If you read my article, ‘5 quick wins your business can expect from customer success software’, you’ll understand the advantages a customer success platform brings to your business. But what else do you need to know before you start your customer success software journey? This article gives you the inside knowledge for a smooth customer success software implementation that will drive business benefits, fast.
Tip 1 – choose the right provider for your business
Sounds obvious, right? But what does a good provider look like for your business? This is a good question to consider before you even type ‘customer success platform’ into Google. And it becomes even more pertinent once you’ve got a supplier shortlist to contact. The key to partnering with the right provider for you is to use the sales process effectively. And that means asking the right questions. There are three key areas to focus your attention on:
1 – Understand the limits of each provider’s platform
Every customer success platform has been designed differently and each comes with various benefits and restrictions. Software sales teams will highlight the benefits. Your job is to expose the limitations. Based on my experience with customer success software, these are the most important questions to ask:
1 – Which systems integrate with your software?
This is the first question I ask. Because, if a provider can’t integrate with your CRM and any other critical systems, their platform is a definite no-no. I’d suggest making this your first question too to save time. It’s also important to be clear on how you can get data from non-direct integrations into the platform. For example, via API or csv imports. And factor any internal development time needed for this.
2 – What can I do in the customer success platform and what needs to happen in the CRM?
You’ll find that even with a customer success platform, your CRM remains the one source of truth in your business. You’ll be able to edit certain fields in the customer success platform and these will sync back to your CRM. But you might have to go back to the CRM, for example, to create brand new accounts. To drive greater efficiencies, you’ll need to be able to jump between the two systems quickly. So see if there’s a way to include a link in your customer success platform to take you straight to your CRM. This will be a big win for your customer service team.
3 – How does your customer health scoring methodology work?
If you’re brand new to health scoring this won’t apply so jump to the next point. But if you’ve already set up your own customer health scoring approach (perhaps in Excel) and you want to transfer it directly into a customer success platform, you’ll need to adapt your method to fit your customer success software’s underlying methodology. This could throw up some interesting health scores in the short term. Scores that don’t reflect the reality of customer heath in your business. Be prepared to re-evaluate and adapt the way you calculate your health score until you have a solid, accurate baseline. You might need to run your current health scoring approach alongside the customer success platform initially. Or you could find a provider that’s a good fit for your current methodology.
4 – How long does it take for data changes to be reflected in the system?
Find out if there’s a difference between the time it takes for the customer success system to sync with your CRM when making smaller changes (like updating one customer’s contact details) and larger CRM changes (like creating a new account). I’ve found that single field changes can be as fast as 15 minutes. Whereas major updates often take place overnight.
5 – Do you offer different types of licence fees?
Some providers offer full access and more restricted, and therefore less expensive, licences for people who don’t use the system as much. Some providers will advise on typical numbers of different licenses for the size of your business helping you save costs. I also advise making clear to your provider anything unique about your tech stack. For example, at the company I’m currently supporting, we have two instances of our CRM due to different geographies. It only became clear that we had to pay two connection fees at the end of the sales process. All because we needed a separate customer success platform for each connection.
2 – Think about provider location
A big part of your software fee will cover customer service support. It’s important to be able to access help when you need it. So find out where a potential provider’s service team is based. If support is in the US and your business is in the UK, help will be at least three hours away from the start of each morning. While this can be problematic for emergencies, overseas support teams will be able to implement fixes when your working day has finished. Also, if you’re in the UK and you have a US-based Customer Success Manager (CSM), you will only have access to a portion of their availability where your working hours overlap. There’s no right or wrong with this – just what’s right for your business.
3 – Think about size
Do you go with a big, established, proven provider or someone smaller, newer and more flexible? Ask the provider for stats on their biggest customers to understand whether they can deal with a business of your complexity. Find out how big their customer support team is, their response times and the average number of customers their CSMs have. It’s worth bearing in mind that a smaller, younger provider could be more willing to adjust its product. Which could make them a better option for your business.
Tip 2 – negotiate a free period at the start of the contract
During the sales process, the provider will help you understand the timescales to get the software up and running. The reality is that this will probably be an underestimate. You’ll likely need to do things like cleanse your data and carry out internal development work to connect your systems. All of which takes time.
