As founders of a SaaS company with customer success rooted deep in our values, we’ve taken a different approach to CS than most — one that has so far has yielded amazing results.
When you look at how the subscription software economy has exploded, the growth of customer success is no surprise. Customer Success Managers (CSMs) have become a critical cog in the machine to retain customers, grow accounts and ensure that customers are consistently receiving value.
But most Customer Success teams can’t grow as fast as their businesses require. To make matters worse, their role is stretched across numerous accounts and there is a real need to triage customers and allocate their time effectively.
This is the origin of a now widely accepted approach of Engagement Models to categorize customers as being “high-touch,” “low-touch,” or “no-touch.” These labels delineate the degrees of contact, time, and investment spent with particular customers.
Engagement Models Refresher
- High-touch typically means a lot of human time and contact between a dedicated CSM and their clients. This takes the form of personalized emails, phone calls, and meetings.
- Low-touch (or mid-touch) may mean customers are connected to whichever member of the team is available at the moment, or a dedicated CSM sends the occasional check-in email with more limited time spent on the account. CSMs still interact with customers, but typically don’t have ownership of particular ones over the course of the customer’s lifetime. Where they do, there is limited proactive communication and work done after those communications.
- No-touch, as the name suggests, indicates no human contact. No-touch methods include online forms, automated emails, chatbots, and anything else that doesn’t require a person working in real-time to support a customer. Many equate “tech-touch” with this category, for obvious — but misguided — reasons. We’ll get to that in a moment.
There’s a line of thought that has evolved in customer success that these different levels of touch should be used for specific customer segments:
- Enterprise customers often have the most complex needs, and want solutions fast when a problem arises. They also tend to be proactive, trying to get ahead of problems to prevent them from happening at all. Most of all, they have the highest value and revenue potential per customer. Because of this, they are often assigned a CSM dedicated to communicating with and assisting them as needed. This is high-touch.
- Mid-market customers need assistance as well, of course, but may not have the same resources or budget as enterprise customers to unlock person-to-person attention. To meet their needs, low- or mid-touch CSM approaches are usually recommended.
- Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) also have needs but aren’t necessarily generating enough revenue to justify hiring multiple CSMs. Because of this, much of customer success management can wind up relying on tech touchpoints, or simply having no touchpoints at all, where automated assistance is provided and reduces the need for human assistance.
This conventional approach gave rise to a now well-known graphic by Gainsight in late 2016:
There’s a serious problem with this idea, however.
Mid-market and SMB customers also want proactive assistance. Enterprise and SMBs can benefit from a community forum with answers to common questions and don’t always want to talk to someone for a solution or advice. And enterprise and mid-market customers can benefit greatly from tech-touch communication, which isn’t necessarily low- or no-touch at all.
Are we saying that we send enterprise clients automated emails, or let bots handle conversations with them? Yes! Because we do.
And while that may sound bold, here’s the thing: it works.
A Customer Success Manager’s Task List
From the perspective of a CSM, using tech-touch across the board makes sense. There are only so many working hours in a day to write emails, make phone calls, and attend meetings. If businesses truly value their high-priority customers, one obvious way to improve their experience is to ensure that personalized support is available whenever needed, or at least appears to be.
A CSM bogged down by emails, calls, and meetings is rarely able to truly communicate with their clients in real-time; they’re just too busy! Even when this isn’t the case, a customer may reach out to a CSM outside of working hours and have to wait for a reply.
These customers aren’t truly getting the best quality support; tech-touch can do better. This is especially true if some of the questions being answered and problems getting solved are repetitive, meaning initial responses can be automatic and instant.
The true value of a CSM is strategic: they offer a specialized service that includes consulting, giving personalized advice and support, and building a meaningful relationship with customers. Imagine how much more freedom they would have to do it best if manually addressing basic support issues and follow-ups were taken off their plate. Removing busywork and replacing it with tech touch enables better customer relationships.
Tech-touch should be for repetitive, low-value customer success tasks, freeing up CSMs for the real high-value work. Low-value doesn’t mean low-touch, however, and shouldn’t be limited to lower-spending segments of a customer base.
