This is Digital Customer Success 14 min read

Building your Digital Customer Success program - Choosing your channels (Part 2)

Jo Johansson • June 25, 2021

Welcome back to This is Digital Customer Success, our blog series where we set out to get clarity on all things Digital CS. Last week, we looked at what you need to think about when you develop your digital channels. This week, it’s time to take a closer look at channels. Let's jump in.

The ultimate vision for a digital-led strategy is this: the ability for your customers to choose their own self-guided journey.

To realize that vision, a lot of things need to fall into place. With your behavior-driven customer journey in hand, it’s time to explore what channels can help you create that self-guided journey.

Let’s break this down into onboarding, adoption, and retention and focus on a few key channels for each phase.

Choosing channels for the onboarding phase

Onboarding is the most important phase of the customer journey. And if you get onboarding wrong, well, ooft, it’s hard to recover.

During the onboarding phase, you want to prove that your product can either solve your customer’s problems or remove pain points (or do both). The goal of onboarding should be to take customers to the first value milestone by achieving the right product behaviors. Now, it’s likely that you’ve identified multiple key behaviors that will lead to value. But don’t overthink it. If you can achieve one of those during the onboarding phase, that’s all you need. Focus on that.

It’s important to give your customers options, so think about your channels in terms of giving your customers as much or as little hand-holding as they need throughout the process. As the onboarding process begins, set the expectations for your customers from the get-go. Be transparent in what they need to achieve (and by when) to obtain value from your product.

For most SaaS companies, the onboarding phase starts instantly after signup. This means you’ll need to provide users with access to the resources they need from the second they sign up. The best way of doing that is to use a combination of channels that together nudge the user further along in their journey to value.

Let’s take a look.

Email

Email is always a good place to start. It’s quick, seamless, and you know everyone spends time in their inbox. The key to a good email is keeping it simple. One clear message with one clear action that pushes users further in their journey. For optimal effect, automate your emails based on activity and non-activity in your product.

Do: Keep it simple, but be intentional. One clear message and one action at a time.

Don’t: Email overload. Make sure you get the frequency right so you don’t overwhelm users. Plus, while it’s true that we all spend a lot of time in our inboxes, it’s also an easy place to drown in the noise.

In-app messages

Once your users are active in your product, in-app messages and notifications work well. Whether it’s a guided product tour or simple suggestions and prompts, in-app messages are the perfect opportunity to drive the desired behavior and product usage.

Do: Use them sparingly and strategically. Today’s users are digital natives that are likely to want to have a go at your product without any help. A good place to start is to only use them once you see that they’re not taking the right actions in the product.

Don’t: Rely on them. Combine with email to drive more engagement. Also, don’t get too personal, some customers might be surprised by an over-done level of personalization.

Webinars

Often overlooked and under-utilized in Customer Success, webinars are an excellent one-to-many channel during the onboarding phase. They are quick to produce and easy to recycle. Once you’ve nailed your webinar, you can keep on using it as long as it matches the product experience.

Do: Utilize them from the get-go. Video is a great educational tool and a format that many users prefer.

Don’t: Overthink or overproduce. Think about the value of what you’re showing instead of cosmetics. I'ts also perfectly fine to repeat a webinar that’s of value to your customers. When it comes to webinars, there’s often pressure to introduce something new and innovative. Simply not true – they just need to be valuable!

Knowledge base

Your knowledge base is your (when done well) autonomous Support department. A well-managed knowledge base contains how-to articles and explainer videos that cover all areas of the product. It serves as a content hub for customers and allows them to pick and choose what type of content they want to consume.

Do: Populate your knowledge base extensively. Also, when you’re lacking expertise, turn to your customers. Why not elevate valuable customer (user) generated content to knowledge base articles?

Don’t: Populate for the sake of populating. Make sure your knowledge base content is practical and actionable. Too much content makes the good stuff harder to find.

Community

A community is your customers’ self-service haven. When done right, it will serve as the central hub for all your customer success content. A single destination for customers to come and ask questions, learn, and get inspired. Making it part of the customer journey from the get-go will foster a more intimate relationship with your product and your brand while enabling customers to achieve the right behaviors. Looker puts their community at the heart of their digital-led strategy to help customers obtain value by joining discussions, sharing ideas, and exploring best practices.

