Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).
When discussing tools for Customer Success, let’s first address the elephant in the room: Way too many companies approach Customer Success from a tool-first perspective. If you look at Customer Success like it’s something that can be accomplished with the right “stack,” you’re missing the most important part of the picture.
The tools will help you manage Customer Success, but it’s more of a philosophy – one that belongs in the very DNA of your business. For an outstanding definition of everything Customer Success is, and can be, read The Definitive Guide.
As of now, Gainsight is the leader in the very new space of Customer Success Management. The company’s tagline is “The Customer Success Company,” promising reduced churn, more up-sells, and more sales in general. Big claims, but it delivers.
Customers are deeply impressed by Gainsight’s ability to predict churn and help them reach out to customers at just the right times. These genuinely actionable insights come from analyzing several data sources, including product usage, support, billing, as well as marketing and survey data. Then, out of this primordial soup of numbers, Gainsight forms analytics and workflows so customer success teams know what’s happening – and what they should do about it.
This last detail is what has boosted Gainsight into its leading status. As Lincoln Murphy, Customer Success Evangelist at Gainsight says,
“Lots of systems can analyze data and present dashboards; but what do you do with that? How do you ensure all CSMs are working with customers in the same way? From a consistent customer experience to onboarding CSMs, this centralized workflow system powered by customer ‘insights’ is so powerful.”
Gainsight makes it possible to operationalize a rather complex process in ways other products in the category don’t. But with a little elbow grease and the right tools, you can build a customer success stack.
But first, a question: What type of Customer Success do you want to embrace? Lincoln Murphy puts people who say they want customer success into two camps.
“‘Customer Success’ is either a handful of tactics you use to save customers who might churn out… or it’s a high-level strategy used to accelerate and sustain growth over the long-term regardless of market conditions. Customer Success is just glorified Support with some Account Management (Quotas!) thrown in, or it’s a total shift in how you view – and profit from – your relationship with the Customer. Hint: If you’re not looking at it as a high-level strategy, you’re doing it wrong.
If Customer Success really is as important to a business as people say it is – and I believe it’s actually much more important than most people say – than it needs to be operationalized at least as well as other parts of the business. You can’t afford to buy a real Customer Success Management solution? I’d say, you can’t afford not to.”
Are you ready for a change in the paradigm of how you view your business in relation to your customers? Or are you just looking for a new term to boost the morale of your customer service department, or maybe a new way to talk to your sales team about up-sells? These tools will help you do that too – but, from personal experience, I can tell you: Customers can tell the difference. They sense it when their interests are truly your own. They also feel it when you’re out for yourself first.
To truly reap the rewards of a customer success program, the end result should be vibrant, active, energized customer advocacy of your product – and that can only happen when the relationships between you and your customers are based more in their successes than your own.
Here are the tools to make that happen.
The Customer Success Toolbox
(Not all of these tools are necessary, and many can be used with each other)
Customer Success Frameworks
Customer success starts with your ideal customer – if those last two words result in a vague mental image of a happy customer, you need this:
- Ideal Customer Profile Framework – Your Ideal Customer Profile – ICP – dictates (or should dictate) everything from the features and functionality of the SaaS product you build, to the words you use and the emotion you invoke or tap into in your marketing.
A huge part of customer success is actually talking to and connecting with your customers.
- GoToMeeting – Work can happen anytime, anywhere. GoToMeeting with HD video conferencing is a simple yet powerful way to collaborate in real time.
- Intercom – Intercom is one place for every team in an internet business to communicate with customers, personally, at scale—on your website, inside web and mobile apps, and by email.
- Respondly – “Way to Tackle Twitter as a Team” Respondly keeps your team perfectly in sync on Twitter, so you can deliver support in a fraction of the time.
- Talkus.io – Chat with your website users from Slack.
Vianney Lecroart, Founder at Talkus.io:
“We started Talkus with a blank page asking ourselves “Slack as a platform? So what would that look like – a help desk designed and created only for Slack?”
It’s a live chat + email helpdesk (phone and SMS support is in alpha) where you never have to leave Slack to talk with your users.
Basically, you have one Slack support channel where your support team is. It works like an email inbox (not like a chat). Each time you have a new request for chat or email, Talkus posts a sentence (ticket) in this channel and it updates the ticket when things happen (someone is handling the request, close the ticket and so on). So if the channel is empty, it means you have nothing to do (congrats!) and if it is full of tickets, good luck!
