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Customer Success is Startup Success: How CX Fits into Your Organization

Building strong relationships, communications, and listening to your customer are key factors to build startup success as noted in during a Startup Boston Week 2021 session, where we heard from Greeny St. Jean (Customer Success Manager at connectRN), Kristen Curtiss (Head of Customer Success at Repeat), Sean MacPherson (VP Customer Success & Experience at Alyce) and moderator Akil Sharperson (Manager, Customer Success SMB at Klaviyo).


The panelists were aligned that these basic foundations are required externally as well as internally to create, build, and scale success within your startup.


Startups must think about customer success as early as possible and must also realize that every employee contributes to customer success. Communication is key to aligning everyone across the company and focuses everyone to work toward common goals. All employees must understand:

  • What success looks like to your customers

  • Why customers buy your product and services

  • Why will they stay

Ensuring this complete understanding and how you assist customers to achieve their success will help build, scale, and retain customers and grow your business.


Customer Success Relationships


Customer success (CS) is a critical component of any company’s success. It’s a proactive forward-looking strategy that demonstrates product value. CS looks to the future examining market trends to enhance the customer experience and build strong relationships. It should not be confused with customer support, which is focused on what is happening today to help with product/service issues.


The panelists made it clear that customer success has revenue-driven metrics. Each uses net revenue retention as a holistic look at their business ecosystem’s health. It helps focus CS needs on their customer’s revenue growth. If customers make more revenue and profit because of your product/service, they are more likely to stay with you. Retaining their confidence and business is an often overlooked startup strategy.


While results are important, building trust is also key to a long relationship. If customers trust you, they are more likely to be open about their experience, journey and needs. All are critical components to strong CS.


“Customer success starts at the beginning of the sales process and continues throughout and never ends.” Said Greenie St Jean, Customer Success Manager for ConnectRN. “It is a top-down approach that sets expectations and tone early and allows you to create service and support that deliver customer results.” Keeping a hands-on approach allows customer success managers (CSMs) to stay close to what’s happening.


Sean MacPherson, Vice President of Customer Success and Experience at Alyce adds that it’s important to define each pre- and post-sale stage of the customer journey and be clear who owns the relationship at each stage. “Think of CS as a trusted advisor on the customer’s team. CS is the team quarterback (American Football) who manages the relationship and process but does not need to be part of every conversation. CS works with every part of the organization including product, sales, finance, marketing, and others with a focused goal to retain and grow that relationship and business.”


Every employee must understand the customer problem the startup is trying to solve. Customer success must be defined, start early, and be internally and externally communicated. Building this process will lead to stronger relationships and trust and focus on continuous improvement of your customer experience process.


Communication


Customer success is built upon relationships and trust. If this line breaks, your customers may not remain loyal. Building this trust relies upon how information is communicated to customers as well as throughout your organization. Typically, customer success hears direct from the customer about what is or is not working. Good customer success ensures this information is communicated throughout your organization and acted upon.


“Customer success needs to address what is not working,” explained Kristin Curtiss, Head of Customer Success at Repeat. “Tell the team what needs to be fixed and let your customers know what is happening. Setting their expectations about why we are here, how we can assist, and putting time aside to help customers is a solid foundation for success.”


All team members need to share the same talk track. Delivery may vary, but the message remains the same at all levels:

  • Why are we doing this?

  • What is the problem we want to solve?

  • What is the ideal customer profile?

If everyone – including sales – understands key messaging and can communicate why customers stay, then everyone is focused on key design and selling propositions to retain and capture new customers. Communication helps drive strong relationships as well as get everyone on the same page to make products and services that work for customers.


Listen


CS is responsible for getting feedback directly from customers. If relationships are strong and communication is authentic, then customers will feel comfortable and open up about their experiences. When customers open up, it’s important to recognize their issues and act as quickly as possible.


Greenie St. Jean adds that communication and listening are at the forefront of customer success. All feedback needs to be received, logged, acknowledged, and acted upon.

Sean MacPherson agreed and said, “Many startup failures are based upon companies thinking and acting upon what they think is needed. Instead, companies need to listen to customers and create a process to communicate, act, and respond to each issue. And most important is ensuring the customer knows what is happening and each issue’s timeline. Collect data and make data-based decisions to create new segmentations, update processes and add scale.”


Startups cannot scale on personal support alone. As companies grow, they need to reconsider one-to-one business model to a one-to-many approach. Customer segmentation becomes more important. Create buckets based on what impacts your customer’s business. Startups need to separate customers into different buckets based on factors that impact their business such as vertical, business type, product type, product issues, geography, size, and other factors. This segmentation comes from listening to your customer, understanding their needs, and grouping them with others in similar buckets.


The Source of Truth


If CS is done right, it becomes the customer’s single source of truth. Startups need to recognize that the customer wants one person to speak with throughout the process. That person tends to be a CS team member. Speaking to multiple people at different stages of sales and delivery only confuse customers. Too many chefs send a convoluted message.

CS is the trusted advisor. Be clear who owns relationships at each stage from the customers point of view and when do responsibilities start and end. However, CS leads this process and owns the relationship.


If startups allow the CS team to be the trusted advisor, listen to customers, address their concerns, communicate issues, and address challenges with all internal functions, then your startup will most likely succeed.


And most of all, the panelists agreed to celebrate the small victories. Communicate within the company a renewal of a customer, the successful adoption of a new process, or the enhancement of a product. And most of all, thank the customer for their valuable input and feedback and how that information led to a product/process change.


Ready to dive deeper? Watch the full recording below:



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