Do: Make it part of the customer experience from day one. Answering those initial questions, or helping customers onboard themselves is actually "part" of your product. Showing them that there’s a whole community of peers out there to support them early, is what’s going to keep them coming back throughout their journey.

Don’t: Expect customers to know what to do. Have a clear community strategy in place to help drive adoption. Also, don’t opt for a big bang launch, start with a small batch of customers and build out the community as you grow comfortable and your customers see value from it.

Surveys

There’s only one way to find out whether or not customers are happy with the onboarding process – ask them. This can be automated based on customers arriving at the first value milestone, or be triggered after a certain amount of time if they haven’t arrived at that milestone.

Do: Make it short and sweet. Did your customers have access to what they needed during onboarding? What was missing? That’s all you need to know to iterate on the onboarding experience.

Don’t: Push it. There’s nothing more annoying than constant reminders to complete a survey. Also, stop the standardized questions. If you want your customers to tell you something, make sure to ask in the right way (looking at you, NPS questions!).

Here’s what a digital-led channel strategy could look like during the onboarding phase.Frame 8 (3)Now, let’s move on to the adoption phase.

Choosing channels for the adoption phase

If you set up your customers for success during the onboarding phase, the quicker they will move into the adoption phase, and the faster they’ll get to more value milestones.

But first, let’s clarify the difference between onboarding and adoption.

Onboarding is a finite experience. It’s that initial period of time when your customer gets set up and gets to know you. Now, this period of time can range from a couple of days to several months depending on the complexity of your product.

Adoption, on the other hand, never ends. It’s constant and ongoing as new features and functionality get rolled and more people use the product. It’s when users realize more and more value.

Adoption is nothing but continuous learning and education. That’s why the key to success is to provide users with as much educational content as possible. This is typically when users start to feel more confident with the product and start exploring more on their own, so the way you use your channels needs to reflect that.

Let’s see what that looks like.

Email

Email will continue to be a key channel during adoption. But as your customers spend more time in the product, the role of email will shift. Instead of prompting actions, email is used to announce features, share updates, best practices, and communicate other need-to-knows to the user.

Do: Use email to drive customers to the product and remind them of the value they’re missing in case there’s a lack of activity. Email can also be used to notify them of their license utilization or share updates on how they're progressing with their success plan.

Don’t: Pester customers to log in if they haven’t successfully completed onboarding and actually reached the first value milestone. (Yikes.)

In-app messages

The purpose is still to drive the desired behavior, but the use of in-app messages will become more targeted during adoption based on product usage as customers continue to unlock value.

Do: Create hyper-personalized prompts based on behavior.

Don’t: Assume customers are further along in their journey than they are. If they’ve only just reached the first value milestone, use prompts to continue to build on that rather than rushing to drive new behaviors.

Knowledge base

Chances are your customers will frequent your knowledge base even more during adoption to get their hands on best practices and how-to guides. The key here is content maintenance and providing detailed information to help customers unlock more value milestones by using specific areas of your product.

Do: Maintain your knowledge base and keep adding more content based on customer feedback and questions in the community as well as support.

Don’t: Just limit the content to set-up guides and best practices. Add use cases, case studies, and video tutorials to offer customers a richer content experience. 

Community

Peer-to-peer support plays a vital role in the adoption phase. And who better to help a user understand the value of specific features than other users? While a customer community isn’t a make-or-break channel during onboarding, it will grow to play an increasingly important role in adoption as it provides that much sought-after guidance from peers.

Do: Help your customers find the right content in your community, such as important topics, help articles, and best practices.

Don’t: Let them get lost in the noise. Guide them through their community experience with the help of notifications and suggestions to achieve key behaviors.

Surveys
NPS and CSAT surveys are great. But use surveys strategically throughout the (never-ending) adoption phase to help you keep a finger on the pulse and gauge if and when customers are experiencing value.

Do: Make your surveys short, fun, and personalized based on behavior where possible. This will help you better understand their journey toward more value milestones.

Don’t: Put all your efforts into NPS and CSATs. Shorter in-app surveys will help you understand why customers haven’t used specific features yet. 

The goal of the adoption phase is for your users to continuously discover value as you direct them in their journey and keep driving the key product behaviors you have identified in your roadmap. When your customer reaches your set behavioral milestones, that’s what validates your channel strategy. And as mentioned, adoption never really ends. As your product changes and evolves, you have to keep educating new and existing users to make sure they continue to adopt your product.Frame 9 (1)Choosing channels for the retention phase
While onboarding is about discovering value and adoption is about adding more value, retention is about sustaining that value.