Here are a few nice things we have:
As you see here, we display users’ weather, location, and local time. It’s really useful to create very personal introduction like if it’s 4AM, “Hello John, how we could help you in the middle of the night?” or if it’s snowing, “Hello, made a snowman today?” You cannot imagine how happy people are when they receive personalized messages.
Since customer support teams never have to leave Slack to do support, it’s much faster to handle a new customer. Change channel, click and chat. The user is slow to answer? Just go back and you’ll receive a slack notification and CMD+K to switch again. No need to switch between your email ticket system, live chat system, Slack, and whatever else you have going on.
You can use all power Slack features. If you chat with a user who has a technical problem, just /invite your dev in the channel so he can directly help. You want to send a file? Just drop it in the channel. You can even use all other Slack integrations, like /giphy!”
How happy (and successful) are your customers with your product? Put your finger on customer pulse with these tools.
- GoodData – Powered by advanced business intelligence tools and technology, the GoodData platform leads the industry in SaaS Business Intelligence.
- Wootric – Measure Net Promoter Score inside your web application. It just got easier to improve your product, increase your promoters, and woo your customers.
Lisa Abbott, Director of Marketing at Wootric:
“Wootric is the in-app Net Promoter Score platform for boosting customer happiness. ‘In-app’ is important, because it is often the best way for SaaS businesses to engage with their customers. Our elegant survey delivers off-the-charts response rates (vs. email), and runs automatically for a constant pulse of rich, contextual feedback.
- Totango – We help you know when your customers are ready to move to the next level, need a little more product coaching, or are doing just dandy.
Kaiser Mulla-Feroze, Chief Marketing Officer at Totango:
“Totango has a unique, differentiated way to manage customers based on a deep understanding of user engagement, service utilization levels, business results and ROI delivered to customers. Totango monitors customers much the same way a Fitbit monitors activity levels and vital signs. Totango’s software then goes a step further to help teams put in place action plans, best practice playbooks, and automated campaigns (e.g., a “get well” plan or an “up-sell” campaign) to improve customer health.”
Ideally, you’ll be able to catch problems before they rise to the level of a customer submitting a support ticket. For those times when you can’t…
- Desk.com – Customer support software that makes customers happy.
- Zendesk – Zendesk makes it easy to support customers when they need your help. Zendesk also makes it easy for them to help themselves when they don’t.
Customer Success Training
Because a crack-customer success team doesn’t happen by accident.
- Learndot – Software that integrates with your existing systems that is designed to train customers to achieve success, fully branded and customized to attract and convert prospects.
Internal / Team Communication
Customer success is a team effort, and team efforts require some coordination.
- Calendly – Say goodbye to playing phone and email tag for finding the perfect meeting time with Calendly.
Claire Suellentrop, General Manager at Calendly:
“Calendly is a scheduling tool that helps customer success teams scale their efforts and stay proactive. This looks different from team to team, but some of the biggest value-adds we’ve heard from our users include:
Making the onboarding process more efficient, since customer success specialists can offer regular group training calls to clients with similar needs
Giving customers a better experience, since they can book a support or training call at their convenience (no need to wait for confirmation of their proposed time or reach out only during office hours)
Freeing team members from phone and email tag, allowing them to run their day—not be run by it.”
- Confluence – Create anything your team needs – meeting notes, product requirements, knowledge base articles – on the web so everyone can contribute.
- Gmail – Google-owned, web-based email service.
- Google Apps (Docs, Sheets, Calendar, etc.) – An all-in-one suite to communicate, store and create.
- JIRA – JIRA Software offers flexible issue and project tracking with best-in-class agile tooling for software teams.
- Slack – Slack brings all your communication together in one place. It’s real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams.
- Targetprocess – Visually manage complex work and focus on the things that matter – Targetprocess gives the visibility and transparency you need across your organization. From Kanban and Scrum to almost any operational process, Targetprocess flexibly adapts to your management approach and organizational structure.
Alena Kuzniatsova, Marketing Director at Targetprocess:
“Targetprocess helps its customers to achieve success by enabling agility: you can use Targetprocess as a project management tool supporting any flavors of Scrum, Kanban and other Agile approaches and the tool adapts to your own processes and workflows. On top of that, Targetprocess is a visual tool which means it gives your superior visibility across projects, programs, teams and departments. The visibility is very important for understanding what is happening in your organization at each given moment and where you can improve. The remarkable flexibility and visibility provided by Targetprocess set it apart from other Agile project management tools.”
Analytics & Metrics
Data-driven doesn’t even begin to cover the importance of tracking data for customer success. These tools make it possible to see what your customers are doing, and where they might be failing.
- Heap – Heap is web and mobile analytics that automatically captures everything. You can analyze data instantly and retroactively.
