No doubt you’re familiar with the Apple Genius Bar. You’ve probably even visited one in a panic the last time your Mac went on the fritz and wouldn’t start, or when you you cracked your iPad screen, or that time you spilled your morning coffee on your iPhone. One of the friendly geniuses fixed your problem, and you left with a good feeling about Apple, your customer loyalty secure … until your next device disaster.
In Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue, Nick Mehta et al point to the Apple Geniuses as shining examples of customer success management in action. The authors concede that “it wasn’t cheap for Apple to decide to have 10 or 20 geniuses on the payroll at every single store.” But, they add “the fact that they exist to touch and help real customers and build even the slightest relationship drives attitudinal loyalty. That’s the art of customer success.” The Apple geniuses, the authors contend, embody a simple definition of customer success, which is “individuals that [sic] help customers get the most out of your product.”
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who would argue with such a commonly-held belief about customer success management. After all, in a subscription business, revenue is accrued over the course of the customer’s lifetime, not at the point of purchase. Keeping customers happy is crucial to growth. As Zuora CEO and founder Tien Tzuo told Forbes:
Customers are absolutely key in [the SaaS] relationship, and rather than putting the focus of the business on the ‘product’ or the ‘transaction,’ subscription economy companies live and die by their ability to focus on the customer. Now, the formula for growth is focused on monetizing long-term relationships rather than shipping products.
But the truth is, widely-held notions surrounding just what exactly customer success management should entail dance around the right idea -- retaining customers and driving engagement -- but they miss the mark in some very important ways. Should you make sure your customers are happy and able to succeed with your product in order to drive adoption? Of course you should. But unfortunately, customer success tends to focus on the symptoms of a problem, rather than the root cause.
Think back to the Apple Genius Bar, for example. Apple is paying a gaggle of customer success managers at each store to help individual customers solve problems. But the trouble is, they’re only helping one customer at a time. Many of those customers all have the exact same types of problems -- and the geniuses fix these problems, over and over and over again.
But what if the root cause of those problems was fixed instead? Fixing the root of the problem would help an entire group of customers at once. How much money would Apple save? How many customers would be even happier and more engaged if they never had to make the trek to the genius bar in the first place because nothing went wrong?
To put it another way, customer success, as it’s practiced, is kind of like smelling that the food you’re cooking is burning and opening a window to let out the smoke -- while continuing to burn your food. After all, if having a robust customer success team was a magic bullet, wouldn’t that mean that the more money you threw at it, the more successful your customers -- and by extension you -- would be? But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Too often, the customer success department becomes a money pit, putting out fire after fire while never seeming to actually drive widespread adoption of the product.
But there is a different and better way to approach how you retain customers and drive adoption. We call it adoption intelligence. Instead of opening the window when the food is burning, it’s a method to make sure you don’t ever burn your food in the first place. Where customer success puts out fires, adoption intelligence is Smoky the Bear. It helps you uncover how to prevent them.
In a nutshell, adoption intelligence is a method to calculate the adoption health score of your customer base. It tracks the kinds of metrics and data that are unique to your product and that will help you drive adoption and engagement. Adoption health considers both adoption accelerators and decelerators; in other words, factors that either help users move towards the engaged end of the adoption spectrum, or cause them to drift towards a state of disengagement. This gives you a better overall picture of what's driving adoption of your product, as well as the what’s slowing it down and leading to disengagement. It reveals the frustrations your customers face so you can ease frictions for them before customers churn. Adoption intelligence is also a way to align your entire organization around the goal of adoption and engagement, rather than isolating it into a single (expensive) customer success department.
To get a better understanding of the differences between customer success management and adoption intelligence, let’s explore some of the main things customer success gets wrong, and how adoption intelligence can help steer you towards increased adoption and engagement more efficiently and at a lower cost.
Customer Success Measures the Wrong Things
Customer success teams tend to rely on out-of-the-box analytics and customer satisfaction surveys. A big problem with this is that these kinds of metrics and data don’t really tell you anything you can use. Things like logins and time spent with a product don’t tell you what kind of experience your customers are having and where they’re experiencing frustrations and friction points. Sure, maybe Customer X spent five hours clicking through page after page of the product. But instead of being happy and successful, perhaps they spent that entire time trying in vain to accomplish a task. Adoption intelligence, on the other hand, discovers where your customers are experiencing frictions, and removes those pain points before users experience too much frustration and churn.
And relying on customer satisfaction surveys means that you’re essentially waiting until a customer is unhappy with you before intervening. But why wait? Rather than trying to interpret customer opinions, adoption intelligence focuses on actual adoption accelerators and decelerators -- the underlying reasons that your customers adopt and engage with your product, as well as the things that are slowing them down.
Customer Success Is Reactive Rather Than Proactive
Despite a stated intention to be proactive, customer success always seems to be in clean up crew mode when it comes to customer problems. In Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue, the authors define being proactive in this way: “Customer success teams use data and analytics to determine which customers should be acted on either because they appear to be at risk or because there appears to be an upsell opportunity.”
While the main idea of wanting to be proactive is correct, there’s a problem here. “Acting on” a customer when they appear to be at risk isn’t really very proactive, is it? It’s actually a reactive way to attempt to retain customers. Once a customer is having so many problems that you need to reach out to them, they’re already frustrated with you. And even if you help that one customer, what about all the other customers who are probably about to face the same issues?
Adoption intelligence, by contrast, helps you uncover the leading indicators of activity churn for a group of customers. By discovering the frustrations faced by an entire group of customers and addressing those underlying problems, you can drive adoption and engagement across your customer base with less work and lower cost. That’s a real proactive response. And, rather than identify each single individual who may be receptive to upsells, adoption intelligence allows you to identify a large swath of those receptive avid users.
More Is Not Always Better
If your customer success team is constantly putting out fires with individual customers, that means the more customers you gain, the more customer success managers you’ll have to hire. And that will make a serious dent in your revenue. Customer success simply doesn’t scale.
On the other hand, if everyone in your company is aligned around adoption health, the entire company has a compass they can use to steer themselves towards success. You don’t have to keep hiring more and more people to put out fires. Instead of always trying to fix individual problems, adoption intelligence can help you prevent them.
Customer Success Loses Sight of the Product
As the name indicates, customer success is focused exclusively on the customer. Customer success managers reach out to customers to try to prevent churn and make upsells. And while it makes sense to try to drive adoption by facilitating the success of the customer, something gets lost along the way: the product.
The focus of customer success on tweaking the experience for each individual customer means that the product as a whole isn’t being improved. But, by taking into account the overall adoption health picture, adoption intelligence locates points all along the adoption process -- from setup and onboarding through renewal -- where customers are encountering roadblocks with your product. It takes into account the workarounds people come up with in order to deal with struggles. This gives you the opportunity to fix problems, improve the product, and in so doing, increase engagement and drive adoption for your entire customer base.
Think back to the Genius Bar example. In most instances, the Geniuses are engaging in creative clean up crew style customer success management. But Apple has addressed the root of one recurring problem. They made the iPhone 7 waterproof. That means that instead of dealing with every single unhappy customer who has spilled liquid on their device, they’ve addressed the root cause of this struggle and made a waterproof phone.This improves the experience and removes a big struggle for an entire group of customers -- and saves Apple money and manpower in the process.
And that’s like practicing adoption intelligence: fixing the root cause of a problem for a whole group of customers, rather than wasting time and money putting out fires one by one.