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Product Management

Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

How Top SaaS Companies Create Customer-Centric Onboarding by @ShaylaPrice

Here’s a major SaaS growth challenge: How do teams ensure customer success from the onset?

With the goal to quickly convert new customers into loyal advocates, it’s easy for SaaS teams to forget what’s important. In this case, it’s onboarding.

Seen as just another to-do, teams neglect how crucial onboarding benefits the customer. Yes, they activated their accounts. But can you get customers to their desired outcomes?

Too often, SaaS companies marvel in their own products, from an eye-appealing user interface to near-perfect functionality. That’s only part of the equation.

Onboarding leads you from acquisition to retention. So it’s time to shift your focus to where it belongs—the customer.

Follow these five steps to achieve a customer-centric onboarding flow.

1. Score the Aha! Moment (Early)

Life is all about precious moments. People like remembering their first awkward kiss, the time they visited Disneyland with friends, and when their first-born kid peed on the floor.

Whether it’s embarrassing, sad, or joyful, certain moments define our lives and stay etched in our memory bank. The same principle applies to customer success.

Customers will recall their first interactions with your brand. Therefore, you should make that moment special. And the best way to do that is to help the user achieve value, or the Aha! Moment, as soon as possible.

“The customers need to understand your uniqueness, the costs, and benefits of the product…If the customer sees the core value of your product immediately, if they understand how it’s going to help them, they are far more likely to continue using it,” writes Gabriela Tanuri, a content analyst at Pipz.

Every company defines an engaged user differently. Maybe your users must complete three tasks in one week, or invite five friends to your app within 15 days. For instance, Dropbox considers users reaching the Aha! Moment when they put at least one file in one folder on one device.

Work with your team to unlock product value during the onboarding process. Users want to succeed—make it happen promptly.

2. Bake Success Into Your Messaging

SaaS businesses do an effective job at gaining potential customers’ attention. Teams spend lots of time designing creative display ads, developing witty copy for their homepages, and writing hilarious emails. The branding is dynamic and worth sharing on social.

Yet, once customers enter the onboarding stage, the brand personality wanes. Customers get dull messages with technical jargon.

On top of that, the messaging only informs the customer about a feature or provides access to an upcoming how-to guide.

When learning something new, customers seek validation that they’re doing things the right way. They need that recognition to move forward.

So treat onboarding like a celebration. When customers achieve a milestone, let them know and award them with personalized messages.

Mailchimp knows how to celebrate customer success. Right before customers send a campaign, they see an image that builds the anticipation, even the copy screams excitement —“This is your moment of glory.” Then, once the user sends the campaign, Mailchimp gives the user a virtual high five.

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If customer milestones aren’t acknowledged, users may feel like they’re failing. They start second-guessing their actions and the value of your tool. Keep them on the right track with messages that praise their activity.

3. Identify & Remedy User Gaps

It’s impossible to see all the gaps in your onboarding process before launching. And if you focused on finding every imperfection, you would never ship the product.

To identify gaps, start by monitoring user behavior over time. Are there increases in new user inactivity? Do customers stop opening onboarding emails after the third message? Is there an influx of similar support issues?

The next step is to fix the problem. Let’s say new user activity drops by 25% on the fifth day after signing up. You may want to lure customers back to your app with a nurturing email on the third or fourth day.

“Users should never wonder what to do next. Often this is best achieved by holding the customer’s hand and walking them straight to whatever they consider success. This can be done with popups, tooltips, or a guided tutorial that only shows the user what they need to see,” states Dennis Hammer, a content strategist at Audience Ops.

Slack is well-known for its guided tutorials in the onboarding process. Customers get short descriptions about each feature. There’s even an opt out link if users feel comfortable moving forward without guidance. These tutorials ensure users attain success.

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Don’t freak out about onboarding gaps. Instead, take action to fix the mishaps and get back to delivering value to your customers.

4. Be Available for Questions

Building a worthwhile product is important for your SaaS. If your application sucked, no one would bother purchasing it. However, it’s not the only thing that matters.

Teams sometimes forget that no matter what your SaaS product does, you’re still in the service business. Your primary objective is to build amazing customer experiences. And one of the tenets to achieve that goal is offer superior customer support before, during, and after onboarding.

Of course, you’re nice to customers and respond to their concerns. But another key ingredient is accessibility.

What annoys customers the most is signing up for a product and not having multiple channels and times to access your team members. Either customer support is only accessible by email, or you only respond to questions from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. It’s frustrating to the user who wants a solution now.