Lenny Eskin, Head of Demand Generation at Heap:
“Heap is a new approach to analytics. Whereas other analytics tools require manual tracking code, Heap automatically collects all user interactions such as clicks, form submissions, page views, etc. This lets people get the business insights they need instantly and retroactively, without writing any code. Anyone in an organization can use data to drive their decisions.
Customer Success teams can use Heap to better understand user churn and engagement. Heap provides insights into retention over time, indicators that help predict churn, and potential up-sell opportunities. Every granular detail on a user’s activity is available, which lets Customer Success teams flexibly segment users to truly understand what keeps them engaged.”
- ChartMogul – Reporting and analytics designed for SaaS and subscription businesses.
Ed Shelley, Direct of Content at ChartMogul
“ChartMogul allows subscription businesses to go far beyond simple metrics and reporting. Our powerful set of tools such as Segmentation mean that you can access much deeper insights into your subscription revenue, leading to more informed decisions towards the rapid growth of your business.
Customer Success executives use ChartMogul to give a laser focus to their efforts. Churn analysis tools like Cohorts identify trends and critical periods for customer churn, whilst Segmentation unlocks a range of Customer Success-specific views of the data – for example, correlating product engagement with churn rate.”
- Popcorn Metrics – Tag and send user events to mixpanel, KISSmetrics, google, Intercom.io, Customer.io, Trak.io, Segment.io (…) without needing developers.
Paul Boyce, Founder of Popcorn Metrics:
“If there’s one key lesson I wanted to share, it’s this: Build your customer onboarding process with the single goal of helping users become successful in their job, help make it easy for them, and if you can do that – then they’ll become your customer as a natural consequence. Even better, you’ll have customers that you’ve invested time in and started building a trusting relationship that should last a long time – as both yours and their business grows.
Most of the value from event-based customer service tools (like Intercom.io, Mixpanel and Customer.io) depends on knowing what a user has done on your website – and typically that means needing IT to integrate the tools.
Popcorn Metrics is unique because it replaces the need for developers, with a low-tech point-and-click service to capture and send user data, allowing Customer Success Managers the freedom to use their favorite Customer Success platforms without being constrained by IT resources.
Rather than being just another metrics platform, Popcorn Metrics is built for Customer Success Managers to capture and send individual user behavior data to multiple Customer Success platforms. We push data to Mixpanel, Intercom.io, Customer.io, Segment.com, and more.”
So much of churn happens through failures to renew – in other words, poor subscription management. This tool makes that part easy.
- Recurly – Subscription billing and recurring billing management. Recurly offers enterprise-class subscription billing for thousands of companies worldwide.
- Chargify – Streamline your subscription management and recurring billing. Chargify offers tools proven to reduce churn, provide better customer support, and grow recurring revenue.
Adam Feber, Director of Marketing at Chargify:
“Chargify has been in the subscription management space for 7 years, and in that time, we have become experts at what features and functionality it takes to build and grow a successful subscription-based business. Outside of being easy to create your plans, integrate your website/app, and be up-and-running, we give all of your teams tools to succeed.
For example, sales and marketing can quickly spin up campaigns or apply discounts on the fly to close deals faster. Customer success can identify and engage with at-risk or past due accounts to reduce churn. Support can easily locate plan information and billing history, issue credits, process refunds, and make account changes. Management can understand the health the business through a variety of reports and analytics.
And most importantly, your company can scale without having to worry about building or maintaing proprietary code. This allows you to focus resources on serving your customers and growing your business.”
Up-sells & Cross-sells
Ah, the real meat and potatoes of what customer success has to offer. And these tools nail it.
- Salesforce – Provides on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) software services to help companies with global customer communication.
- ToutApp – (Records email communication into Salesforce.) ToutApp helps salespeople close more deals and increase productivity with the power of tracking, templates and analytics.
Integrate Your Toolbox
It’s always nice to have everything you need in one place.
- Segment – Collect user data with one API and send it to hundreds of tools or a data warehouse. Tip: If you think you’ll be interested in investing in a full-blown CSM tool (like Gainsight) in the future, make sure you leverage other tools that have a Segment integration. Then when it’s time to invest in a CSM, Segment will easily integrate your data.
Diana Smith, Director of Marketing at Segment:
“Most companies want to use a lot of tools to do different jobs: customer success, email marketing, advertising, analytics. Segment makes it easy to use all these tools without wasting needless time integrating them one by one. Plus, you’ll operate on a consistent dataset in each tool. Integrate Segment. Flip a switch to send data to every new service.
