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The Evolution of Customer Success Tools: From CRMs to AI

Evolution of customer success
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    The Customer Success space is relatively new to the business world and has been evolving fast over the last decade. Following the Customer-Centric revolution, there is no doubt that the customer unit is getting much more attention than it used to before, and therefore CS is blooming. Let’s take a closer look into what happened to the customer success tools space, and what is the next big thing.

    Customer Success was mainly an afterthought a decade ago, with pipelines that were more reactive in nature, with little to no insights into the customer experience and latest market trends. These shortcomings were even more pronounced in SMBs, where business owners have limited resources and manpower. However, the current customer-centric approach has led to a massive growth sprout, and the customer success tools space is blooming. 

    While a decade ago people just cold-called active customers or waited for problems to surface, more and more companies are now creating relationship management loops with surveys, in-app interactions, service chatbots, health score monitoring, and relationship tracking. After years of refinements and improvements, a basic customer success funnel (CSF) has now taken shape.

    There are five main stages in the mainstream customer success funnel, and the complexity of the customer lifecycle has made us realize that managing a book of business is a different animal. 

    The customer journey lifecycle

    Let’s take a closer look at how Customer Success tools have evolved over the years.

    CRM Platforms: Humble Beginnings

    With more and more applications going online, businesses started getting overwhelmed with the manual work and processes involved. Enter Customer Relationship Management solutions (CRMs). These centralized solutions allowed businesses to store and access all prospect information -phone numbers, email addresses, deal documentation – for better visibility and sustainable results. 

    Salesforce soon became a default solution for businesses. HubSpot too emerged as a popular option and so did Zoho. CRMs became the first big thing in the Customer Success space. Data entry became easier and so did progress tracking.

    Unfortunately, CRMs were never meant to cater to Customer Success Managers. Besides becoming expensive to maintain, these platforms proved to be beneficial mainly to Sales and Marketing teams as they were focused on closing deals. Customer Success is all about gaining post-sale insights and retaining existing customers, something that CRMs simply did not intend to do.

    CSMs were still stuck in the crossroads, with multiple tasks like following up on clients and harvesting usage data still being performed manually or with the help of other stakeholders in the organization. There was a growing need for user analytics.

    Product and User Analytics Tools: For the Full Picture

    With CRMs failing to provide any kind of post-sale or usage insights, Customer Success teams were failing to “feel the pulse” and improve their adoption & retention efforts. With the rise of SaaS applications, Product usage data was missing. A void that user analytics tools started to fill up. While being totally product-centric, these tools helped CSMs understand and analyze customer behavior in real-time, allowing them to perform better. 

    Solutions like Heap, Amplitude, and Mixpanel offer an intuitive and centralized interface where stakeholders can distill product information into actionable insights and create a better customer experience.

    While product and user analytics tools helped Customer Success teams shift to a proactive approach, they were still mainly created mostly for product teams, with primarily analytics in mind. These tools failed to create specific user journey data per customer – think onboarding usage, adoption usage, support engagement, and other key milestones that need to be monitored and analyzed on an ongoing basis.

    Furthermore, these customer success tools also were unable to differentiate between various use cases that are crucial to manage customers. Differentiating between tiers, usage per stakeholder, and more. These were not 360 solutions for customer success.

    The bottom line was that, just like CRMs, user analytics helped, but not enough.

    Related: 3 Tips for Outcome-Driven SaaS Customer Success

    Customer Management Platforms: Finally a Tool for the Practical CSM 

    The customer management platform is a toolbox of solutions that collect data from various touchpoints to provide CSMs with actionable insights to help them manage their book of business. It provides improved visibility into the various customer journey steps, helps automate playbooks, and looks at every customer like a unique project that needs to be handled differently.

    These kinds of platforms also help break down the target audience into different segments (and tiers in many cases) for a more personalized experience and targeted growth as per the organization’s ongoing business needs.

    Customer Management Platforms help organizations not just collect the data, but trigger actions based on it. There are some key benefits that are making these solutions popular across multiple industries – strong scalability capabilities that are key in the SaaS space, centralized dashboards for maximum visibility, and automation of multiple customer success processes.

