Hello, everyone, I’m Swati Chopra, Senior Director of Customer Success at McAfee.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the customer success metrics you should be tracking at each and every stage of the customer lifecycle. With them, you can drive retention and ensure your customer success function is successful in delivering value to the customer.
So first of all: why is it important to define trackable metrics for customer success?
This was research by Forrester, and you’ll see that 72% of businesses say that improving customer success is their main priority. And if you go ahead and look online, you’ll see that every company is trying to set up a customer success unit or trying to improve it.
What is the reason they’re trying to do that? This quote gives you the right answer in just a few words.
Customer success is where 90% of the revenue is, why? Because customer success drives your renewal. And it’s not just renewal it helps with, it helps you expand the business, so your net new also comes from customer success. It’s why it’s the key element for every company, to make sure they try their customer success very aggressively, they're operationally savvy, and they have the right metrics set up in place to track the deliverables of their CSM or their customer success team.
The customer success lifecycle
I wanted to talk about the customer success lifecycle because until we understand what a customer success lifecycle is, we can’t define the metrics. We’d like to have the metrics defined for each and every phase of the customer success lifecycle. So let's see what our customer success lifecycle looks like.
So the first thing is obviously onboarding of customers, which means that as soon as a contract is signed, we need to make sure we are doing an internal onboarding.
Arrange a call with the sales team to understand the goals of the customer.
- Why did the customer purchase the product?
- What are the business outcomes the customer is looking to achieve?
- What are the financial results that they will be looking for?
- What are the operating KPIs that will be tracked to measure success?
So, once we have those details internally, then we need to do an external onboarding call with the customer. We need to get our professional services team, get our technical team, get our sales team involved in that call, and understand:
- What are the business outcomes from their perspective?
- Do they align with what the sales team has shared with us?
- What are the business capabilities that our solution will enable for them?
- What technical capabilities are required to optimize their business capabilities?
- Which of our products and services will deliver those capabilities?
Understanding the entire picture helps us to conduct a very, very strong onboarding for the customer. And this is the key step in our customer success lifecycle, if we mess up the onboarding, then we are messing up the entire success lifecycle.
Once we’ve completed a strong onboarding process, we understand what the customers want to do, we have great intuition about where they want to go and what their journey is, the next step is...
So, this is essentially making sure that the customers can use the product the way that they intended. They are deploying the product and implementing the product, which is giving them the business outcomes that they were looking to achieve.
This means they’re consuming not just the product, but all the other things that we have provided as part of our customer success plan.
- If they have professional services hours, are they consuming those things?
- Are they consuming education properly?
- Are they consuming any architecture reviews or any upgrade assistance that they were given as part of the success plan?
- Are they consuming roadmaps?
- Are they engaging with us on regular basis?
These are the things we need to make sure are happening when we talk about engagement.
Once the customers are at a phase where they are comfortable with the product, (they’ve done the full adoption, they are consuming it, it’s helping them to resolve all the things that they wanted to do and providing them with technical and operational capabilities) we need to ask “are they so happy that they’re ready to give us testimonials?” “Are they ready to give us a reference and talk about us in larger forums?”
Is the customer ready to renew with us after the end of their, let's say, one year contract? It shouldn’t really take a year if the other phases have been done properly, because the customer is already in a state where they are ready to refer us to potential customers, so this should be a seamless transition.
The last stage is expansion. Make sure the customers grow their usage of our products, they increase the portfolio of our products, and they diversify into different products.
The expansion stage also includes the upselling and cross-selling of our products.
Now, let’s look at what kind of metrics you should be tracking in each and every stage so that you know your customer success function is successful in delivering that value to the customer.
Metrics you should be tracking at every stage
The onboarding phase is the most important because a poor onboarding experience is hard to come back from, and it’s the fastest way to lose a customer. So it’s critical to actively think about the entire customer journey. You define it, you map it and you document it.
Now, what do we want to track when we are looking at our onboarding metrics?
So the first thing that you can track is, how much time are you taking with onboarding? It should not be over a month. You should make sure your CSM is ready to take the account and they’re doing the onboarding call. They will give the customer the details of what they are getting.
What are the expectations from the customer? You should be working on a success plan within probably the first two weeks, or, if your business is a little more complex, two to three weeks, but it should not take much more time than that.
The next thing you can track is onboarding feedback. Make sure you are taking the feedback from the customer about their overall experience. Are they satisfied? Do they want to have some further improvement on the onboarding cycle?
Once you get that feedback, make sure you close the loop. Whatever the feedback, if there is a chance of improvement, you are making that improvement in our onboarding process.
If you are rating the feedback in terms of percentages, any onboarding feedback above 90% is great feedback. Anything that you receive that’s below 70%, then I would suggest doing a closed loop on that and reaching out to the customer to get very comprehensive feedback on why the score was low and what improvements you can make.
