The 5 Best Customer Success Platforms for Small Businesses: An Honest Look

A Vitally article about other customer success platforms (CSPs)? Sounds like a recipe for bias with a dash of not-so-sneaky sales pitching, right?

Actually, wrong. 

We’re thrilled that you’re interested in finding the right CSP for your small business. While we’re obviously Vitally advocates, know that our purpose here is to help you, not sell you. 

We’re firm believers that there’s no such thing as “too early” to bring your customer data and operations under a single pane of glass to better manage your book of business at scale. A great CSP sends efficiency through the roof, especially for small teams in growth mode.

Our goal with this piece is to give CS leaders like you an extra resource to reference as you research CSPs for your start-up or scale-up. Third-party review sites like G2 and TrustRadius are helpful, as are peer recommendations. But resources like this also add value to your search because you get a professional take on today’s most vital CSP features for SMB, right from the mouth of an actual CSP vendor. 

We’ll briefly look at four non-negotiable qualities you’ll need if you want a CSP that scales with you. Then, we’ll get into the strengths of five top-rated CSPs for small businesses, and wrap up with a final consideration if you’re purchasing a new CSP in the coming months.

First Things First: These 4 CSP Capabilities Are Non-Negotiable

Whether you’re implementing a CSP for the first time or hoping to switch to a new one soon, you need a tool that’s future-proof. 

Especially with ever-rising customer expectations, advanced software integrations and APIs, and the cascading effects of AI, the following capabilities won’t be nice-to-haves, but rather table stakes in a few years.

Automation

Vitally’s CEO, Jamie Davidson, put it well: “Even if you only have 25 customers, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t automate the tedious parts of your job.”

Gone are the days of manually assigning CSMs to new customers, piecemealed onboarding, and segmenting customers by hand to decide who needs what level of communication and attention. 

Modern CSPs have reliable integrations with all of the popular tools (think Salesforce, Hubspot, Zendesk, Intercom, Mixpanel, Segment, Snowflake, Stripe, and more) to trigger various actions across the customer journey with automation. Your CSP should enable your small CS team to work smarter, not harder, especially as you grow.

Hybrid- and high-touch customer success experiences

If your CSMs are only hosting quarterly business reviews (QBRs) and sending sporadic check-in emails, your customers will suffer — and likely switch to a competitor. 

The best CSPs today actually coach CSMs through the process of adding value and building the kind of relationship customers want, like simple onboarding, consultative support, and solution building. 

Plus, if each CSM on your team has a dozen or more clients, each with their own strategic initiatives and deadlines, it’s impossible to keep everyone’s low-touch, high-touch, and hybrid-touch needs straight without a CSP that’s organized and adaptable.

Robust project management capabilities 

This pairs with our previous point; it’s 2023, and lots of CS teams still manage massive projects and processes with Gantt charts in Excel or Google Sheets. (No shame if that’s you, by the way.) 

A future-focused CSP gives both customers and their relationship managers full visibility into who’s responsible for what and when, complete with push notification reminders to stay on track. You need this, period.

Exceptional, easy customer engagement

Last but not least, the best CS leaders make work feel simple and clear for CSMs and the customers they serve. As you shop around, look for CSPs with projects, tasks, collaborative docs, and important customer data embedded within them, creating an actual “it’s all in one place” experience for CSMs and anyone else who needs account visibility. 

If you’re wondering what questions to ask throughout your buying process to make sure your CSP of choice has all four capabilities, this free buyer’s guide will help.

The Top 5 Customer Success Software Tools for SMBs

Now that you know what’s non-negotiable in a CSP purchase, here are the five most popular options on the market right now for smaller teams. 

1. Vitally

Vitally (hey, that’s us!) is the customer success platform of choice for CS teams that crave more productivity, visibility, and collaboration. Founded in 2017, the all-in-one platform offers a suite of tools that enable CS organizations, both big and small, to execute on what matters most to their customers with a greater level of efficiency and focus.

Co-founder and CEO Jamie Davidson shared what differentiates Vitally from other CSPs: “We have a relentless focus on collaboration, plus a growing passion for making things work more productively, especially project management. That’s a differentiated experience from anything else you’ll find in the market today.”

To get a bit more granular with Vitally, CSMs can access customer data, capture insights, create dashboards, monitor health scores, and automate repetitive tasks in a few clicks inside the platform. Vitally is intuitive, and beautiful, too.

vitally dashboard best customer success software platforms for small businesses

What’s more, Vitally seamlessly brings together full tech stacks and can integrate an entire book of business across dozens of tools if needed. This gives everyone — customers and CSMs alike — real-time access to what’s happening in every account.