    While customer management platforms finally put the needs of the CSM at the center stage, the evolution of the CSM role continued to present challenges. CSMs are given more responsibilities than ever before, making it ever more complex to manage relationships, stay on top of all interactions, and keep an eye on multiple contacts in single accounts. But with SaaS businesses scaling up fast, often exponentially, even customer management platforms started falling short.

    This brings us to the last stage of evolution (for now) – relationship intelligence.

    The Future is Here: Relationship Intelligence

    Traditional customer intelligence is straightforward and basic. It mainly uses phone numbers, email IDs, job titles, and social media handles. Relationship Intelligence is taking Customer Success tools to the next level by harvesting and crunching data from multiple sources, continuously analyzing human behavior. What this means is that  one can get insightful data about customers behavior across the buyer journey, to learn about customer needs, sentiment, risks, and expansion opportunities. 

    The common  practice today for CSM teams is to record their “relationship score”, to help leaders understand the status of their customer relationships. But these manual figures are subjective and problematic. Relationship intelligence provides Customer Success leaders and managers with the ease of associating topics to sentiment and journeys, through analyzing customer conversations, and providing a holistic view on your relationships in real-time..

    When used in tandem with customer management platforms, Relationship Intelligence helps save at-risk clients and strengthen positive business relationships. B2B companies and SaaS vendors can now shift to a proactive approach by empowering success teams to detect satisfaction issues before they arise and contain churn rates. This data-driven approach is proving to be a big game-changer.

    Here are some benefits of integrating Relationship Intelligence into your ecosystem:

    1. Going Proactive with a Relationship-Based Mindset

    As the Customer Success function evolved, companies have realized the importance of having a relationship-based mindset. This means gaining actionable insights triggered by customer sentiments, alerts about engagement trends, and detecting other relationship-related issues, before converting them into simplified tasks..

    Relationship is essentially the missing piece of the customer puzzle. Therefore, this relationship-centric approach makes it easier for CSMs to act faster and add updated rules to their playbook.

    2. Cross-Platform Data for Actionable Insights

    SaaS ecosystems are getting more and more complex, with multiple cross-linked services and applications playing a role in customer satisfaction and engagement. Traditional CRMs, user analytics tools, and customer management platforms simply can’t identify these blind spots. But relationship intelligence technology is helping CSMs learn about all potential issues in real-time before they escalate.

    For example, a well-implemented relationship intelligence solution can help consolidate customer issues or even detect a negative sentiment about a specific product feature. This is extremely crucial when big releases or migrations happen. 

    Did You Know?

    Almost 80% of B2B sales, marketing, and Customer Success professionals think that creating personalized experiences is key to establishing improved customer relationships.

    3. Improved Cross-Department Collaboration

    CSMs would identify – reflecting the customer voice to other departments can be a challenge. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to prove that an issue is indeed a big issue that requires attention. Externally, a quickly fixed bug can keep your customers happy and reduce churn. Internally, you are reducing the friction with the Product and Development teams. 

    In other words, relationship intelligence brings CSMs closer to all relevant stakeholders and reduces cross-department friction significantly. With the ongoing communication with customers, enhanced transparency, and actionable insights, everybody is on the same page. The communication aspect is crucial in companies that are scaling up fast with no resources (or time) to spare.

    Related: Retention Intelligence Matters: What Your CRM is Missing

    Staircase.ai Relationship Intelligence: The Next Evolution of Customer Success Tools 

    Staircase is the only solution that utilizes Artificial Intelligence (AI) to gain human visibility over Customer Relationships. Harvesting and breaking down data from the main channels is good, but not really enough. Staircase integrates with your communication channels and provides actionable insights that help CSMs build strong and sustainable relationships.

    AI-driven Relationship Intelligence gives you the edge because it provides visibility into how your customers really feel about you, and eliminates the friction between customer feedback and your company’s stakeholders. The unique understanding of sentiment is a game-changer that removes all the blind spots and helps your Customer Success teams cross another milestone in becoming more proactive than reactive.

    Besides the product analytics, this next-gen solution essentially serves as a relationship analytics hub with a wide range of insights. Powered by proprietary ML models and based on the latest AI technologies, Staircase Relationship Intelligence is uncovering red flags, eliminating churn risks, and allowing sustainable growth, all with minimal installation and maintenance requirements.

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