Hugo uses tech-touch for all customer segments for four reasons:
- Resourcing. It’s impossible to have “enough” customer success managers for a customer base. The more resources we have, the better.
- Global Customer Base. Because we have customers in multiple time zones, and because our human CSMs are best at being human when they get to sleep on occasion, tech touch helps us support customers 24/7 until we have global offices.
- Growth rate. Being experts in tech-touch allows our business to scale much more easily. Spikes in sign-ups or massive expansion in accounts aren’t as big of an issue.
- Differentiation. Doing tech-touch thoughtfully and well sets us apart from our competition. In short, we simply provide better service than others who don’t use it.
Successful Tech-Touch Strategies for All Customer Segments
What does tech-touch at all levels look like?
Here are our most successful non-standard tech-driven strategies that set us apart and, honestly, make our lives easier:
Automated high touch outreach
One example of our automated communication is an email that gets triggered when a customer is using the Hugo app on the weekend. Using casual language, the email lets the customer know that their CSM knows what it’s like to have to “catch up” on work over the weekend. It also offers tools that can help streamline that work so that it gets done quicker, leaving more free weekend time.
Our team, of course, is hopefully out enjoying their own weekend. (Ha! — You can pry this laptop from my cold, dead hands.) But with a little imagination, we have a very person, high-touch level of service for everyone, not just our enterprise customers during working hours. Success is now on-demand: available to all of our customers, all of the time.
Best of all, people reply to these emails a lot. We end up having the option to have a lot of fascinating exchanges with customers on the weekend — something we don’t pass up. But the core of the program is all automatic, which means we just handle the fun part.
This same approach can be used when analytics detect a problem with an account. An email asking “Is everything ok?” and offering solutions makes it feel like someone is there, in real-time, ready to help. And if they reply, a human can easily swoop in to solve an issue with the first steps already taken.
As long as it feels like human interaction, these initial tech-touches can be just as good as the real thing for many customers. And, best of all, customer success now has an inbox full of customers to respond to, rather than the far more difficult task of outreach to start conversations.
The idea that proactivity is limited to high-level customers has never sat well with us. We just don’t think it’s true. Businesses of all sizes want to get ahead of issues, and we use automated, personalized messages to communicate how we help them do exactly that.
When our error logging software detects that a customer has just experienced a bug while using Hugo, for example, they receive a friendly message from us. This message communicates that we noticed an error occurred and that we are looking into it — and our system is, in fact, doing just that, without human help.
This is arguably even more proactive than a human CSM, who might not be aware that a customer experienced an error until the customer communicates it. Even if an automated alert is sent to the CSM, it may not get addressed until they have handled everything else on their list. Even then, we’ve connected the customer experience to our engineering team, leading to a faster, better solution anyway.
Welcome to Hugo swag pack
Perhaps the most fun tech touch we do is one that uses tech to provide some real-world tangibles for customers to enjoy: swag!
After signing up and achieving in-product goals, new Hugo customers are sent a package with Hugo t-shirts, socks and helpful content for their team learn new methods of teamwork and business growth. This very high touch service is automated; the team doesn’t have to worry about making it happen. This way, all customers get a red carpet experience. There is no human time cost and our valued customers are reminded that they are all valued.
The new frontier of tech touch
Tech touch is no longer about “low” or “high” touch; it’s about employing tools, processes, and technology to be more proactive and available, and remove busywork for CSMs. This reserves time for high-value relationship building and consulting—true value-adds for customers.
Customer success management is the hub to the many spokes in a business. Without happy customers, a business can’t scale and without capturing and centralizing customer insights, the rest of the business can’t be truly customer-centric.
Scaling customer success is a pain point many of our clients approach us with. With our Connected Meeting Notes Software powering CSM teams globally, our goal at Hugo is to maximize value from customer conversations — which counter-intuitively means using automation to start or eliminate a lot of those communications.
Every time our customers have a meeting, they take notes, share insights, and plan action. They collaborate on agendas. They elevate conversations to allow businesses to scale. Meetings are important, but scaling requires strong customer relationships, too. Tech-touch is one way to build that strength.