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Unique Angles On Customer Success

customer successI was back in the studio this past week with Whitney Hillyer from Bitly who came on to discuss customer success in a podcast we titled “Unique Angles On Customer Success.” Whitney runs the customer success team at the company and of all the folks I have met in this space, is by far the most forward thinking and unique about customer success. She did not grow up in a SaaS or customer success organization so brings a very different perspective to her own individual employee management as well as how she runs the organization as a whole. As any SaaS organization grows up, this part of your efforts (post-sales) becomes super important. You have to keep accounts, keep upselling customers, limit churn, and help drive success for your customers. We covered a lot in this podcast and below were a few key things that any SaaS founder should think about related to customer success:

(1) Stop Thinking Of This In Its Narrow Sense – Anyone that wants to build the customer success organization into a powerhouse asset should be thinking about the business unit way beyond it’s actual primary role. Specifically, Whitney coaches young founders to have the early customer success managers meet with product, sales, and marketing weekly. These meetings generally are two way and involve the customer success managers showcasing learnings and insights specifically from the customers. They cover the macro of how all customers are thinking and the micro of individual customers and their wants, usage, etc. This can be enormously effective as each business unit is hearing directly from the customers through the customer success team. Product can think harder about what to build for end customers, sales can learn what actually is selling, and marketing can know what exactly is resonating with prospects and existing customers. The customer success managers are the only folks who can really “call bullshit” on what the company thinks versus what the customer thinks so should be involved early on in everything.

(2) Create A Support Center Early On – Time remains the most critical thing for any customer success manager and Whitney coaches young SaaS founders to really have this person and the broader team create a support center or knowledge center immediately. Make a wiki using Google Sites or use something out of the box like Zendesk, Desk.com, or UserVoice. Create as much documentation as possible to free up time for your customer success managers. We talked about this a bit in our Digital Ocean podcast but Whitney goes into great detail this time around. Things like developing video and text based training tutorials, highlighting customers that are using the product in unique ways, documenting common questions and answers all are easy things to do. In many cases you should even get your engineering, marketing, and executive team involved in the creation of the center if there are technical, marketing, or other components to the product that could use a POV from someone else in the company. When Bitly rolled out their support center the team took support tickets down from 200-300 per day to 20-30 per day (almost overnight).

(3) Accept That Most Clients Will Be Different – Early on, SaaS founders want to develop a sense of repeatability to their sales process and believe that customer success should be the same. This can be really dangerous early on, and Whitney coaches teams to have some guardrails set up but understand that not every client is going to think alike. In Bitly’s case, Visa and MasterCard are both customers but the way they bought the product, use the product, and think about their goals are totally different. She encourages founders to set some high level KPIs for the customer success organization as a whole but really to not pay a ton of attention to it until you have a fair amount of customers. Really focusing on the individual customer KPIs is more important early on and SaaS founders should embrace that most will be different and be flexible with this element.

Michael Brown
Michael Brown

<p>Michael is the Managing Partner at Bowery Capital based in New York. Prior to Bowery Capital, Brown co-founded AOL Ventures and led investments in over 30 companies primarily focused around the next generation of CMO and CTO spend. Before AOL Ventures, Michael worked for the investment arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, helping to invest capital in early stage internet startups on behalf of the British entrepreneur. He began his career at Morgan Stanley. Outside of his professional life Brown serves on the Board of Directors of the National Forest Foundation and co-chairs the Columbia College Young Leaders Council. Michael holds an undergraduate degree from Columbia University.</p>