For example, you can use Segment to automatically start sending your website and app data to customer success tools like Gainsight, Preact, Client Success, and Intercom. Or, if you’re more of a DIY kinda gal, our Warehouses product gives you all of the data you need to understand what your customers are doing. You can create custom dashboards on top of your SQL instance showing everyone on an account, the last interactions they had in the product, their overall usage, the marketing channel they came from, and more.”
The full enchilada. All the bells and whistles. The product that practically created the customer success movement as we know it.
Lincoln Murphy, Customer Success Evangelist at Gainsight:
“When it comes to Customer Success Management, like any other part of the business, you need to be clear on what you’re doing before you select a tool, otherwise you end up shaping your strategy around the tool or selecting bad-fit tools that waste time, energy, and resources to move beyond. You need to have a clear Customer Success strategy, know how that strategy will play out across the customer lifecycle and organizationally, and know what success will look like for your Customer Success Management initiative.
Then you can – and should – operationalize by leveraging technology, and Gainsight is the only true Customer Success Management product on the market, that allows you to fully operationalize across the entire customer lifecycle, and across all customer segments (from very low-touch to super high-touch), from ensuring your customers are achieving their Desired Outcomes and triggering appropriate intervention if they aren’t (or if they could use more seats, add-ons, training, etc.), to ensuring your Customer Success Managers are all working from the same playbook and accurate customer information.”
Customer Success Stacks in Action
How do companies combine these tools in the real-world? I asked a few of my favorite startups to share their stacks.
According to Ryan Hoover, Founder of Product Hunt, their Customer Success stack is a combination of Respondly and Intercom.
According to Tia Fomenoff, Customer Success Manager at Unbounce, their Customer Success stack is a combination of:
- Intercom for auto-messages and looking up conversation history/general user data
- Gmail for some personal inbound account questions
- Calendly for customers to book meetings with us
- Slack/Google Apps (Docs, Sheets, Calendar, etc.) for team communication
- Zendesk for ticket management and transparency
- Recurly for customers’ subscription/billing management
- Targetprocess for delivering feedback to our Product Team
- and are just beginning to adopt Totango for customer health
According to Kendall Beckelhymer, Customer Success Manager at ServiceRocket, their Customer Success stack is a combination of:
- Toutapp – Records email communication into Salesforce with my customers and allows me to set follow-up reminders that pop-up in my inbox. Additionally, I can send out personalized email blasts on specific things that are of interest to all of my customers, like key new releases, events, etc.
- Google Calendars/GoToMeeting – Most of my days are spent talking to customers either in-person or remotely. Google Calendars is my life and GoToMeeting is the tool we use for remote meetings.
- Salesforce – To track upcoming renewals, up-sells and account status
- Desk.com (hooked into SFDC) – This support channel which also pushes into SFDC so the CSM’s can get a single view on their accounts including escalated support tickets.
- JIRA – To communicate with PM/Engineering team on bugs, new feature requests, etc.
- Confluence – For internal collaboration and this is also where we host our externally facing documentation.
- Google Drive – For collaboration with my customers.
- Learndot – Big fan of getting my hands dirty to solve problems, getting in our product and putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes is the way to do this. Our product Learndot allows customers to run successful training businesses. If business is good than this is an indicator of our team’s success as well. If business is not good then it’s important to discuss this with our customers as well to brainstorm on initiatives, integrations and features to leverage to move the needle.
- GoodData – This gives great business analytics dashboards on the overall health of each account
According to Alex Bakula-Davis, Head of Customer Success and Sales at Proven, their Customer Success stack is a combination of:
- For our CRM we went classic with Salesforce
- For support we use Zendesk, Zopim (chat), and Yesware for email
- Customer analytics / tracking we use a combination of Fullstory, Google Analytics, along with some home-made tools that have survived the test of time
- For Customer Engagement and task management we use Totango
- We use HubSpot for both customer education (blog posts, FAQs), and for reactivation campaigns (workflow emails for cancelled or dormant accounts)
- Venngage for infographics (mostly for ROI or usage infographics)
- Join.me for screen share
- Last but not least, we use the phones! When in doubt, we try to call customers as we’ve found that it’s the best way to get to the problem, or proactively delight them.
Know your ideal customer. Communicate with your ideal customer. Understand what that customer wants, and track whether or not they’re getting it. Then, help them get more of it. These are the basic tenets of customer success, and when you’re a brand new company, you can achieve them with nothing more high-tech than a phone. But when your business grows, your customer success solutions have to scale with you. That’s when you need a stack of tools designed with your customer’s success in mind.
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