Schedule a Demo

Why Customer Collaboration is the New Secret to Customer Success

Sep 13, 2017 12:22:00 PM

Customer Success has become one of the first functions at successful SaaS businesses because trial and churn dynamics impact the bottom line so dramatically. Recurring revenue from monthly subscriptions provides more predictable growth — but only if it recurs and expands.

With SaaS revenue on the line every month, it‘s now critical to stay close to customers and make sure they are successful. In other words, startups are learning what agencies and enterprise leaders have known for a long time: strong relationships are essential to retaining customers for the long term.

Customer Success Managers (CSMs) typically own this relationship with the customer. They work closely with customers to make sure the product is providing value, and to resolve problems smoothly. Keeping customers engaged is essential to keeping renewal rates high and enabling expansion opportunities.

But even as we recognize the importance of becoming closer to our customers, we’re still relying on traditional, transactional forms of communication. We manage conversations through CRMs, long email threads, and disappearing web chat tabs. These disjointed conversations leave customers feeling like distant clients and not collaborators in mutual success. CSMs aren’t given the tools they need to fully support their customers.

Customer Conversations are Broken

The way we communicate with everyone in our lives has changed. We talk with our colleagues on Slack and we network on Twitter. Even my mom uses Facetime and Facebook Messenger to get in touch with me. Conversations are real-time and frictionless. Whenever you need to get in touch with someone, it’s easy to open up a thread in an app and continue from where you left off.

Unfortunately, our business conversation tools haven’t kept up. The customers who pay you don’t enjoy the same access as the rest of the world does. They send questions through email or book time in your call calendar. Or worse, they file support tickets and get treated like a number. Yikes.

There are many internal needs driving such stilted communication. The biggest one we hear is the need to maintain order and control. Keeping customer conversations restricted to one throttled channel reduces chaos and makes it easier for CSMs to manage incoming questions. Allowing customers to contact us through any means possible would be madness — wouldn’t it?

But prioritizing order over convenience prevents CSMs from forming a truly collaborative partnership with their customers. Email-speed communication creates a barrier between you and your customers. Instead of bringing you closer together, it tells customers they need to wait their place in line. Customers yearn for convenience, while companies require processes. Can we find a new way of communicating that offers both?

Collaboration is Valuable

If you use Slack or other team chat software, you already know how much real-time conversation changes the way you collaborate with different departments. Rather than schedule a formal meeting next week with The Stakeholders, you can weave a critical conversation throughout the course of a single day.

Team chats leave less room for misunderstandings, because clarification happens immediately. Questions and feedback get triaged before becoming formal objects in a tracking system. New projects, ideas, and learnings are shared early and often, rather than waiting for formal announcements. Email chains just don’t work for collaboration in the same way.

We want to apply that same method of collaboration to the way we work with our customers. The benefits of talking to your customers wherever they already work are obvious right from onboarding. Deploying a new piece of software can become extremely complex and require ongoing, permanent conversations. Files and configuration documents get lost in back and forth email chains or closed tickets. But with all the discussion in one place, it’s easy to work together to onboard customers successfully.

Instead of waiting for the next training session, customers can chat with you and drop questions or updates privately, or as a group, without leaving their own work context. We’re interacting with them where they already are. The average user spends 320 minutes (or over 5 hours) on Slack every weekday. If your customer starts to think of your customer success team as part of their company Slack room, it makes collaborating that much easier.

Bringing the conversation to where customers already live reduces the barrier to feedback. You’ll always know how your customer is using your product. Upselling and increasing product adoption will become as simple as a chat on Slack about new features that will help them solve a problem they’ve been working on. Working together makes you allies in each other’s success.

Bring the Whole Team Aboard

While a CSM is often the first point of contact for customers, they don’t always have the answer. They might need to involve technical support, engineering, or product to resolve a bug. In a typical tech company, this means forwarding an email to a help desk or creating a Jira ticket for resolution. The customer is out of the loop, without visibility into what’s going on.

Imagine, for example, you’re a CSM for a database vendor. The point of contact for your biggest client, Fred, emails you in a panic that they aren’t able to retrieve their quarterly data. The board meeting is tomorrow — they are counting on you to fix this.

Traditionally, you might open a support ticket and transfer the information Fred sent to your support team. They’ll troubleshoot and decide to involve the engineering team. Someone creates a Jira ticket with partial context. Finally, once the bug is fixed, engineering talks to support who communicates the resolution to you. Then you go back to Fred.

That’s a lot of transactional overhead and context switching. Jira and other product management tools are key for organizing product development, but they shouldn’t get in the way of quick customer collaboration. Bringing the conversation together on Slack with Frame means it’s easy to collaborate privately and with customers in one, unified customer view. Even escalating to Jira, when necessary, is easier with automatic issue creation that includes a copy of the transcript. This keeps communication running smoothly for everyone — and makes it easy to review the original conversation during downstream work.

Not only does real time communication bring your customers into the fold, it also helps your company get closer to customers. Any executive can initiate casual conversations with customers to see how their day is going and what trouble they’re facing.

Open, collaborative conversations help everyone in the company better understand their customers.

Stay Available, Stay Sane

Collaboration is key for long term customer relationships. If you had unlimited resources, every big customer would have a CSM planted in their office like a very helpful fly on the wall. That’s not realistic for most companies. We need to make collaboration possible for every business.

Frame AI helps you bring customers closer to your company by reducing the communication barrier. By turning Slack into a serious, structured customer communication channel, you can keep the conversation flowing. Documents, pinned messages, and other important information can all live in one spot that’s easily accessible to everyone involved. Customers won’t have to think twice about throwing a quick question over to your team — just as if you were sitting in the next desk over. You’ll always know where your customers stand and what’s on their mind.

Customer collaboration is the new secret of customer success. Working closely with customers and optimizing conversations is how successful companies will anticipate their customer’s’ needs and build stronger relationships.

George Davis

Written by George Davis