Is there a role for CS software in CS2.0?

The first of the five tenets I wrote into the CS 2.0 Charter is “Product is the primary vehicle for delivering customer success.  The need for a large CS team could indicate a failure to properly enrich the product.”  I think customers deserve and, increasingly expect, software that guides them towards and delivers their required outcomes out-of-the-box.  Coupled with an increasing desire for self-service: that means no support team, no CS team, at least not as we currently build them.  Putting CSMs in place as we currently understand that role is, in my mind, a failure to create an effective product.  The CS 2.0 approach means that understanding the customer’s way of working, agreeing goals and developing and monitoring a plan of action to achieve those goals is an inherent part of the product.

Few SaaS companies are currently built around this way of working.  Instead of building success into the product, they build a team.  To support these new teams, customer success applications have developed and entered the market.  There are some great products; Gainsight, Strikedeck, Totango, Woopra, to name just a few.  Whilst they all have different strengths, they all start with the same premise. Customer success is a people-centric activity: it needs people and they need information and guidance. In addition, managers need reports and analytics to understand and manage!  The premise of CS2.0 is to replace the people centric model with a product centric model  This raises a big question: “What role, if any, does CS software play when product, not people is the primary vehicle for delivering customer success?”

Let’s start by looking at the major tasks CSMs currently do.

  • Build understanding of their customers and their goals.
  • Establish a shared plan to deliver customer goals.
  • Guide new customers in configuring the application.
  • Train users in the features and how they help the customer achieve their goals.
  • Guide and cajole customers in making process changes needed to achieve their goals.
  • Track usage and encourage wide and deeper adoption.
  • Generate up/cross sell and advocacy.
  • Review and renew the relationship

My vision of CS2.0 is that much of this should and can be embedded in the product.  I do not assume that this shift will happen overnight but I am convinced it will happen.  Let’s start with some initial thoughts on what capabilities are needed.

  • App tracking to a level beyond what is currently available.
  • Tools to enable discovery and problem solving that guide automatic configuration of the application.
  • Context rich, in-app messaging, including video, to guide and cajole the customer into action.
  • Next best actions: micro-workflows based on rich data rather than pre-determined journeys.
  • In-app up/cross sell and renewal purchases.
  • Off-line messaging to reach key customer contacts that are not users.
  • Review the relationship and determine next steps

Of these capabilities, CS 2.0 envisages that only the last two take place outside the product and involve person to person intervention as a default approach.  So what does this mean for CS software?  Here’s my take.

  • As the process of delivering customer success becomes product based, fewer people will be needed to deliver customer success.  That means fewer seats, disrupting the pricing model of many current providers.
  • App monitoring will become core to CS software, giving products like Churn Zero, UserIQ, Pendo and Splunk a more significant seat at the table.  In fact, making this capability native will become a must have.  Expect deep partnerships or acquisitions.
  • Significantly greater levels of data capture and manipulation will make machine learning essential to identify the patterns of activity that drive success for customers.
  • Next best action systems that guide the customer to success based on their specific, current context will replace pre-determined processes as currently envisaged in a customer journey or CS playbook.
  • A signifiant percentage of the ‘one to many’ interventions driven by CS software will be delivered via the product not email or other channels.  Deep, two-way, real-time integration between product and CS software is a must have.
  • Point and click integration with data transformation will be needed to link up the many data sources needed to build deep understanding of the customer.
  • More CS guidance will be delivered through automated chat bots that work with the customer on discovery and delivering their next best actions.
  • All of this makes a rich, single customer view ever more important.  New database technologies like graph that are focused on relationships will be more widely adopted.
  • The danger to existing suppliers comes from two fronts.  New players that build for CS 2.0 from the ground up and existing CRM providers, notably Salesforce.  They have used the tag line ‘The customer success platform’ but, other than call centre/ticketing have never really made a meaningful CS specific product play; despite having all the elements.

In the short term CS software will continue to be focused on supporting the delivery of customer success through people.  That requirement will not stop.  People will continue to be part of the delivery of customer success; just fewer of them focused on a much smaller but higher value part of the relationship.  In the longer term, the drive to product-led CS will place greater emphasis on CS software as the orchestrator of automation through the product.  CS software providers that do not follow this path will become increasingly irrelevant.