So what should you? Make yourself available on several channels. For your SaaS, that may include investing in live chat software to answer customer inquiries. Or you may need to expand your phone support times by three extra hours on the weekends.

You can streamline the support system for the customer, too. For example, Trello customers who are signed into their accounts can send a help message with their names and email addresses already pre-filled.

Onboarding is a critical stage. If customers feel helpless, they may decide to churn. Gather the right tools to make the experience convenient for them.

5. Evaluate Customer Milestones

It’s a completely normal process: Set a goal. Take action. Measure the progress. Adjust and repeat.

Whether it’s fear of failure or a forgotten step, SaaS teams skip over measuring their customers’ progress. It’s the only way to know if the customer is reaching their desired outcome and is fully buying into your brand promise.

So revisit those customer milestones. Are users accomplishing them? How often? What can your team do to make the process easier?

Understanding where users fall on the milestone spectrum gives your team insight on how to drive them toward becoming a power user or brand advocate.

“Keeping this ‘success milestone’ way of thinking after they become a customer—or are otherwise past the customer onboarding process – will allow you to surface upsell/cross-sell offers, as well as advocacy requests, at the perfect time so you’re more likely to get a positive result,” says Lincoln Murphy.

Experimentation is vital as well. Try breaking your onboarding into separate workflows, or customizing onboarding based on specific user segments. You may learn that certain customers need concierge onboarding.

The Customer Takes Center Stage

While these insights don’t reach the level of rocket science, SaaS teams often undervalue and overlook them. You possess the power to get customers to their desired solution. So start giving the customer your undivided attention in the onboarding process.

Community, Product Management

“Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré on creating a customer-centric community for your product” ft. @Autopilotus

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.)

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.

Read More on Autopilot


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Product Management

Podcast: Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré Says PMs and CSMs Must Align On Customer Journeys

“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:

Read more on Helping Sells Radio


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Onboarding, Product Management, SaaS, Startups

How to Create Customer-Centric (Not Product-Centric) User Onboarding Flows ft. @Appcues

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.

Read More on Appcues


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Product Management, Quora Answers

“What actionable steps can we take to improve communication between Customer Success team and Product team?” Answer by @NikkiElizDemere

Image source: Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky) 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:


I originally answered this question on Quora.

Read Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré's answer to What actionable steps can we take to improve communication between customer success team and product team? on Quora


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Product Management

Product Managers: Use Design Thinking to Beat the ‘Feature Factory’ by @NikkiElizDemere

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

What is a Feature Factory? It’s a phrase coined by product management consultant John Cutler in response to a software developer friend’s complaint that he was “just sitting in the factory, cranking out features and sending them down the line.”

His barometer for whether you’re working in a “Feature Factory” hinges on whether the impact of your work is measured (or even discussed), and iterated on accordingly. Basically, if all you’re doing is spinning out features, and taking far too little time to consider whether they’re solving core problems for your audience and measure their success or failure, you might be a ‘factory’ worker.

Hopefully you aren’t – and hopefully your competitors are, because the “Factory” system is easy to beat when you take a Design Thinking approach. Remember: Even though they produce a lot of features, Feature Factories aren’t serving their customers well.

This oversight can give you the competitive edge.

“Your product is designed to solve a problem. If you’re adding a feature that doesn’t contribute to the solution, you may be wasting your time and worsening your product in the process.” – Kissmetrics, Why More Features Doesn’t Mean More Success

How to Beat the Feature Factory With Design Thinking

Though methods of putting Design Thinking into practice differ – it’s a creative process, after all – a few central tenets remain true. It’s all about empathy, diversity, and cross-functional collaboration. Fundamentally, it’s a human-centered approach to design, as opposed to a technological/scientific/feature-forward approach.

That means, the ideation process begins by thinking of the humans you’re working to serve.

And that requires a great deal of empathy.

Read more onDigital Surgeons


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Product Management

How to Get Product Managers Excited to Work with Customer Success by @NikkiElizDemere

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

A Customer Success team is only as good as its information. After all, if they waited until the customers told them what’s wrong — they’d be Customer Service. In order to take a proactive role in helping customers achieve their desired outcomes, Customer Success has to know:

  • Their customers — what they want, what they need, and how to bridge the gap between what your product does and this desired outcome.
  • The onboarding process — where new customers tend to get stuck, where they drop out, and what can help them get over those hurdles instead of churning.
  • Usage — how well is the product working for the customers? Where they stop using it. What they’re hoping to find — and don’t.
  • Growth opportunities — when the customer will benefit from using more of the product, or an additional feature. Basically, when it would serve their interests to upgrade.