Setting up the platform and getting your team onto the platform is also time consuming. Depending on the quality of your data and the size of your business and implementation team, it could take up to three months before the platform is usable by the CS team. That’s why I think it’s worth negotiating a few months free at the start of the contract. This way you’re not paying for a significant amount of time when you can’t use the platform properly. This also gives you a deadline to work towards to get as much of the functionality as operational as possible.
But before you do any of this, I’d recommend spending a good amount of time working with your data. Which leads me onto my next point.
Tip 3 – clean up your data before you sign the software contract
To support a smoother, faster implementation, make sure your data is fit for the customer success platform. You’ll need to:
- Have unique identifiers in place across all systems. These are unique codes assigned to and included in every data record for each customer. They provide a way to link information in different systems by creating a consistent reference between platforms. This can be a lengthy job. So if you don’t already have unique identifiers in place I’d recommend starting this work as soon as possible. It will also help you identify duplicate accounts for removal. Which will lead into another piece of work to identify which pieces of customer information need to be moved from the account you’ll delete into the account that survives. This is a time-consuming process that will slow your project down. So it’s another task that’s worth prioritising before you start paying for your software.
- Know which systems will feed your customer success platform. This will definitely be your CRM but it could also be platforms like your net promoter scoring system. Or in-house systems that capture relevant information like product usage and licence data. Identify the fields you think you’ll use in a customer success platform,. Then tidy up the data and make sure it’s extractable.
- Clean up your contact management information. The personalised emails you send from your customer success platform will use the first name from the CRM so this is important. I’ve seen customer names in CAPITALS. Or including ‘IT guy’ in the first name field. ‘Dear JOHN (IT guy)’ is not the look you want.
- Enlist a senior sponsor to help drive process change – new software means new ways of working. From tightening up on data entry and reducing the risk of duplicate accounts to adopting the new software. It helps to have someone senior on board to encourage this change. I’m currently working with the Director of Customer Success who’s perfectly placed to help embed new ways of working. If you don’t have this role in your business, find another senior sponsor to support you.
Tip 4 – Don’t let perfection prevent progress
I said this in the first article in this series but it’s worth repeating. Don’t wait until the system is perfect to allow your team to start using it. Iterate as you go along and listen to user feedback. And get some of the functionality up and running so you can bring business benefits forward. Rather than waiting for perfection and delaying the platform’s use and any business advantage.
Deciding which work to do first and which benefits you want to get from the system fastest is a balancing act. For the implementation I’m currently working on, we’ve not got our unique identifier fully up and running. Yet we’ve still managed to benefit immensely.
We’re constantly adding unique identifiers to enable us to do even more cool stuff with the system. But it was better to get a quick win under our belts and gain some value rather than waiting another six months to sort out all the data and gain full functionality.
Tip 5 – Have a dedicated implementation resource and secure project buy-in
Committing a resource to implement the customer success platform will have a major impact on the project’s outcome and speed to delivering benefits. Having someone available who can constantly evolve the data, the software and manage the project will help your business gain full value as quickly as possible.
Could someone fit this into their existing day job? Possibly. But only if they have enough spare time. And no competing priorities. Otherwise this kind of work tends to fall down the list. Then suddenly you find you’re six months into the project and you’ve been paying for the software but without much return on your investment. At which point it can be easy to start to wonder if the project is even worth it. Or if it’s even possible.
Secure project sponsorship
Gaining buy-in from the people who will make the implementation a success is absolutely key early in the project. On my current project, I made sure the systems architect and Customer Success team were involved from the start. Without them, the system integration wouldn’t have happened so quickly and I would have had to guess at how to best set up the platform.
If you don’t want to invest in a dedicated implementation resource, you could rely heavily on your provider’s Customer Success Manager. But the reality is that your business will be one of a number. And they won’t drive your project forward as fast as you might like.
If there’s nobody available or with the right skills in your business, you could hire someone experienced on a fixed-term contract. This person will ensure a smooth rollout and good product adoption and usage to drive the best results for the business. As a result, the cost of the role should more than cover itself.
Customer success software can bring lots of benefits to your business. How quickly you gain value from your platform depends on how well you choose your provider, manage your data and resources and drive your project. Get these aspects right and you’ll boost system use and see the brilliant customer success benefits promised by your provider.