Customer journey maps have the potential to be the best tool your marketing department has – or a colossal waste of time. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how to build a customer journey map in “3 easy steps.” Those don’t work, at least not by our standards.
If your customer journey map isn’t moving you towards more conversions and awesome retention rates, it’s a waste of paper.
The way most people do customer journey maps looks like this: Bring your ‘best and brightest’ into a room for three hours, play “this is who we think our buyer personas are,” “this is what we think they’re feeling,” and follow it up with “these are where our touchpoints are.” In other words, it’s “brainstorming” with insufficient research. You’re not creating a map, you’re having an office party. And the customer journey map is the party game.
Do I sound harsh? Good. Because customer journey maps done wrong really burns my biscuits.
They have so much potential to be useful.
Actionable. Energizing. Even inspiring.
But to be truly useful, you have to approach them from the foundation of research, grounded in real, verifiable customer data. And that’s the step too many people miss, because it’s just not as much fun.
Forget fun – this is marketing strategy.
When a customer journey map does its job, it becomes a tool that lets you (and your marketing team) visualize your relationship with your target customer from first eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room encounter to mutually fulfilling partnership.
It shows the most likely places to meet your target, what they need there (depending on which stage of the sales funnel they’re in), what they get there currently, and where mismatches in expectations and desired outcomes may be losing them.
If this sounds like I’m describing more than just a customer journey map, you’re absolutely right.
This definition is much simpler:
“a customer journey map is merely an illustration or diagram of all the places (touchpoints) your customers come into contact with your company online or off.”
To make your journey map actionable, it can’t be merely an illustration of touchpoints. It has to illuminate the relationship, in its entirety. It has to pay attention to not only where prospects are, but what they need – and how to give that outcome to them in a way that moves them closer to your desired destination.
This journey map will become your visual cheat-sheet to understanding your customer on a deep, meaningful, actionable level.
It’s not simple. But there are three steps.
“As Software-as-a-Service becomes more and more commonplace throughout the world, it’s important to know who exactly is shaping the evolution of this space. In order to make this list, and evaluate everyone on a level playing field, our content team used a metric called True Reach, devised by clear, to rank all of our influencers. While that was our guiding metric, we also included their overall influencer rating (in terms of how influential they are to their own audience), total audience size, and engagement score to paint a full picture of each influencer. We hope you find this document useful, and learn whatever you can from this group of influencers.”
Building a community around your product can be both a quick win and longer term customer retention strategy.
They’re easy to create—as simple as a setting up a Slack channel or Facebook group. Plus, they’re a powerful asset not only for customers, but also for your marketing, support, success, and product teams.
Above all else, they’re a way to prove that you really are customer-centric—because the whole point is that you’re right there to answer their questions, share ideas with them, listen to their suggestions, and give them a place to communicate with each other about how they’re using your product.
ProdPad has been having great success with their Slack channel. Their UX team uses it to share mockups and sketches for things they’re working on, find suitable users for research and interviews, and collect voice-of-customer data. But that’s nothing compared to what it has done for their customer retention.
As ProdPad’s Head of Growth Nandini Jammi notes, “Slack has quietly become our strongest retention channel at ProdPad.”
“As time passed, we started seeing a pattern we really liked: Customers who join our Slack community were not cancelling their ProdPad plans at all. In fact, 99% of our cancellations were (and still are) coming from customers who weren’t part of our community.”
But they’re not seeing results because someone took 5 minutes to set up a Slack channel. They’re seeing results because of how they’re using it: They’re committed to transparency, have a policy of “never saying no” to a customer, and log every single conversation as customer feedback because it’s important to them.
“We can handle all kinds of feedback because we engage with it and actively work to find our solutions for our customers.”
How to create a customer-centric product community
1. Establish your philosophical framework
You need every member of your team to understand what your community is—and, just as importantly, what it isn’t. ProdPad’s community works because they’re 100% committed to transparency and welcome the customer into their process. Yes, you’re doing this to drive retention and referrals. But if you aren’t primarily doing this to help your customers succeed with your product, you won’t achieve either of those outcomes.
Another question to ask yourself is, what you want to accomplish with your community? Do you want to increase retention by supporting existing customers? Or, do you want to create a space that helps you attract and acquire ideal customers? For example, Pieter Levels, founder of NomadList, created a Slack community that was only loosely tied to NomadList, but cleverly targeted ideal users. It now has nearly 10,000 members, 3,000 of whom are active on a monthly basis.