World-class CS teams at Zapier, ServiceNow, and Productboard lean on Vitally to:

  • Do the basics, like capture Notes in meetings and Automate repetitive work
  • Build a robust Knowledge Base so customers have self-service options
  • Create and manage Projects with Tasks for their team and customers
  • Unify insights from across your tech stack to build a Customer 360º view, as with the platform’s bi-directional sync with Salesforce
  • Track Health Scores and NPS in real-time
  • Monitor team performance with Reports & Dashboards
  • Collaborate with customers using interactive Docs
  • Optimize Conversations to catch customers at opportune times
  • Get Notifications for new customer actions, account indicators, and feedback

Vitally offers three pricing tiers, all of which offer the platform’s full range of features, and vary in cost based on the number of seats your team requires and the number of accounts you manage. For example, if your Customer Success team has a small number of CSMs who each handle a large book of clients, the Tech-Touch plan will be the most cost-effective option for you.

2. Planhat

Sweden-based Planhat is known for its “horizontal customer platform that solves complex challenges in post-sales business.” It’s been around since 2015, and markets itself as a go-to tool for automating tasks and workflows, and telling stories with data.

planhat customer data management csp for smb

Some Planhat perks for small businesses include:

  • A straightforward, appealing UI
  • Visualization of task management and pipeline
  • The ability to run NPS campaigns via email and in-app
  • EU data storage (this is a pro for some folks, a con for others)
  • Unlimited users across all plans (although limited feature access level at each plan tier)
  • Solid automation, with cross-object filtering, triggers, and custom equation writing capabilities

Related: Top 5 Planhat Alternatives for High-Growth CS Teams

3. Catalyst

Catalyst is another well-rated CSP. Founded in 2015 and around 100 employees strong, Catalyst markets itself as “the leader in customer revenue optimization” for CS teams who want to upsell and retain customers.

One interesting thing to note about Catalyst is their firm stance as a tool for customer-led growth (CLG) teams rather than product-led growth ones. “Land and expand” is the name of the game for them.

Some Catalyst perks for small businesses include:

  • Access to “Playbook Objectives,” which quantitatively track the impact and success of specific CS efforts (a team's renewal playbook, for example)
  • Pay-by-the-seat pricing, with unlimited access to all features on each plan
  • Triggered “Playbook Reply Actions” based on customer’s open, click, and reply behavior in emails (Note: You can’t add attachments to automated emails yet)
  • Easy note-taking with the option to create tasks right in each note
  • Powerful global search across the entire platform
  • Meaningful CS community and thought leadership

4. Gainsight Essentials

Gainsight is the incumbent CSP solution; it’s been around since 2009 and is very attractive to organizations that offer enterprise-grade, high-touch CS. However, in March of 2022, the folks at Gainsight launched Gainsight Essentials for smaller businesses. It’s a stripped-down version of traditional Gainsight that’s easier to buy, use, and implement than its classic software.

Gainsight Essentials comes much more “out of the box” than Planhat or Catalyst. By that, we mean it comes with step-by-step instructions on set-up and implementation, with templatized features and in-app walkthroughs. Gainsight is a powerful tool, but with much power comes much complexity—especially for CS leaders of smaller teams who are prioritizing efficiency and simplicity.

Some Gainsight perks and watch-outs for small businesses include:

  • More than a decade of experience and hard-earned industry clout
  • Strong flexibility and integration possibilities, although this can get complicated quickly
  • The option to purchase a product analytics tool in tandem with the CSP
  • Auto-generated health scores (however, there are limitations as to how the scores are calculated)
  • A reportedly high-maintenance and time-consuming tool for CS Ops folks and admins to implement and manage

5. Totango

Totango was founded shortly after Gainsight in 2010, and it’s “the industry’s only Composable Customer Success platform.” They argue that a customer’s journey is your product, so orchestrating that journey matters above all else. Their strategy is heavily focused on retention and expansion, and the product comes with strong portfolio and user management capabilities, reporting, and data alignment.

Some Totango perks and watch-outs for small businesses include:

  • Great CSAT and NPS email campaigns
  • Automated emails based on integrations with CRMs (however, a few G2 reviews mention syncing issues with Salesforce and Hubspot)
  • UI that’s easy to navigate and clean
  • The launch of “Totango In-App,” a communication and product tour experience builder users can leverage for their customers

One more thing: Totango's Starter tier deletes customer data older than a year, which means it's definitely not the right choice for teams that need to track historical data.

Remember What’s at the Heart of Great CS

If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely someone who’s responsible for making customers happy (and you’re likely CSP shopping for your business). As you navigate sales calls with CSP providers in the coming weeks and months, here’s our challenge: stay hyper-focused on your customers and the kind of experience they want. 

It’s easy to get lost in the sauce with features. Yes, automation limitations, open APIs, and other technical capabilities matter in maintaining great relationships as your small business grows. But as you peruse the CSP space, remember why you’re shopping in the first place.

You need a small business Customer Success tool that lets your CSMs deliver efficient, exceptional service. You need powerful productivity, scalable visibility, and seamless collaboration, both right now and in the years to come.

Think a conversation with Vitally is a good next step? Request a personalized demo with our team. We’re ready to talk when you are.

One last thing: If you have any ideas for Customer Success resources that would make you and your team more productive and efficient, email us at hello@vitally.io. We’d love to make something helpful for you.

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