Demystifying The SaaS Customer Journey

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    The SaaS customer journey is helping online businesses create and enforce a customer-first approach, a strategy that’s also allowing Customer Success executives and teams to reach greater heights. How does this work? What are its main characteristics? Are there things to watch out for? Let’s dive into the specifics.

    What is a SaaS Customer Journey?

    The SaaS customer journey is the result of comprehensive understanding of the customer’s user experience across all stages of the engagement. It’s done by mapping the various milestones and touch points, while also trying to eliminate friction and roadblocks that may be encountered in certain use cases. This customer journey can then be used as a tool to establish optimized outcomes.

    The journey essentially starts from the moment the user decides to engage with the brand. It then goes through crucial pre-purchase milestones like signing up, using the Freemium version, or activating the Free Trial. 

    But that’s just the pre-sales stage. Then comes the stage where the user becomes a paid customer, after which comes the onboarding process. The post-sales phase, most relevant to CS teams, is an infinite loop filled with sentiment fluctuations and relationship changes. It is a crucial cycle where a relationship is formed between the business and the customer, one that needs to be monitored and nurtured.

    Related: Customer Journey Mapping Tools

    There are different kinds of SaaS customer journey maps:

    • Current State Maps – As the name suggests, these maps help depict the current state of customer experience and engagement 
    • Future State Maps – Just like businesses make revenue models, these maps help predict and anticipate changes in usage and behavior patterns
    • Service Blueprint Maps – These maps focus on internal personas and interactions to help detect underlying factors that impact the user experience 
    • Day in the Life Maps – These maps try to gain additional perspective by trying to mimic a day in the life of the customer, beyond the application usage itself
    • Circular Maps – These maps display the SaaS customer journey in a clear form, where CS teams can visualize the life cycle for better analysis

    Let’s elaborate on the post-sales and CS aspect. Here are some key benefits:

    1. Better Business Alignment & Cross-Department Collaboration

    Do you have a North Star Metric in place? Looking at an aggressive roadmap in the coming months? Comprehensive SaaS customer journey mapping will help your business move in the right direction. With more clarity around what the customer needs and what is not being achieved, the various components of the businesses can be calibrated accordingly on the go. Everyone’s on the same page.

    The numbers clearly back up this claim. The current average churn rate in the SaaS industry is around 5.3%. Companies with churn rates below the 1% mark claim to be fully or partially aligned when it comes to journey mapping and North Star metrics.

    1. Increasing Engagement and Feature Adoption

    You have x14 more probability of selling to existing customers. Getting a 360-view of the customer journey allows businesses to focus more on growth. This can involve pushing customers into engaging with new features or upgrading their paid plans, a proven growth accelerator. SaaS customer journey mapping (future state maps) can also help predict trends and anticipate changes in user behavior.  

    From the customer success angle, this means your customers can be more engaged, have elevated levels of sentiment on a constant basis, and eventually become better promoters or advocates for your brand. 

    1. Enhanced Visibility For A Proactive Churn Control

    Troubleshooting and damage control today require a hands-on approach, with over 30% of SaaS companies reporting increased churn rates and dropped customers over the past year.

    SaaS customer journey maps help businesses gain a homogeneous view of the customer’s requirements and preferences. If there are gaps or loopholes in the map, they can be addressed quickly to minimize frustration and in-app friction. This strategy also allows you to recognize new features that can enhance the experience and elevate satisfaction levels.

    Related: Customer Intelligence: A CS Playbook Essential

    The Stages of the Modern Customer Journey

    The SaaS customer journey has six main stages. Each stage is a natural continuation of the previous one and in an ideal situation everything should unfold smoothly. Poor transitioning, or lack thereof, means the mapping hasn’t been done correctly. 

    Let’s take a look at the stages in the SaaS customer journey:

    • Evaluation: This is when a potential customer comes into contact with your brand. This can happen via social media channels, blog posts. product review websites, or even direct recommendations from friends or colleagues. 
    • Onboarding: Following successful onboarding in the Freemium or the Free Trial period, the user often makes a purchase decision. In other complex B2B setups, this phase can come after the actual purchase. Either way, a key stage.
    • Adoption: It doesn’t end with payment and onboarding. The crucial post-sales phase, where CS teams are actively involved, is equally crucial. Here the user should ideally start using the product and engage with its various features. Healthy engagement and adoption will probably lead to stickier accounts and improve the chances of long-term retention, which is the next stage.
    • Renewal: Assuming the user experience is good and the user is enjoying the value proposition, comes another crucial stage in the SaaS customer journey. Here, the user has to renew the subscription or else register as churn.
    • Expansion: Renewals are great but SaaS businesses are now starting to focus on upselling and cross-selling as their primary growth accelerators. Why? Making new acquisitions are significantly costlier today. 
    • Advocacy: Happy and satisfied customers eventually become your brand advocate and promote it. This passive growth is also becoming a crucial aspect of creating a sustainable growth trajectory

    The modern saas customer journey
    The modern SaaS customer journey – Staircase AI

    Furthermore, SaaS businesses today are encountering multiple use cases with accounts from different ecosystems. Some can be non-paying freelancers using Freemium versions, while other accounts can be big teams from large enterprises. This is why more and more companies are adopting a granular approach when it comes to defining different segments, customer profiles, and use cases.

    Related: Top 10 Customer Success Tools for the Productive CSM

    Your Journey Mapping Checklist

    SaaS customer journey mapping is a sensitive and systematic process that shouldn’t be taken lightly. When done correctly, it can assist with customer retention and lowering churn rates. But for doing so, you need to identify fluctuations and changes around crucial onboarding and engagement touchpoints. Only then your business can create successful outcomes for all sides involved.

    Here are a few key actions you should take while mapping your customer journey:

    1. Choose the type of map you wish to build – You’ll need to decide on what type of map you want to focus on. It can be a Current State Map or a Future State one. In many cases, SaaS companies create multiple maps.
    2. Define and describe your customers – Clarity is of the essence when it comes to SaaS customer journey mapping. Demographics, geolocations, and other parameters should be defined while creating customer profiles.
    3. Identify key engagement and interaction touch points – You’ll also need to understand how your users interact with your product. Think about touch points like sign ups, logins, page views, and other in-app actions.
    4. Lay out your SaaS customer journey map – Use the components mentioned in the previous section (from evaluation and onboarding, all the way to advocacy) and lay them out on a map. Slice them into sub-stages. 
    5. Mark key customer value milestones – Your SaaS customer journey map is now starting to materialize. Connect important customer actions to key journey events that drive customer value. Freemium usage and paid account activation are some good examples.
    6. Flag events that require action – It’s great to have a best-case scenario for each journey event, but you should also be prepared for times when things go wrong. Support tickets are great indicators of weak links and pain points.
    7. Adjust and optimize – You’re not done after finishing your mapping. Usage patterns and trends are constantly fluctuating. Your post-sales cycles can also change. Constantly finetune your SaaS customer journey map.

    Related: Customer Sentiment Analysis: What’s it All About

    Staircase AI: Live Customer Journey Maps: The Future is Here

    It’s nice to have everything mapped out and ready for implementation, but this has to be a company-wide effort. Once you have a SaaS customer journey map, you always need to validate it to make sure that the plans and reality are aligned. Defining a customer journey that no one is enforcing doesn’t make much sense. The same applies to elaborated maps that have no correlation with customers’ reality.

    Staircase AI’s next-gen SaaS live customer journey maps are helping do just that. Changes and fluctuations are detected in real-time, all via a centralized dashboard that points you directly towards issues that need immediate attention.

    Staircase AI: Live Customer Journey Map, Source: Staircase AI app