Whether it be on your website, at a conference, when calling customer service, or face-to-face with you and your sales team, your potential customers are forming actionable opinions about your company. These collective touchpoints are opportunities for your venture team to cultivate loyal customers by delivering consistent quality, service, and support. Unfortunately, loyalty is short-lived, so you have to be prepared to delight your customers each and every time they interact with your company!
As you can see in the figure on the right, there are four sub-phases to the Customer Success portion of the venture lifecycle. Actually, this is true for all four of the other major phases too! Venture leaders have to think about and drive this last Customer Success phase as much as the other 3 phases. This cycle is vital to your venture because it is where your brand is actually delivered. Your follow-through will make or break your reputation in your industry and it is the phase where you will learn the most from your customers.
Keep in mind that your venture was founded to bring products to market so that customers can successfully use them. This means that Customer Success is a very important phase for you and should therefore be prioritized. But, how exactly do you do that?
Start by Successfully Deploying Your Product
The first step in a successful customer experience involves deploying/implementing your technology for the customer. The term deployment varies from customer to customer and product to product. For some it can be as simple as a double-click download and install. For others, it can be a multifaceted process that starts with requirement gathering and ends with a deployment to an array of on-premise servers in the client’s data center.
This post will cover all the steps by looking at the more complicated deployment approach. The first part of deploying the product requires a thorough interview of your client to deeply understand their needs and requirements. Defining those upfront will ensure that your venture is aligned to deliver a successful customer experience.
The next step is to ensure that your product is configured to meet those needs. This may be as straight forward as a few installs and settings, or as complicated as a multifaceted process that requires weeks of effort from your venture. Regardless of your particular product and its deployment processes, the important thing to ensure is that the client’s expectations are met by the final implementation that your venture puts forward.
To validate that your product meets these needs, the venture should engage in a period of customer testing and acceptance, often referred to as User Acceptance Testing (UAT). This is a critical checkpoint in the Customer Success phase. It is your opportunity to reinforce and ensure that the customer’s requirements, as identified earlier in this phase, have actually been met by your solution.
Lastly comes the process by which your product is pushed into a “live” production or usage scenario. This is a broader launch of your venture’s product to the client’s users. Making your product available to this expanded group of users, beyond those involved in the UAT, is the final step in the successful deployment of your product for the customer.
While this final step may seem like the end of a long journey, in my experience, the reality is that this is just the beginning of the journey. Now that the customer has successfully deployed the product, the true challenge of converting them into a delighted customer can begin in earnest.
Support Those Customers!
After deploying your product for your customer, you now need to engage in supporting those customers as
they use of your products. Customer support varies; in some cases, it can be as simple as a tutorial that is kicked off when the app first starts, like many games. Other times, it can be a fairly lengthy process involving in-person or remote training of associates across the globe.
When Customer Support is a more involved process, it can often be even more important and critical than the actual live launch of the product in the first place. Here’s why – This is the phase where you work with your client to ensure that their users are able to successfully use your product. If the client has your product but can’t, doesn’t or won’t use it, then they will very likely move on to another solution.
It may seem obvious to say, but you want to ensure that your clients actually use the solution you’ve implemented. Sometimes this can seem counter-intuitive to a venture leader, as they will often reason that, if clients have a need and have bought and implemented a solution, then presumably they will then use it. However, in my experience this is not always the case.
You need to help the client develop a “habit” of using your tool and it’s your customer support team’s job to do just that. Begin with a series of training sessions to educate and inform the users exactly how and when to use your products.
Make sure your customer support team knows that it is their job to drive adoption when they are helping your clients. Regardless of your approach, you want to ensure that your customer is able to use the product after it has been deployed for them and address any training gaps that arise in the future.
It’s fairly common that some items will not make the features short list before implementation or new use cases are discovered after they go live that need to be developed. It is normal to make trade-offs to ensure that a product can be launched on-time, on-budget and on-spec for your client. Watch for the following two things to happen:
- Once live, the requirements that didn’t make the short list come up as being more critical than originally thought.
- Or sometimes the way that the organization implements the product doesn’t exactly work as expected for your clients.
Think of these events as the development of “gaps” in your product’s implementation for your client. Your Customer Support team’s key role is to give your organization a heads-up about these gaps, affording them the opportunity to address them and keep their customers satisfied and delighted.