Fun fact: Growth Hackers began as a community for Qualaroo, and Inbound.org began as a community for HubSpot. Don’t be surprised if your community takes on a life of its own!
2. Choose your platform
The type of community you choose depends on your intended users and your bandwidth. B2B SaaS companies might find that their target customers are already on Slack, making it a natural platform for their branded community. Other demographics barely know what Slack is, but are on Facebook all the time.
If it aligns with your goals and you’re able to allocate the resources, you can even develop your own community and give it a home on your website. If you go down that path, you’ll reap the rewards of increased brand awareness, SEO, and customer loyalty.
As with any kind of marketing, go where your target users already are.
3. Set up your community
To create a community on Slack or Facebook, follow these instructions:
If you plan to develop your own community, take inspiration from these DIY communities:
4. Set expectations
Part of customer success is setting expectations—and you’ll want to set expectations with your customers early on when creating a product community.
The expectations you’ll need to set will differ from platform to platform. For example, Facebook groups benefit from having a set of conduct rules pinned to the top of the page. That way people know what is and isn’t allowed. (Hint: Be prepared to enforce those rules by booting people out.)f
Slack presents other challenges. Because Slack enables instant messaging, people tend to expect instant responses. If you have the bandwidth to respond right away, good for you! If you can’t, do like this company did and say so.
“To counter unrealistic availability expectations, we laid out a couple of ground rules together with our clients, such as nobody needs to always answer right away. Although more direct than email, everybody should see Slack as an asynchronous means of communication,” wrote Christian Weyer, Partner, Crispy Mountain.
5. Promote your community
Slack communities and Facebook groups both require users to be “invited” (or at least approved) by admins. The easiest way to discover users to invite is to promote a signup form.
Typeform is an easy, free service that creates simple forms. You’ll only need a few fields: name, email (so you can send the invite), links to online profiles, and why the person wants to join. Check out this guide to integrating Typeform and Slack.
This is a segment from Autopilot’s blog, 11 Winning Retention Tactics from 11 Remarkable Marketers.
“Here’s the thing.
Most of us don’t want to admit it, but we work in silos. The product team is doing their thing and the customer success team is doing their thing. Most organizations (and most people) know this and work to some degree to minimize the separation, but it exists. These silos are evident between product teams and customer success teams. Both have good intentions and work hard to product something that a customer wants or otherwise finds useful, but in the end each team looks that what a customer needs through a different lens.
This is a problem that needs solving because customers don’t care about our lenses. They only care about their own thing…
This is why we wanted to talk to Nichole. She wrote an article, called Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones In Your User Flows, in which she describes how product and customer success can work better together to be more customer-centric.
To do this, Nichole wants us to focus on helping customers achieve their desired outcomes because often times, even though our product is designed to help a customer achieve an outcome, the customer very often does at least some work outside of your product to achieve that outcomes and maybe your product only helps with some of that work (either by design or because the customer does not know they can use your product for that).”
Resources cited in the podcast:
- Lincoln Murphy’s Definition of Customer Success
- eBook: How to Align SaaS Content Marketing and Product Management
- Article: How to Create Customer-centric User (Not Product Centric) User On-boarding Flows
- Success Vector – the KPI for Customer Success-driven Growth
- Helping Sells Radio Episode 41: Kia Puhm Wants You to End the Product-Sales-Customer Success-Support Tug of War.
Onboarding is a magical time—magic in the sense that if your users don’t find what they need and get the results they want, they will magically disappear. Also, magic because of its transformational power to turn tire-kickers into loyal users.
Will your onboarding process lead to a disappearing act? Or will it enable you to build a lasting customer relationship?
It all depends on how you build customer success into your user flows.
Many onboarding user flows are designed to help the user set up their accounts and learn how to use the product. That’s all very useful. But these user flows are missing a step.
Account setup and functional learning are important, but only as much as they help the user achieve their ideal outcomes.
Your user doesn’t care about your interface. They don’t really care about your tool either. They care about achieving their ideal outcome in the simplest, easiest, fastest way possible.
That’s what your product is designed to deliver, isn’t it?
Yet, too often, we fail to include the actions that mean success for the customer into the very user flows designed to get them there!
It’s time we re-think product-centric user flows—especially in onboarding.
Image source: Image created by Yasmine Sedky () for Nichole.
