Successful customers are happy customers. Happy customers stick around and recommend your company to their friends. This is what makes customer success such an important part of any SaaS company’s success, and it’s especially critical for companies that employ a product led approach to growth. But how do organizations make customer success work at scale?
Typeform is a unique online form and survey solution that makes the data collecting process more conversational and engaging for respondents. Since I joined in 2014 as the 15th employee, the company has seen phenomenal growth and now boasts a user base of close to four million people. Over this time, our headcount has grown by over 10x, and our revenue has grown by over 60x.
Focusing on Customer Success from the very early days of Typeform has been instrumental in improving both retention and acquisition, and has played an important role in our overall achievements. Because of our high volumes and low ARPA, our approach to Customer Success was focused on scalability from day one.
Why is Customer Success so important to Typeform?
Typeform’s primary growth driver is virality. More than half of our monthly new business is generated by the viral loop created when people click the Powered by Typeform button at the bottom of our forms and surveys. The virality in our product is so strong that acquisition wasn’t our biggest challenge in the early days of Typeform. The challenge was retention.
Focusing on retention kills two birds with one stone. By making our customers more successful, we keep them around longer, and they end up driving more virality, which translates into more new business. It’s effectively a win-win-win for our customers, our retention and our new business.
While we made the early decision to invest in Customer Success, the structure of the team behind these efforts has evolved over time. I was originally hired as Head of Sales, but quickly transitioned to building out our customer success team in order to proactively improve retention. We started almost five years ago with a small support team of four people. Today, the team is about 40 people structured in six sub-teams within the Customer Success department including Support, Education, Customer Experience (CX), Customer Success Managers (CSMs), CS Operations and Sales.
Making Customer Success Scalable
Early on, we invested in building two teams that you don’t always see in an early-stage Customer Success team: our Education team and our Customer Experience team.
Our Education team is responsible for driving self-service through educational content, mainly in our Help Center. We analyze support tickets, help center visits, and other feedback in order to get insight into which topics and questions are most pressing for customers. We then use that information to make data-driven prioritization decisions on which content to produce.
Through our churn survey we found that a lot of our churn isn’t actually due to customers being unhappy, but rather from people successfully completing a project and not knowing what to do next. As a result, beyond the typical “feature-based” content one would expect in a help center, our education team also creates content that is “job-to-be-done-based” in order to inspire customers to do more with Typeform than they had initially intended.
Customer Experience (CX) team
Our Customer Experience team is a bit of a hybrid that combines research and one-to-many campaigns.
On the research side, our CX team creates a quarterly “Customer Voice” report which aggregates data from support tickets, NPS, churn surveys, sales calls, CSM calls, etc. The Customer Voice serves two purposes:
- To close the loop with Product and influence the Product Roadmap
- To generate insights and help us decide which projects to prioritize within CS
A good example of this is the insight that the majority of our churn is due to the lack of another use case (as described above). This insight inspired us to create the “What’s your next Typeform?” campaign which promotes inspirational content to customers who have completed a project. It’s triggered when a Typeform that was previously active (i.e. collecting results) all of the sudden stops collecting results, and it’s tailored to the customer’s profile (i.e. marketers will receive different content than HR professionals).
Operationalizing Customer Success: Segmentation and KPIs
Our Customer Success teams work together to offer Typeform customers a range of experiences tailored to their profile. We segment our user base into three categories:
- Automated tech-touch. This segment is for customers who don’t pay enough to justify engagement from a CSM (in our case, this is 99% of our user base). This segment receives proactive automated engagement from our Customer Experience (CX) team’s one-to-many campaigns via email and in-app messages.
- Proactive high-touch. This segment is a small portfolio of high-value customers who work with the Customer Success Managers (CSMs) in a high-touch, one-to-one engagement. They receive personalized onboarding and periodic catch-ups on the progress of their projects.
