No One Expects the Customer Success Inquisition

April 19, 2017 Howard Yermish

No One Expects the Customer Success Inquisition When I first started at Internet Creations, I was given the luxury of a relative “blank canvas.” We knew changes were needed, but we weren’t sure what would make sense. Our Salesforce consultants worked as Success Managers for a small collection of our customers, serving as a key technical contact outside of the Account Executive. What we were doing was working fine, but it wasn’t creating growth and better outcomes for the larger collection of our customers.


The Inquisition Begins

I started going through all the marketing materials that I could find. I also read through all our documentation to see where there were inconsistencies. I kept a long list of questions, some very simple, if not completely obvious. No need to make assumptions this early in the process.


Asking My Questions

I wasn’t interested in consistency at all, I was interested in the differences. I made a clean copy of my questions in an outline and asked each key person individually. Along with listening to the answers to the questions, my goal was to get an understanding of each person’s perspective.

  • Where were the frustrations?
  • Where were the ideas that hadn’t been acted on?
  • Where had there been prior efforts without any significant results?


Diving into Data

Our company uses Salesforce in every area of the business, so we have a lot of data that we can review. I looked at many different data points, but the significant one ended up being average support burden (support hours per customer per year). If I was going to ask others at the company to put any extra effort, I needed to be able to justify the time and expense toward a new initiative.


Define and Describe Customer Groups

Looking at the data also helped define the different groups of customers, which I like to describe in terms of a staircase. I drew the customer stairs on the walls (which act as whiteboards) for anyone that would listen. It helped me shape the definition of our five customer groups. I described ideas that weren’t yet fully formed to get the other person to “fix” what wasn’t properly defined, and relate each idea to one of the stair steps. (The advantage of working with very talented people is that there is never a shortage of great ideas.)


Pick a Place to Start

What could we do that would inspire a customer to “ascend the staircase,” going up to the next group? I considered focusing on training events to promote end user adoption, but the outcomes would be slow to appear and hard to track direct influence. I considered starting with something that was only for brand new customers, specifically about onboarding for our community, but it was too low on the “staircase” and the interaction would be relatively isolated from others at the company: a high frequency of activity, but a smaller potential return.

I shot squarely at the “second step,” the center of a large group of customers that were showing signs of potential growth. I asked the each of Account Executives to suggest customers to invite, with the goal of doing about 8-10 of these reviews to test the process. We didn’t want to force it, so the invitation helped us gauge whether customers would be interested in the review process. We offered a simple description, let them know it was a courtesy service, let them know that a consultant would be doing the work, and let them schedule a time that would work in their calendar. In the first batch, about 10 customers opted into the process.

The question that the Product Implementation Review fundamentally asks the customer is “Are you getting the most value from your purchase?” This is by no means revolutionary. In fact, the very reason that SaaS companies start Customer Success departments is to ensure that customers get the most value from the products to ensure the continued use of the product.


Design the Process to Work Across Departments

Being new at the company, I picked something that involved a lot of different people. The risk was that if this was going to fail, everyone would know it. But with advocates from several teams (Sales, Marketing, Consultants, Support), everyone wanted this effort to succeed. We came up with great plans for automating the process where possible, but waited until we had done the process manually enough times to get a sense of what would be needed.


What We learned

Most customers were thrilled that we were doing this and very receptive to the invitation. During each review, we learned that our customers had MANY questions that weren’t being asked. Even though they already liked our products, they were only scratching the surface in terms of what the products could do for them. We learned that we had stuff buried in our documentation that wasn’t well known by our own employees. And we learned that being proactive and prescriptive could be the catalyst for better customer outcomes, inspiring the customer to take the next step with us.


Key Takeaways

  • Be inquisitive and be willing to ask what may seem like obvious questions.
  • Start something somewhere, preferably where you can get other people outside of your team involved and invested in the outcome.
  • Your customers are waiting for you to help move them forward, so invite them.

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About the Author

Howard Yermish

Thanks in part to insane amounts of coffee, Howard brings a level of enthusiasm and understanding to the geeky world of technology, presenting topics in a way that keeps things relevant, rather than just "gee wiz, isn't this cool." He has leapt tall stacks of computers since age 4 (thankfully computers keep getting smaller) and professionally involved in Internet development and Information Technology since 1993. In 2016, Howard joined Internet Creations, a Salesforce Silver Consulting Partner, and now serves as the Director of Customer Success.

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