Since 30% of SaaS companies report having unacceptable levels of churn, retention panic is real, and it’s tempting to point fingers, namely at the customer success team.
As a SaaS founder who led our customer-facing departments when there was a customer churn problem, I fully grabbed it, put it on my team’s shoulders, and went to work. I naively believed we could solve any customer retention problem all by ourselves.
I was wrong, of course. And it was an unfair burden to put on my organization. Particularly the leaders of each department, who felt the emotional blow every time they couldn’t save a customer from churning.
Customer success is a business methodology, not a department
According to Gainsight, “Customer Success is the business methodology of ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service.”
This definition doesn’t describe a department, team, or even a function. It describes a business methodology.
There’s no way any one team can be responsible for all of the things we often lay on the shoulders of the customer success team, such as engagement, adoption, renewals and expansion.
What the customer success team can be responsible for is building strong relationships, communicating well, helping customers achieve their desired outcomes and facilitating the customer’s day-to-day engagement with your company and product.
Retention is everyone’s KPI
We talk all the time about aligning sales and marketing, which is a great first step, but when it comes to attracting the right customers, delivering on sales promises and onboarding new clients (all key for keeping customers around), retention becomes a company-wide KPI, and not just something to pass off to the customer success team.
What I came to realize at my own company is that the burden of customer retention must be shared equally between operations, engineering, product, sales, marketing and customer success. No single department can have a greater responsibility than any other for hitting the customer retention KPI. The SaaS customer churn war can only be won with full alignment.
A few key ways all departments can make customer success a priority
But there are plenty of things other departments can do in order to ensure customers stick around.
From a product perspective, we can influence customer retention with product led growth, better usability, faster time to value, seamless integrations and active SaaS design. From a marketing and sales perspective, we can influence customer retention with a laser focus on ideal customer profile, setting the right expectations and value-driven communications. From an operations perspective, we can influence customer retention with happy employees, fair and transparent pricing and billing, and a healthy company culture. And from a customer success perspective, we can influence customer retention by building strong relationships, communicating accurately and helping customers realize value from the product.
It’s time we stop trying to solve customer retention by brute force of the customer success team alone. They’re an important part of the battle, but retention is a shared KPI that should be treated as a business methodology and not as a department. That’s what the best companies do, and it’s something that needs broader adoption across the SaaS industry.