- Just-in-time low-touch. This segment sits between the CX and CSM teams to take advantage of any opportunities for expansion or reactivation. For example, we may engage with a customer in a one-to-many (low-cost) campaign, but we offer the customer the ability to reply to us and turn the engagement into a one-to-one conversation if they’re ready to expand, or if they’re at risk of churning.
North Star metric
Early on, we decided that our department’s North Star metric would be net retention. Eventually, I realized that while this was very motivating for my team, it ultimately did more harm than good. The problem was that other departments assumed Customer Success had retention covered, and therefore didn’t include retention as part of their quarterly goals. This led to a lack of collaboration from other teams on projects that required cross-functional collaboration. The typical response was “improving net retention isn’t part of my OKRs, so I can’t prioritize this project.” While I still believe that net retention should remain our North Star metric, we shifted from being the “owner” of net retention to becoming the “champions” of net retention and elevating it to a company-wide metric (rather than solely a Customer Success one). As the “retention champions,” we’re still responsible for analyzing and reporting on retention KPIs and insights, but we’re no longer responsible for driving it alone.
Besides our common North Star metric, each team in Customer Success has its own set of leading metrics that it focuses on improving.
Leading vs. lagging indicators
Retention is a lagging indicator. For this reason, it’s important to identify leading indicators that we can focus on improving, and which will improve retention in the longer-term. At Typeform, we’re lucky to have a great data team who generate insights for us about which behaviors are leading indicators to our customers sticking around. For example, we learned that the leading indicator that correlates most highly to retention is the number of Typeforms a customer creates. This is a leading indicator we try to impact through CX campaigns and inspirational education content.
There are also some features that instantly make customers more “sticky” and are leading indicators of retention. Examples at Typeform are our team feature and integrations. Basically, customers that use our team feature and/or our integrations don’t churn. This insight helps us focus on making sure that we promote the adoption of those features, and that those features are particularly well documented in our Help Center.
Some leading indicators might not be as obvious as others. For example, the leading indicator that’s most important for our CSM team has nothing to do with usage or features. For our CSM team, having a proper kickoff call with the customer’s team is the best leading indicator of whether one of our high-touch customers will stick around in the long term.
Sales as part of the Customer Success journey
At Typeform, Sales is a small team of four people that help inbound leads make the decision of whether or not to purchase a Typeform license. The Sales team fell under Customer Success somewhat by accident as I was the only person at Typeform with a sales background at the time we decided to build the team. That said, if I were to do it all over again today, I would have the same setup.
At Typeform we approach sales in a very different way than what most people associate with a traditional sales function. For example, our sales team isn’t commissioned, which removes the negative incentive to try to close deals that might not be the right fit for the customer. Instead, we take more of a consultative approach and openly tell customers if we don’t think that we are the best tool for them given their circumstances. We want to make sure that we are setting our customers up for success.
Another unusual aspect of our sales team is that we only give ourselves credit for the revenue we bring in if the customer is still paying after two months. As a result, our Sales team and the rest of our Customer Success team are all working to achieve the same outcomes – which removes a lot of the typical friction companies get between their CS and Sales departments.
Getting Started with Customer Success–three takeaways
I am regularly asked by early-stage startups what I think are the most important ingredients in building a scalable and impactful Customer Success organization. Below are my top three:
- Hire the right people. What this really means is “be patient and invest whatever time it takes to interview and hire the right people.” The reason we’ve done well in CS at Typeform is that we have a high-performing team with a great culture.
- Pay attention to the data. Understanding leading indicators is invaluable when it comes to knowing where your team needs to focus. Using the data will help you go from being reactive to proactive.
- Collaborate. Retention is a company-wide team effort, and everybody needs to keep that in mind. When you’re setting up a customer success team, you need to make sure that everyone else—from product to marketing—is on board with your goals and the projects you’re prioritizing.
Happy customers are everyone’s responsibility, but a well-organized and empowered Customer Success team can help bring strategic focus and operational efficiency to the larger effort so that the whole thing can scale as your business grows.