The product adoption process is broken down into five stages:
So first, the customer becomes aware of the product, they generate that interest, they evaluate the product, they put it on trial, and then they finally adopt it.
The more you do product adoption, the better it is for the customer. It improves retention rates, reduces their churn, and leads to a more predictable revenue stream. If the customer is not using the product, they will not renew the product. So it is very, very important that they adopt the product as soon as possible, so they have that value realization from the product.
The metrics that you would want to look at when you are evaluating your adoption:
- Is the product on N or N - 1 product release?
- Are they on the latest release of your product?
- What is the utilization of the product?
- Do they have 90% license utilization or 95%?
- Are they taking out the logs and getting value from them?
It will obviously change from business to business, but, generally, you’ll look at whether or not they’re getting the value they wanted to get out of the product that we defined in the onboarding process.
The second thing we want to look at is engagement. Are these customers having regular quarterly business reviews? Are they having regular cadence with the CSM? Are they having those regular product mode roadmap calls? Are they becoming part of our customer advisory board?
All those engagement pieces are also part of adoption metrics. You don't have to take all of them as part of your metrics, you can always pick and choose, or you can define your own. But these are the metrics that you at least need to define to track your engagement with the customer.
Consumption means that they are not just consuming the product, they are also consuming other parts of your success plan like education, consulting services, etc.
The next thing you want to measure is feedback. Every organization has different sets of feedback metrics they want to take and I've given you some examples here that you can use within your organization.
You can collect feedback on CSM’s account management: is that about 95%, or say 90%?
You can obviously ask your customers to provide data points, if you have lower feedback do a closed-loop there as well.
The same way you can have your NPS score collected, you can collect product satisfaction, and support feedback. You can collect the score or the feedback for anything that you're offering to the customers. What you want to track just varies from company to company.
If you want to track all of these things, you can do that as well. But you need to be sure about what is most important for you to derive from the customer at that point in time, and how much bandwidth you have. Feedback doesn't end by just receiving feedback, you should always make sure you analyze the feedback, look at the improvement areas, reach out to the teams who can help you to improve those, and then close the loop once that has been improved. Then go back to the customers and see if the feedback has improved.
For example, let's say they give us really low feedback on the product and they provide you with some extensive information about why the product feedback was so low. Let's say, hypothetically, there are too many bugs in the product. So the next step would be to go back to the product team and discuss with them what we can do to improve the quality of the product so there are fewer bugs in the next release. The PM can come on a call with you and the customer and also explain those things. Show them what progress they're trying to make to improve the performance and capability of the product.
Once the next release is out there, then you go through the upgrade cycle. Work with the customer to show it has improved, the new version is less buggy, and the product quality is better than before. That's when you close the loop. The next time you ask for feedback, I'm pretty sure you will have higher feedback. So always take corrective actions based on customer feedback and make sure those corrective actions lead to higher feedback in the next cycle.
When the customer is ready to refer us to other potential customers, are they ready to give us a video or text testimonial? Something they could write about us that we can publish on our website. Or are they ready to talk to prospective customers and provide them references about their experience so far with the company? Do they want to speak at our events, let's say on our CAB, and talk to our customers, or be part of our panels and share their experience with others?
These are the metrics that you can use to track the reference system. How would you otherwise track a reference? If the customer is not ready to talk about you or come to any of your events, basically they are not ready to give you the reference. So these are the metrics that would define whether we are successful in getting those recruits or not.
Retention and expansion metrics
These go hand in hand, and they’re important because a lot of our revenue is dependent here. And again, investing in new customers is between five to 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones. The cost of acquisition is super high, so we would definitely want to retain our existing customers and make sure we can upsell and cross-sell to those customers.
So the metrics that you can look at can include, “are we achieving 95% or more retention?” If you are starting from a 65% retention rate, then you can aspire to a target of about 75 to 80%, and then grow further from there. And again, this is different from industry to industry.
Not every company will be able to reach 95%, there are some companies where the switching cost is very low, and customers can go ahead and switch. But even if you are in an industry where 60% is a benchmark, once you follow these metrics, and you’re delivering on all these metrics, I can promise you can easily increase your retention rate higher than the average.
So the next thing you can look at is churn, I've given you the number of 10% churn, but again, where the switching cost is high, the churn rate is about 40%, so you would still see a reduction in your churn rate.
You also want to look at your cross-sell and upsell. Are you able to get 70% cross-sell and upsell within your customers? And again, that is a hypothetical percentage that we can achieve in a larger company or a company with a technology base where switching is not that easy - there's naturally more stickiness. But again, that varies from business to business. And with trial and error, you can define these three parameters accordingly, based on your industry, but you can always beat the industry statistics if you follow and track the metrics diligently.
Retention and expansion are extremely important. If you're able to retain a customer, then your probability of selling to an existing happy customer is 14 times higher than the probability of selling to a new customer.
So make sure you are using all these metrics to get yourself to the stage where you have high retention, low churn, and a high level of cross-sell and upsell.