Customers leave because they no longer see value in your product. So the question is, how do you sustain value and continue to build a relationship with the customer that makes them want to stick around?

You want to make sure that you deliver on the future they were promised. May it be specific features, integrations, or other product updates that create value for them – the retention phase becomes about the voice of the customer more than ever. This is where your customer community will help bring the voice of the customer center stage.

So as you build on your existing channel strategy to cater to the voice of the customer and make sure they keep experiencing value, your customer community becomes increasingly important.

Email

Similar to the adoption phase, email will play a slightly different role. It will become more targeted and more precise based on product usage and preferences. For example, you might only want to share product updates for features your customer has expressed interest in, rather than overwhelming them with an all-hands update. It’s the customized targeting and messaging that will create a greater sense of personalization for users, and the more you can automate personalization, the better the experience.

Do: Segment and personalize your email program as much as possible based on behavior and value milestones.

Don’t: Take a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Community

Your customer community is fueled by the voice of the customer. You’ll find insights in the Q&A section, discussions, in your ideation section – everywhere. It’s the optimal channel to listen to your customers and get unbiased feedback. Your customer community will also help you close the feedback loop by communicating roadmap updates and product decisions.

Do: Make community the central hub for all customer needs. A central destination for all your content, community will be the go-to destination for customers to get more value out of your product. This is when it becomes increasingly important to listen and act on customer feedback, bringing the voice of the customer to the roadmap, implementing ideas, and closing the feedback loop.

Don’t: Just look at ARR when it comes to customer feedback and feature requests. Pay attention to smaller accounts and long-tail customers, because we all know that many smaller customers can equate to a lot of (lost) business.

Surveys

Similar to the adoption face, use surveys strategically throughout to help you gauge if and when customers are experiencing value in order to uncover who needs extra attention and what’s lacking in the experience that prevents them from experiencing sustained value.

Do: Keep personalizing your surveys and base them on key value milestones that should be reached continuously by customers to obtain value.

Don’t: Again, don’t put all your efforts into NPS and CSATs. Shorter in-app surveys will help you understand what’s missing in the experience.

A digital-led strategy is fueled by automation, and while there is good intent behind that automation, there are a couple of things that are difficult to get right: frequency and flexibility. While you want your customers to achieve certain value milestones in a certain timeframe, you need to allow for flexibility in the customer journey as your customers explore your product.

That’s where community comes in. Because where one-to-many struggles, many-to-many delivers.

Many-to-many: The driving force behind a self-guided journey

The key to enabling a self-guided journey to value is giving customers access to the resources they need when they need them. Now, part of that comes down to creating a tailored and personalized digital-led journey based on where the customer is. But even the best automation can’t meet all customer needs. So what can?

Let your customers take the lead – it’s time to embrace many-to-many.

Creating one central hub for your customers to self-serve

A customer community (when done right) is self-sustaining. And who better to understand what a customer needs than other customers?

Plus, what automation lacks, a customer community makes up for: flexibility. It’s not easy to get frequency right when it comes to automation.

Of course, creating a successful community doesn’t happen overnight, but when you get it right, it won’t just take the load off your CSMs, it will serve as a central hub for you customers to access everything they need to reach more value milestones and, in return, yield the business outcomes they were promised.

Here's an overview of how your customer community can serve the customer experience from phase to phase.

Final words

Customers care about outcomes more than features, and a successful digital-led strategy will enable customers to experience value faster and drive outcomes for their business. Ultimately, the faster your customers experience value, the faster they will rely on your product and integrate it into their day-to-day.

While a mix of channels often achieves the best result, be careful. More isn’t better. The channels you use should work together to help the customer unlock value, not make them lose sight of what they’re trying to achieve because of message overload.

And lastly, with all this automation in place, you’ll be sitting on a wealth of data. Leverage that data to iterate on your channel strategy as you learn what customers are responding to. And remember, what your customers don’t do, is just as important as what they DO do. 

Speaking of message overload, in our next post, we’ll look at how you can build out your channel strategy using a simple step-by-step process. Subscribe to our blog to make sure you don’t miss it!

In the meantime, here’s some content you might want to dig into:

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By Jo Johansson

Head of Content at inSided. Passionate about content ops, words and horses.

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