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Optimizing the Customer Journey with Digital CS Metrics Image

Optimizing the Customer Journey with Digital CS Metrics

By Gainsight Team

In the world of Customer Success, metrics often tell the story.

Whether it’s Lifetime Value (LTV), customer acquisition cost (CAC), or the champion of them all, net revenue retention (NRR), companies rely on metrics to tell them how effectively they are serving their customers, and by extension, how well their businesses are doing. And based on those metrics— and their intimate knowledge of their customers’ businesses—Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are able to craft strategies that improve the customer experience.

But when a customer success initiative begins to scale to thousands or even millions of customers, a new challenge arises. With that many customers, it becomes impossible for even the most efficient CSMs to deliver daily value to each customer individually. That’s where digital-led customer success steps in. Also called “low-touch” or “tech touch” customer success, a digital-led approach uses digital tools to improve the customer experience.

You heard that right: in the digital-led approach, CSMs have little or no direct one-on-one contact with your customers. Instead, they use digital-first tools and strategies:

  • One-to-many approach: Assisting customers via email, in-app notifications and guides, webinars, videos, and knowledge base content
  • Many-to-many approach: Building a customer community where customers gain access to peer-to-peer (P2P) interactions and self-service initiatives

But the shift away from one-to-one interactions does not mean a loss of personalized interactions. The fact is that digital-led customer success can be just as personalized (and effective) as traditional CS methods. The truth is in the metrics: digital-led CSM has proven to be a cost-effective and highly measurable way to deliver superlative customer experiences at scale. 

But there’s a catch. 

To succeed with digital-led customer success, it is no longer enough to use metrics only to measure the final results. CSMs also need to use metrics during the customer journey, before the customer arrives at final “hard” ROI metrics like NRR. That’s because without one-to-one, personal contact with every customer, metrics become the primary method for CSMs to illuminate, understand, and improve the customer experience along the way.

Prioritizing Customer Journey Metrics

In a digital-led customer success, the customer journey takes center stage. And the customer journey is all about customer behavior. Through the use of behavior-driven metrics, CSMs will be able to understand where their customers are on the journey, and what they need to do to push customers along to the next step. Some steps, like onboarding, will be similar for all SaaS companies, while the impact of upselling and expansion opportunities may vary depending on the sector, the business, and the customer.

Identifying Important Metrics

CSMs should start by mapping what they think the customer journey will be. Then try implementing different metrics that help illuminate and evaluate where customers are along the way. The most important thing is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes; imagine the journey from the customer’s perspective

  • What the customer is thinking, feeling, or doing at that particular stage of their journey? 
  • What support can the company provide to make that stage easier? 
  • What obstacle is the customer encountering?
  • What aspects of the product and experience is the customer not engaging with?

There are many different metrics that a CSM could use to answer these questions, and those metrics will often be business-specific. However, there are a few universal metrics that your company should track immediately to understand the impact (and value) of your digital-led CS strategies.

Here are the most important metrics to track.

Product Usage

Product usage is about much more than simply whether or not you make a good product. Product usage metrics give you a window into a customer’s experience, or lack thereof, with specific product features. They highlight the features that your customers derive daily value from and those that they do not understand or do not use at all. These insights will help you understand what engagements are communicating effectively, and which ones need to be improved immediately. 

Start by identifying the verified outcomes of each customer. Think about which milestones they need to hit in order to reach their goals in the time they’ve outlined. With those outlined, you can track a customer’s behavior against those benchmarks to determine if they are on the right path and what you can do to help them achieve their goals faster.

For example, suppose a customer is in the onboarding phase, but less than half of their licenses have been activated, per the license usage metric. Perhaps an email notification with a login CTA could move more users to register the app and begin using the product. But tracking usage is just the first step in assessing customer behavior. Next, you want to focus on engagement metrics. 

Engagement

Engagement metrics work hand-in-hand with usage metrics. In fact, the two strategies should complement one another in a feedback loop. Engagement metrics should track how the customer is interacting with the customer success initiative itself. This could include email open rates, the number of walk-through videos watched or knowledge articles read, surveys taken, or questions posted to the community. Put together with how the customer is using the product, the CSM should have a good idea of how they are using the product, when they are ready for the next step in the journey, and what the possible pain points are, if any.

An important part of customer success engagement is that no two customers or users are necessarily alike in terms of how they learn. So it is often a good idea to have multiple options for engaging. Some customers may need many touchpoints along the way—you might even call it handholding—while others will prefer minimal communication or perhaps a primarily self-service approach. The best approach may be using a combination of channels that help customers discover the value of the offering.

Ultimately, the goal is to better understand preferences and needs to continuously iterate on delivering the right communications at the right time, and treat customers how they want to be treated.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Downstream from usage and engagement, Net Promoter Score (NPS) will let you know how the customer views the overall experience as they move through their journey. Because NPS is already commonly used by many SaaS businesses, the learning curve for implementation in a digital-led customer success strategy is not as steep. And online surveys are a good low-touch, high-scale approach to gathering data on customer behavior.

Digital-led strategies can also accelerate the depth of NPS efforts. Follow-up questions, especially open-ended, can elicit deeper insights into how customers are thinking and feeling. In fact, surveys are an excellent opportunity to use metrics as a springboard to learn more about customer behavior.  

When implementing NPS as part of a digital-led strategy, automated follow-up actions should be incorporated into the plan. For example,  you may want to include a thank you or an additional survey for other users who may not have engaged with the initial ask. Also, be prepared to analyze the data to identify thresholds for action. Does a poor NPS score activate additional engagement? Does a positive score indicate an opportunity for referrals, or perhaps expansion? Speaking of expansion…

Upsell Opportunities

As a clearer picture of customer behavior emerges based on the metrics, CSMs will be able to identify patterns that indicate upsell and expansion opportunities. By tracking which types of outcomes steer customers down a path toward cross-sells and upsells, you can identify ideal opportunities to extend follow-up sales offers. 

You can make the task of identifying upsell opportunities easier by setting up custom alerts within your CS platform. Essentially, you establish thresholds across any of the above metrics that will automatically trigger email alerts. Such as triggering personalized offers or alerting sales team members when a customer is a qualified cross-sell or upsell prospect.

Product metrics are an important first flag that customers may be ready for an upsell. For example, if a customer is using a product, or specific functions of a product, heavily, then it may be time to offer them an upgrade to a more scalable tier. Similarly, if a customer is approaching the license cap, an automated offer for more seats can be built into the digital customer success tool. 

From an engagement perspective, metrics can be used to identify satisfied customers. Customers with good health scores and/or positive engagements can be flagged for escalation to upselling.

Product ROI metrics are an important benchmark that we have not discussed thus far. Ideally, you should be able to define your business success metrics for your customers, in other words, metrics that tell you about what level of ROI the customer is experiencing from your product. Successful customers experiencing value are more likely to respond to upsell campaigns.

All Journeys Lead to NRR

Ultimately, the picture of customer behavior developed by digital-led metrics will translate to the clearest metric of all: NRR. The analysis and decisions you have made along the way as customers move from milestone to milestone will hopefully lead to a positive outcome.

But if you are surprised by the ultimate result, it is an indication that you need to iterate on the metrics you used to track the customer journey. Metrics are there to provide context around what’s happening so that you have a chance to treat customers well, whether that means correcting problems on the way or seizing an opportunity to offer more useful services. And if you get the metrics right, the good news is that the NRR should take care of itself!

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