Generally, when a business makes a technology purchase, their end goal isn’t just to own software. Typically, they’re trying to solve a problem. Unfortunately, the technology itself can’t solve anything. It is simply a tool. As with any tool, if you don’t know how to use it, it won’t do you any good. Luckily, that’s why customer success exists.
Customer success plays a crucial role in the adoption, implementation and ultimate success of the solution. In fact, according to a study from Salesforce, nearly 80 percent of customers say that their experience is as important as price. Despite this, requests for proposals (RFPs) often don’t ask the right questions to determine how the vendor will ensure you meet your goals after the purchase is complete. Often, customer success is glossed over with quick assurances from the sales representative without any verification.
In this blog we will explore what customer success is as well as the difference between it and customer service. In addition, I’ll offer insight about why customer success questions should be included in your next software RFP. Finally, I’ll provide you with seven key questions to help you evaluate a vendor’s customer success process.
What is customer success?
Simply put, customer success, also referred to as client success or abbreviated as CS is a function with software as a service (SaaS) businesses dedicated to ensuring a solution delivers the expected results. In addition, they are responsible for maximizing the value and return on investment a customer receives from their purchase.
Explore how to calculate RFP software return on investment in this ebook: Measuring the value of RFP software.
An alternate definition provided by customer success expert, Lincoln Murphy explains the concept this way:
“Customer Success is when your customers achieve their desired outcome through their interactions with your company.”
So, what does that mean exactly? Customer success is an ever-evolving department common in software as a service (SaaS) companies. Every company is different when it comes to how much emphasis and value they put on the customer success department. However, the purpose of the team remains the same — to ensure customers benefit from the ongoing value of a solution.
Customer success responsibilities
The customer success team is responsible for the customer experience. However, common responsibilities may include:
- Account setup and onboarding
- Implementation and training
- Soliciting customer feedback
- New feature support and education
- Renewal and expansions
- Reporting and usage analysis
- Ongoing customer engagement
- Monitoring account health and data
Customer success vs. customer service
A question that comes up often is, ‘What’s the difference between customer success and customer service?’ Certainly, they sound similar, so the confusion is easy to understand.
Typically, customer service is a reactive role. Customer service representatives focus on solving specific, situational problems facing a customer. On the other hand, customer success is proactive. They focus on building relationships and understanding unique customer needs. They educate, problem solve and represent their customers’ interests within the business.
Why customer success is key
Regardless of the size of your technology investment, it will be important for you, as the buyer, to understand how you will be supported beyond the ink drying on the contract. Adopting a new solution is a big undertaking and it’s really just the first step. An article from the Harvard Business Review explains:
“When a business buyer makes an initial purchase from a seller, it’s only the start of the value exchange between the two. Most of the mutual value accrues over time as the customer benefits and both continues and expands purchasing.”
While SaaS tools are typically designed to be self-serve, they shouldn’t be self-serve only. The CS team ensures you have the knowledge and ongoing support to achieve your goals. They will be your advocate for new product enhancements, as well as a trusted advisor when it comes to continued training and best practices. This is why the role is so crucial. Consequently, questions about a vendor’s customer success process should be a standard part of any software RFP.
7 customer success questions for your next RFP
1. What is the customer success process for the software? What is a successful customer journey?
This question will help you understand the maturity of their overall customer success practice. A thorough answer indicates that they have considered your experience and designed their customer success process thoughtfully. In addition, understanding the flow will help you begin to set implementation expectations internally. Not only that, but it will also give you confidence that you will be supported throughout the partnership.
2. Do they have a customer success platform? How do they define a “healthy” customer?
Most SaaS companies will have a tool they use to track the usage, health and adoption of the software across your organization. For example, RFP360 uses ChurnZero to monitor the factors that indicate if a customer is seeing value from our platform. Tools like this allow CS teams to develop the recipe for what they see as a healthy customer. Certainly, this information will help you have more informed conversations with your vendor about the customer success process.
3. What resources will be available to your team?
Will users have readily available access to speak with your CS team? Will your relationship be high touch or high-tech touch? Levels of support will likely vary based on the software solution, the average contract size and how you fit into your vendor’s segmenting process.
Also, consider asking how big the CS team is. While your vendor might not be able to share the ratio of customer success managers (CSMs) to customers, if you are able to discern that number, it will help you understand how much support your vendor thinks you need. Alternatively, is your vendor compensating for complex product functionality by providing CSMs who will swoop in and do it all for you?
4. How will they ensure your team gets value from new release features? How will your company gain value throughout the customer journey?
One of the biggest benefits of SaaS vendors is the ability to have access to the latest features and developments. As the product evolves, it will be important for you to know how you can access knowledge about how to leverage new tools within the solution. Can you count on a series of webinars, videos and 1:1 calls to educate yourself? These tools will allow you to cascade that information to your user community and maximize value.
5. Do they have a change management framework?
While the tool you purchase may not be a huge IBM or Oracle stack, it will be important to understand the vendor’s recommendations for how to manage its roll out through your organization. Ultimately, thoughtful change management recommendations help ensure that your product will have a high engagement rate out of the gate.
6. Do they facilitate QBRs or EBRs with their customers?
Quarterly business reviews (QBRs) or executive business reviews (EBRs) are fairly popular in the customer success world. A QBR sets aside time to review strategic goals, your ROI, additional potential use cases, results from the past 90 days and any challenges you’re facing.
A QBR or EBR takes a high-level view of how things are going and it’s a lot of information. So, it will be important to know how your new vendor facilitates those sessions. Typically, not all customers receive a formal business review, but the vendor should set expectations with you, explore what topics would be covered and who the audience typically is.
7. How do they measure ROI for their customers?
And finally, we’ve arrived at the holy grail question.
Your organization is making a purchase and it will be important for you to show internally how you are getting your return on investment. With a plethora of SaaS products on the market, it is easy to become overwhelmed with ROI stories. Every company has a pitch.
It will be important for you to define how your new tool is going to help your organization. Then, once the tool is live, you must work with your customer success contact to ensure you are on track to achieve your goals.
ROI tracking examples:
Salesforce.com is one of the most popular SaaS tools in the world. Their guide, What is the ROI of Salesforce CRM does a good job of outlining how one might approach the ROI for a CRM. The list is long, likely due to the overwhelming success salesforce has in the business world today.
For RFP360, we define ROI in terms of labor and time spent towards working on an RFP across your organization. In addition, we could quantify the number of proposals you can now compete for with automation in place and compare it to historical data. Ideally, more proposals will lead to more business for your organization.
To learn more about RFP software ROI, download this ebook: Measuring the value of RFP software.
With all of this in mind, it should be no mystery why CS departments are growing in SaaS companies and beyond. As you enter the sales process for your next software solution, consider including the questions above to make the customer success process a priority in your vendor selection.
And, if you’re still not sure about the vendor’s ability to deliver, we recommend requesting to be connected directly with someone from customer success. They should be happy to speak with you, answer your questions and share some customer stories to put your mind at ease. Afterall, the ultimate success and momentum of your project may depend on them.