SaaS businesses everywhere are recognizing the power of Community and launching plans to implement a community strategy as part of their customer-facing operations. And luckily, the narrative at Pulse 2022 was no exception!
For the first time ever, we had a dedicated Community track at Pulse. We’ve seen the results of customer success (CS) powered by Community initiatives and knew it was important to highlight. After the two days of Pulse, it’s safe to say that building a Customer Community is becoming a foundational digital strategy for SaaS companies, big and small.
From driving product adoption and increasing Net Revenue Retention (NRR) to improving customer satisfaction, driving advocacy, and helping customers self-serve more efficiently: Community empowers your customers. And through those empowered customers, your business has the chance to build durable growth and become unstoppable––even in uncertain economic times.
Whether you attended Pulse and want more or are experiencing major FOMO because you couldn’t make it, we’re here for you. We’ve curated major highlights from Pulse 2022’s Community sessions below.
1. Community is ready for a seat at the executive table, as its own department.
For the longest time, Community programs were viewed as a way for Support or CS teams to alleviate some of the pressure of incoming tickets and questions from customers.
And while that is still a valid use case, Community has evolved to touch all sides of a SaaS business. Holly Firestone, VP of Community at Venafi and Marili ‘t Hooft-Bolle, Managing Director of inSided by Gainsight, explain why that evolution matters.
Every team at your organization pulls value from Community. For Support, it means outsourcing customer questions. For CS, it can be an easy way to add a layer of 1-to-many communication.
Marketing can leverage customer advocates in the community for references or customer stories. Product should leverage Community as an easy way to get customer feedback or build a customer-driven roadmap with a community-hosted advisory board. All of this to say—Community impacts business goals throughout your organization.
Having Community report into a single team ensures a narrow view of Community goals and a lack of internal cooperation from other departments. By having a Community leader report immediately to the CEO, you’ll ensure a broader view of Community on the business side and better integrate the business into your program.
In sum, Community needs a seat at the table as its own independent function to help build the foundation for company-wide, Community-led durable growth. Organizations are recognizing this and taking action now.
2. Empower customers with Community, education, and AI
When it comes to AI we’ve all read a thing or two about the automated insights and decisions it promises. But it’s hard to actually put into practice.
Luckily, when it comes to Customer Success, Community, and Artificial Intelligence, Mary Poppen, Chief Strategy & Customer Officer, and Brigid Colver, Sr. Manager of Customer Intelligence Community of involve.ai, seem to have cracked the code on a successful program and measurable results.
“Community is the gateway to and the foundation of customer empowerment.”
–Brigid Colver, Sr. Manager of Customer Intelligence Community, involve.ai
Way back in the day, Community only contributed to metrics like self-service percentages, ticket deflection, and customer satisfaction scores. As SaaS became the dominant model for software sales worldwide, and CS departments started to be mandatory for any startup, we saw new metrics in board decks, and new opportunities for Community programs arose.
Customer empowerment is no longer about just making sure customers are happy and addressing questions or concerns. Instead, it became about Net Revenue Retention (NRR) and expansion of existing accounts, forecasting customer happiness via ARR to be retained (or to be expected to churn) from the company.
With those new metrics, we also needed new data points to support them, and for our CS teams to be able to act on uncertainties in our customer base. In turn, this helped shift the narrative for Community teams and their customer engagement data to no longer be a nice-to-have but a mandatory program for customer empowerment.
When building your Customer Empowerment program, you need a combination of of Team (Community combined with Education, enablement, and Communication), Tooling (an integrated, measurable technology stack), and Strategy (Integrate, collect, and analyze data across the customer journey) to get a program off the ground.
Community doesn’t only empower your customers, it also empowers your team! While it’s important to help customers self-serve and ensure sure they have the right content at the right time, it’s also an opportunity for your team to spend less time on recurring tasks and invest that time in high-value projects, conversations, and/or crunching the data to optimize your programs.
The future of customer empowerment is fueled by Community, customer education, and predictive analytics. With these three components, companies form the foundation upon which we build customer education programs. And those programs include everything from formal training to snackable articles.
We can optimize what we’re creating, how we’re delivering it, and who we’re delivering it to have the most impact on our customers.
3. Create a shared mission between Community and Customer Success Ops teams
It seems like every function has an Ops department now. And that’s not without reason! As more and more tooling moves to the cloud and requires actual number crunching of (customer) data to succeed, the focus on Ops teams seems like a very logical development.
What happens next is that different teams require the same data—sometimes in a different format—to build a shared view of the customer. This is also what we’re seeing when looking at the relatively new partnership between Community Ops, and Customer Success Ops teams, as Tiffany Oda, Director of Community Operations at Venafi explains.
The alliance between Customer Success and Community programs has always been strong. They’re both centered around customer engagement, with the clear goal of making sure the customer gets more and more value out of the product(s) they are using and the relationship they’ve built with your company. Oda speaks to the most important synergies, and how to deal with them properly to increase these results.
As customer journeys become increasingly digital, it will be harder for departments to pull data sets apart. This means you will need to work together, preferably on and around a single centralized view of the customer. Community and CS can each provide their own pieces of the puzzle here. CS might inform the dataset with success planning, customer goals, license utilization, etc. Community will populate the dataset with engagement data, content utilization, expansion opportunities, and more.
Find shared metrics to focus on when building out your Ops flows between Community and Customer Success. Some early and easily measured metrics to focus on are:
- number of members
- active and returning members
- number of posts, activities
- content helpfulness scores
Feed these metrics into your Customer Success metrics to get an overview of how the customer is doing, and report on them separately to grow your community.
The more intertwined your teams become, will only result in achieving operational excellence and strategy in your organization.
If there’s one takeaway from the Community track at Pulse 2022, it’s this: Community helps your business to achieve efficient, durable growth––even in uncertain economic times.
“In my nearly three decades of SaaS experience, I have come to believe that the biggest differentiator and value proposition of a software company is the community of people who use, improve, and advocate for your product. This is why community-led growth is one of the hottest durable growth strategies in SaaS today.”
-Nick Mehta, CEO, Gainsight
When Community has a seat at the table, you work cross-functionally with your CS teams, use data to power your decisions and move the needle on business efficiency.