What Can Be Gained in the Customer Service Phase?
Customer success goes beyond simple training and day-to-day support. The central idea of this phase requires that the venture go beyond what might have been envisioned in the very beginning. This phase requires thinking about where and how the client can take the product and its implementation into new and uncharted territory.
Many readers will be familiar with my Star Trek analogies – in keeping with that theme, think of the mission of the Customer Service phase – as taking the product where no customer has gone with it before. Customer Service provides the venture with insight on how it can extend the scope and expectations of the product from what was originally planned and conceived. The Customer Service Team should ask themselves these kinds of questions:
- How else can the customer use the product or service?
- Where else can we add value for the customer?
- What other processes are affected, upstream and downstream by the product or service?
- How can we improve the customer’s efficiencies and processes end-to-end?
- Where else can the customer benefit from the investment they’ve made in our product or service?
- Who else in the organization can benefit from the investments made by our customer?
- Where are there unexpected or unanticipated benefits from using this product or service?
- What benefits were expected but unrealized and how can we ensure the customer gets them moving forward?
Delving deeply into the gaps that develop over time in an implementation with a customer creates an opportunity for the venture to jump in and provide the best Customer Service. After asking the above questions, the venture should focus on how it can deliver added value to the client. Customer Service has the opportunity to extend the scope and functionality of your products.
Imagine squeezing all the juice out of an orange. You want to get all the benefits possible from your efforts. Great Customer Service will find new use cases and other types of customers (e.g. neighboring verticals) who can benefit from the utilization of your product.
Cross-sell and Upsell
When a venture has followed the Customer Success model as I’ve laid it out so far, this is the easiest and
most successful phase. Here’s why – By the time you reach this fourth phase of the customer success journey, you’ve not only got a delighted customer, but you also already know where the gaps are in their usage of your product and service and have developed solutions to address these gaps.
Therefore, all the learning, insights, use cases and needs of clients from the prior phases, especially the customer service phase, feed directly into and create opportunities to cross sell and upsell your customer new products, features, functions or capabilities from the venture. If the venture has successfully executed its go-to-market strategy, then cross-selling and up-selling existing customers new products and services ought to be as straightforward as picking the lowest hanging fruit from a tree, or as I’ve seen in some of my ventures, more like bending over to pick up the ripe fruit that has fallen on the floor.
In fact, sometimes this phase can seem so obvious and straightforward that the venture feels somehow entitled. For example, Of course the customer will come to us to buy these additional products and services. After all, didn’t we provide these customers with the solutions to their problems in the first place? Word to the wise – don’t fall into this trap. Be humble and pursue additional business with you’re existing customers with the same verve as you initially pursued them to be a customer in the first place. Don’t forget to woo your customers. Everyone likes being wooed!
Another trap ventures fall into is they run off to the races chasing the “next big thing” and forgetting that they can continue to successfully and very profitably build their business by continuing to faithfully fulfill their current customer’s demands. While these ventures are following the “land and expand” model of extending their business – which is a successful one, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend – it is important to remember that you want to focus your efforts on selling to your current customers. If you forget them and run off chasing new customers or businesses or products, your venture will fail because the cost of acquiring new customers is a lot higher than selling to your existing customers.
Cultivate your present customers even further with new capabilities, products or features. Think of it as deepening your relationship with your customers and making your company an indispensable part of their business… one that they won’t want to ever replace with a competitor. Trust me when I tell you that you and your venture will benefit from this long-pole approach.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Please let me know your comments, questions, feedback and insights below or feel free to email me directly here. Please Read and Share all my blogs at LeadingVentures.com.
About this blog – The goal of this blog is to share my experiences, to capture and reveal valuable insights, and to draw from my serial entrepreneur-ship through 7 ventures over the past 20 years. I have encountered many impressive entrepreneurs along the way and I hope to share our collective experience with you to help teach and perhaps motivate you to launch your own B2B or B2C enterprise.
© Jitin Agarwal – All rights reserved. This blog is property of Jitin Agarwal and leadingventures.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jitin Agarwal and leadingventures.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For this blog, in instances where other previously copyrighted content, trademarks or brand references are used and noted as such, the author disavows any ownership claim, trademark, copyright or intellectual property ownership of these items and they remain the property of their respective and original owners, their inclusion in this blog is merely for illustrative example purposes only.