Improving communication between customer success and product teams involves more than creating a Slack channel, or implementing any number of systems that – on the surface – facilitate communication.
You have to give them reasons to want to communicate.
Teams tend to be insular. Data tends to get siloed. And to really bridge those gaps, there needs to be an understanding of what other teams have to offer.
Customer Success’ purpose is to ensure customers reach their ideal outcomes with the product. To do their jobs, they track a tremendous amount of user data, setting up alerts when user actions indicate the potential for churn, observing where customers fall off of onboarding or use, collecting voice of customer data on what they want and what they may not be getting.
Basically, they have all the information Product needs to do their work better.
The challenge for Customer Success is to show Product managers how their information can help Product reach their goals faster and better – and do so in language Product folks can understand. Because there is a language gap. Customer Success tends to be more touchy-feely; they’re all about creating “delight.” Product teams are all about creating… the product.
I’m not saying there aren’t wildly creative verbally-inclined Product managers with crystals on their desks, I’m just saying that bullet points with metrics are generally appreciated.
Actionable steps to improve communication between Customer Success and Product Management:
- Tell Product what you have to offer. You can create a customer-centric priority list of what changes are likely to have the most impact (Dev teams typically like to do the biggest impact, easiest-to-implement fixes first).You can work together to find metrics to measure the success of proposed product improvements, changes and additions.
- Give’m a break. When customer support tickets reach Product Dev, it takes away valuable time from the work they’re doing to make products better. As Customer Success, if you can proactively predict the most common issues your customers have, and address them through DIY and FAQ content, it will lighten the load of support tickets that make it to the Dev desk.
- Pre-organize and think through feature requests. Dev can become a dumping ground for everyone’s “bright” ideas, and it seems like all problems become feature requests. Customer Success can help prioritize features according to which will solve pain points and bridge success gaps for their target audience. This isn’t to say that Product should take its marching orders from Customer Success – not at all. Rather that it should be a collaborative effort to prioritize projects based on user impact, effort required, and company priorities.
Essentially, we’re all working towards the same goal: Delivering the outcome that is the reason the customer bought your product in the first place. Customer Success can help Product Dev bridge that gap by sharing their understanding of what the customer wants – and sharing the successes experienced by delighted customers.
Related, detailed articles that I’ve written:
Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.
Taking Instagram photos is my hobby. In this series, I post a few photos on Friday that I recently took. This series features The Nervous Girls — “feminist message gets to ride a wave of empowering, shoegazing post-punk sounds.”
If you’re charting customer success milestones into your user flow and/or onboarding processes, congratulations! You are way ahead of those who don’t. But before I can offer the panacea statement “You’re doing everything right!” – there’s one step you might be missing.
It’s easy to miss, because it’s counter-intuitive.
It’s counter-intuitive, because, being the very good CSM that you are, you’ve done ALLTHERESEARCH on your target customer. You know what they want to do and need to get done with your product. And you are building milestones into your product to keep them on track.
But here’s the missing link.
It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone.
And understanding the difference is very… well… valuable.It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone. It isn’t. Click To Tweet
We’re talking dollars and cents, make-or-break your company valuable.
First, a couple of definitions for the newly initiated:
Your Milestones: Typical milestones include trial period, sale, onboarding, product usage, upsell opportunity, renewal, etc. These are your milestones – the things you’d like your customers to accomplish so your product is successful. These are not your customer’s milestones.
Customer Success Milestones: The steps a customer has to take in order to reach their desired outcome. (Lincoln Murphy’s definition.) You can also think of them as the little successes along the way to reaching the customer’s ultimate success.
Time to first value (TTFV): Time to first value is how much time it takes for the customer to get real, tangible value from using your product. And this is “value” by their definition, not yours. This first value is probably going to be related to your value proposition – that promise that got your customers in the door in the first place.
The onboarding process, in particular, is where we really win or lose customers – and the surest way to win them is to show them value. In The Most Important SaaS Metric Nobody Talks About, RRE ventures connects the dots between the value proposition and time to first value in a nice, concise way:
Onboarding should reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Click To Tweet
“Onboarding should emphasize and reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Sign-up should be frictionless and deployment should be self-service to the point where the customer is up and running in minutes and, most importantly, getting value from your product a few moments right after.”
A few moments isn’t much time to deliver value, and if your product simply can’t manage that – you’re not alone.