Customer Success is Who covers the What, Where, How and When — but my question is:

Why aren’t other departments clamoring at their door for these insights too?

These are insights that can benefit the entire company, reducing churn, raising revenue, and giving the business every piece of information it needs to become an integral part of its customers’ lives.

But, most of us come from a tradition of strict departments. You do your thing; I’ll do mine. Which, along with a combination of territorialism and downright inefficiency, leads to data silos.

These are MY numbers and nobody else can have’m!

And I’m sure some companies have good reasons for keeping everything compartmentalized — but when you have a Customer Success department which, naturally and necessarily, has its finger in every pie, it’s absurd not to use them as the resource they are.

But I’m preaching to the choir.

Most of you reading this are Customer Success. So you don’t need me to tell you how important your insights are or how much good they could do.

You need a way to get your insights heard.

Because you can’t give your customers what they need by yourself.

You need Product Dev.

This is about how to form that partnership in such a way that Product Managers become more interested in what’s going on with the customer and want to get involved — instead of staying one step removed.

Read More on Success Hacker


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones In Your User Flows ft. @Wootric & @16v

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

As a Product Manager, you develop user flows to chart how customers move from signup to successfully using your SaaS product. Your colleagues in Customer Success are doing the same thing — mapping a flow of customer milestones to success.

But “success” can mean different things to PMs and CSMs. And, while both teams employ user flows (or customer journeys), what they put on them are very different, reflecting their very different goals.

You are responsible for making the product functionally work, with enough awesome UX so it’s relatively intuitive for the customer to use. For your team, “success” often means that the product works. It does what it says it will do, and does it well.

Customer Success is responsible for helping customers use the product to achieve their desired outcome. Most of the time, that desired outcome isn’t in the product – it’s outside of it. For example, if I purchase a budgeting app, my desired outcome is to save enough money to sun myself on a Caribbean beach, with a good-looking server to bring me fruity drinks with umbrellas in them. The Customer Success manager’s job is to get me there.

You might say it’s a conflict between focusing on the world inside the product and the wide, wide world outside of it.

And that conflict can bring about a deep divide between Product and Customer Success.

Yet, we’re all working towards the same goal: Creating a product people love, need and want more of.

What if you were to bring both user flows together, so the functionality inside the product meets the desired outcomes outside of the product?

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Product Management

A Product Manager Communication Survival Guide (or how to tame information overload) ft. @johncutlefish

a-product-manager

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

It’s all you, baby.

Or, more accurately, it’s all on you.

The burden of communicating among teams, in between departments, and being the go-to get-it-done-guy/gal for CEOs and managers – it all tends to fall heavily on the Product Manager’s shoulders.

Product Managers are the linchpins of their organizations. The fillers of “the white space” – the processes and tasks that need to happen, but for which no one is specifically responsible.

Among their many, and varying responsibilities, Product Managers often orchestrate the exchange of ideas, conduct collaborative brainstorming sessions, and ensure that vital data reaches its destination, broken down into what we call Little Data, the understandable, actionable molecules. And they do it over and over and over again, rephrasing the same information fifty different ways, for fifty different people, all using it in different ways.

As PM, you’re the one building a shared understanding of what’s going on.

data-drive-kpi-tracking-product-manager

Roman Pichler’s diagram scratches the surface of the many responsibilities often assigned to PMs, but as John Cutler, prolific product management writer and consultant says:

“In a lot of organizations, you’re swimming in this diagram. You’re all over the place. Especially in a smaller organization, this diagram might be your brain.

The scary thing is that, depending on the company, you could add facilitating team problem solving, team decision-making, meeting with lead engineers and everyone else – you’re on the phone constantly, even with customers. Product is the connective glue. They literally fill the cracks of everything.

Read More on Notion


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Product Management

“Data’s great, but I’m going with my gut”: How to Overcome Fear of Data ft. @UseNotion

howtoovercome-fear

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Let’s say your goal is to build team camaraderie, making them happier, more cohesive and all around better. You’ve tried putting beer in the office. You’ve tried banning beer from the office. You’ve tried a BYOB consumption structure. But you’re still not sure whether any of these measures have actually affected the productivity of your team. It’s enough to drive a manager to drink, I tell ya.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way you could know for sure which of these management processes was most effective? And no – this method doesn’t only apply to Madmen-meets-Craft-Brew day drinking.

Here’s the thing: There is a way to know for sure how effective your latest management policy is. And it’s not hard (we’ll tell you one really simple way to do it at the end). But first you have to overcome some obstacles. After all, all businesses can collect data – but far too many simply aren’t using a data driven framework to make management decisions.

Read More on Notion


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.