Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Building Your Customer Success Strategy, an eBook discussing the ins and outs of Customer Success. Access your free copy here.
Different customer success approaches and goals will be relevant depending on where your company falls on the customer experience maturity spectrum, your annual contract value (ACV) and the complexity of your product. To ensure that you are focusing your customer success initiatives most effectively, it’s critical to take a realistic view of your organization’s assets and capabilities.
There are many variations on the customer experience maturity model, but they all attempt to first define the stages of evolution that a company goes through, and then explain how each stage affects the organization’s ability to inspire customer loyalty through great experience and realized success. For the purposes of this guide, we will refer to the customer experience maturity framework developed by Jackie Golden, Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Socrata and OpenView Senior Advisor on Customer Success, overlaid with insights and commentary from other industry experts.
Maturity Level 1: Ad Hoc
Business Strategy: Survival Mode
At this stage, the customer experience is unpredictable with very little structure to guide the customer. As a result, each customer experience is unique and cannot be replicated. Reactivity is the name of the game. There is no formal prioritization process, so issues are handled as they come-up and everything is treated as a priority. Omer Gotlieb, Co-founder and Chief Customer Officer at Totango, describes this stage as the “CPR” stage during which you don’t really know why anything happens and you’re just trying to stay alive. Joel York makes a similar observation, saying that even though your metrics provide visibility on churn, they don’t provide any guidance for how to reduce it.
Maturity Level 2: Aware
Business Strategy: Project Focused
At the next stage, Golden says that you’re beginning to identify what’s working and what’s not. Some basic processes have been put in place, and priorities have been established. Gotlieb describes this stage as the “fire fighting” stage, comparing it to a well-equipped ER. You may have an initial customer success team in place, but it is focused almost entirely on triage efforts. York says this stage is about getting to the “why” – delving into statistical methods and models to better understand root causes of churn, trial conversion, purchase, etc., and uncovering the customer success KPIs and benchmarks that will help identify operational opportunities to improve the customer experience.
Maturity Level 3: Repeatable
Business Strategy: Standardized Customer Experience Delivery
This is the point at which you really begin to get a handle on defining and managing your customer experience. You have defined your customer’s lifecycle and established repeatable processes and metrics that align with that journey so that you can deliver a standardized customer experience. For Gotlieb, this stage marks the transition to a more proactive approach, or the application of “preventive medicine.” You are now able to develop engagement and action plans based on customer segments and their respective journeys and preemptively identify at-risk customers.
Maturity Level 4: Predictable
Business Strategy: Predictable Customer Experience Delivery
At this level of maturity, all the elements of your business are working together to deliver a predictable customer experience. Your people, processes, and technology are all focused on supporting and enabling customer success in an integrated and collaborative way. This is the point at which you transition from defense to offense. You are continually fine tuning your processes using data from churned and renewed customers to deliver the value and account expertise that help you proactively encourage full use of the product.
At this level of maturity, York describes the organization as a “recurring revenue machine.” There are no more “what if?” scenarios. Financial and operational goals are linked using customer success metrics and predictive analytics.
Maturity Level 5: Activating Advocates
Business Strategy: Accelerated Customer Acquisition
The last level brings the power of the customer full circle and leverages them in your business’ go-to-market processes in a structured and repeatable manner.
Mark Organ, CEO at Influitive, is quick to point out that effective customer success can’t be measured by retention alone; it must be measured based on customer growth. Growth, he explains, is driven by advocacy, and advocates are mobilized when they are fueled by “wow” moments in their customer experience.
In a study on the efficacy of different channels in relation to the share of closed-won vs. closed-lost opportunities, Organ and his team compared the conversion rates of different types of leads and found that referrals are roughly four times more effective than other kinds of leads. Delivering a customer experience that inspires loyalty and advocacy will drive profitability via improved LTV, number of closed deals, and lower CAC, cost-to-serve, and churn rates.
Organ cautions SaaS companies to understand the distinction between what it takes to maintain vs. what it takes to grow. “Minimizing weaknesses doesn’t delight, it appeases,” he explains, “If you want to earn advocacy, you need to be remarkable.”