Lincoln Murphy has been noodling over the idea of time to first value for a while – and I particularly like what he has to say about including “quick wins” in the onboarding process. Quick wins don’t have to happen within the first “20 minutes” like the RRE Ventures article suggests, but they do need to happen fast enough to prove that your product is worth the time/money investment before the customer loses interest (or patience).
Reaching that first value quickly is easier in simpler SaaS products. But what if you have a complicated product, one which does a lot of things and has a steeper learning curve? I asked Lincoln Murphy, Founder of Sixteen Ventures to weigh in on time to first value, and what the TTFV process looks like for a more complicated product.
Time to First Value (TTFV) Podcast ft. Lincoln Murphy
Lincoln on Time to First Value
Since there’s some confusion over value versus milestones, Lincoln clears that up first.
I like TTFV because it forces us to think about value; milestones can quickly devolve into the typical inward-focused CX of just trying to get a customer to do what we want, not what they need to do.
The purpose of milestones is to get the customer closer to finding value – I might have to go through several milestones to reach first value. If a milestone isn’t value-based – if it’s not moving the customer toward their Desired Outcome – it isn’t a milestone. Or it isn’t a milestone in the context of Customer Success.
Also remember that “first value” may be actual value delivered (or received, depending upon your POV) or it could be when the value potential is first recognized by the customer outside of their interactions with sales and marketing.
More complex products often take awhile for value to be truly recognized, so the value potential is what we focus on initially.
Lincoln on First Value when it’s Complicated
Onboarding design is usually about prompting the new customer to complete “setup” tasks and/or learning how to use the product.
It’s a bit like creating a new character when you want to play your computer game – you pick a name, do some cosmetic surgery on the face, choose a species (I know I’m not the only RPG gamer here). The best games make that part fun too, because they know that fun is their customer’s desired outcome. It’s not that different for SaaS products, but with SaaS products – especially those adopted by teams and businesses, you also have to manage expectations.
Setting up the system is part of getting to first value, but you need to be prescriptive and manage expectations with them along the way, meaning you really have to understand what first value actually is [for the customer] and design a process to get them there quickly.
Structure begets trust.
The more we can help our customer set things up and manage expectations on their end, so they can plan for it accordingly, the more they’ll trust us. Often it’s the unknown that causes our customers to lose confidence in us.
The unknown is problematic because it’s confusing, hard to plan around. Sometimes, onboarding processes are even confusing on purpose.
For most vendors, the onboarding process is a total black box, at least throughout the sales process, and only then does it become more apparent that it’s… not actually that great.
You see this when vendors try to hide the details of onboarding from their customers until it’s too late for customers to back out. We need to be open, prescriptive and structured with our customers.
That said, very often, the setup, implementation, data seeding, integrations, etc., aren’t necessary to getting the customer to first value. That’s a huge idea, because vendors often don’t understand what initial value is for the customer. They think that in order for a customer to get value they have to have everything set up. The customer has to have all the implementations and integrations complete.
The reality is that’s not true.
It may be true for the customer to get ultimate value, but that’s not first value.
The critical piece here is understanding the difference.
Back to my role-playing games – sometimes the setup is more fun than the game. That’s doing it right. ie. finding the first value insta-fast. But in the serious world of SaaS, product development and sales folks are so concentrated on full adoption, that they miss opportunities to identify other, in-between ways in which their customers can get closer to their ideal outcomes.
Most vendors have an idea of value for their customers and that idea usually greatly varies from the idea of value that their customers have for themselves. The vendors’ idea of value is often full adoption, full breadth and depth. Customers must use all the seats and every feature or they can’t be successful, but your customers tend to have something else in mind. They have a business outcome that they need to achieve and that may not require what *you* think success really is.
The question is: do you care about what your customer sees as success? Or do you care about what you see as success?
You have to make a decision. If it’s all about you, all about that full depth and breadth of use, that’s fine, but know that’s not the same as your customer’s definition of success.
And that’s going to be a problem.
So how do we dig deeper and find out what first values to target?
We need to ask what is their ultimate business outcome and what would first value actually be?
Is it when they first get some real tangible value, or is it the first time, outside of sales and marketing, that they see the potential for value in their relationship with us? Figure out which one it is and that’s your onboarding goal.
Now we have to engineer a process to get them to that point.
Here’s the deal: We have this ultimate business outcome, and to get there we have to achieve these smaller outcomes along the way – an initial outcome followed by logical milestones.
