success SaaS companies need to overcome. Finding talent in the first place is one such challenge that underlies almost every other. But even with the best teams, this environment continually throws up roadblocks to navigate.
However, with this guide, your success processes will be vastly improved, and hopefully, you’ll know what to look out for before problems arise.