If they don’t achieve those first few milestones, their ultimate goals don’t really matter because they won’t get there. This is why we see so much churn and non-renewal attributed to early lifecycle issues.
It’s your job as the vendor to know what that initial outcome is and help them achieve that in the appropriate way, and you have to know what those milestones are on the way to the next logical outcome.
But because software vendors often invest millions and millions into features, they want to shove those features on customers as quickly as possible instead of understanding what the customer needs and just giving them that.
Instead, vendors tend to overwhelm their customers with too much stuff – features, tasks, integrations, enhancements, training, whatever – and the customer never gets any real value because they’re never really onboarded.
And how does timing work in this onboarding process? It’s not tied to the typical 30 days – that’s for sure!
I see a lot of vendors tie their onboarding to some artificial time frame, usually 30 days. And they say, “Well, they’ve been a customer for 30 days, check that box, they’re onboard now.” So even though they have an onboarding process, they have some arbitrary time frame, they overwhelm the customer, and then they say after that 30 days, the customer is onboard.
This makes no sense.
Then, of course, the customer complains they’re not getting any value and the vendor blames them for not finding value from this – obviously – super valuable product. There’s a mentality that has to change here.
Treat time to first value as a goal.
Every customer achieves success in their own timeline. We have to set a goal for them. We would like our customers, or at least a specific customer segment, to achieve first value either by getting actual value from their relationship with us, or, for the first time, see that real value potential in the product.
We want them to achieve that milestone in 30 days, but that’s a number we made up. It might take them 3 days, or three months. We might have to intervene, or it might be fine. It’s a goal. And we want to make sure that, if things aren’t fine, we intervene before those 30 days are up and get them back on track.
Instead of saying we have a complex product, we should start viewing it as a complex customer relationship. If they have a more complex goal, we’re going to have to work with them in various ways to help them achieve that goal. It’s not a complex product – the product is there to facilitate success through this relationship. It’s a different way to look at things.
But at the end of the day, you need to know what the ultimate value is, and you need to know what first value is, so you can design and engineer a process to meet them where they are and get them to that first value.
What other people are saying about TTV
Of course, Lincoln isn’t the only one talking about time to first value. Here’s what other SaaS industry insiders are saying.
How do you define TTV?
“This is surprisingly tricky to define, because on the surface it would simply be “the amount of time it takes for someone to experience value from your product,” but HOW MUCH value is necessary for you to officially call it “finished”? Ideally, you provide some value in your product’s very first experience, but if that was also equal to all of the value someone COULD EVER get out of your product, you probably don’t have much of a product at all. Instead of coming up with a rule of thumb for when it’s “enough value to count”, I would instead focus on something like “value per minute”, wherein you focus on delivering more and more value more and more efficiently, kind of like this concept in video game design.
Of course, the people who NEVER receive value will skew that ratio way down, but, well… that’s sort of the point!”
“Are you familiar with the character Walsh on Firefly and how he uses the word “Shiny?” When I’m thinking about this in my own head, I think Time-To-Shiny. You’re looking for a combination of both a) delight and b) either demonstrably improving someone’s life or credibly demonstrating that you have the capability of doing so.
Twilio, for example, has among the best Time-To-Shiny of any complicated, development-heavy software product you’ll ever use. You can credibly promise a massive improvement in folks lives as soon as their phone rings in response to code they have written; Twilio can have that happening in ~30 seconds or so for a new user if they’re being guided; perhaps ~5 minutes or so if they’re a motivated self-starter.
How to improve it? One, figure out a way to track it obsessively. Two, cheat like a mofo; ruthlessly defer as much as possible about the full experience until AFTER you have achieved that one moment of concentrated joy. Exact tactics for doing this depend a lot on the product at issue; often they involve (e.g.) having fake data pre-loaded in accounts so that someone doesn’t have to do weeks of data entry prior to seeing any improvement in their lives, scripted onboarding experiences, etc.”
“Studying survival analysis taught me a great rule of thumb for this. The highest likelihood of TTV is always the moment after signing up. This is when the user is active, it’s only downhill from there. Having realized this, I’ve guided the team to really focus on onboarding well. Incorporating UX research is invaluable to get customers to TTV faster.
TTV is a curve. Some reach it in seconds, other years or even never. I think of it in terms of influencing a curve rather than a discrete point. The key is using statistics to measure TTV, but qualitative UX research to guide the improvements.”
How are you building value into your product or onboarding process? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!