This blog was originally written and published on Medium by Adam Gosciniak.
As of 2020, many SaaS IT businesses have begun or fully embraced a product-led growth (PLG) model for their organization. This model has surged in popularity for two key reasons.
- The pandemic forced us to rethink how we interact with clients.
- The model is beneficial for cutting costs.
PLG models are appealing because customers are given the tools and resources needed to use your product without assistance from your support or Customer Success team. This model encourages users to ask questions via a forum or search for their answers within provided product support materials.
With a PLG model, customers can create and produce faster since they don’t need support. In turn, this also helps SaaS companies cut back on hiring more people for their support or Customer Success teams.
Applying PLG to Customer Success Teams
How can the current structure of your Customer Success Team (CST) embrace a PLG model? How can the company create a fully functional CST? How many people do you need to employ? The truth is, it’s not too difficult to do, and I’ll show you how.
The model below is a Modern Customer Success Team (CST) Model. Within this model, there are four quadrants.
This modern CST model is for small-scale start-ups and can break down into four main components. The first three components are yellow and considered mandatory for a PLG model to succeed, while the 4th component is seen as an additional benefit.
- Education Center: A learning academy of some sort is necessary. For instance, a Knowledge base, Wiki, or Learning Center.
- External Communication Team: A team that communicates with clients or prospects using marketing communication strategies or tactics.
- Support Team: A support team that can communicate via chat or has a support team structure that only addresses complex product inquiries.
- Account Managers: Though optional, experienced Account Managers to manage Enterprise level clients will bring major benefits.
Depending on the complexity of your product and user-base size, a single person can address the three yellow components. The blue circle (high-touch) is a position that requires more hours to strategize and communicate with clients on an individual basis effectively.
Breaking Down the Quadrants of a Modern Customer Success Team
Education Center or Academy
Any PLG company needs readily-available product resources for their customers. Though making such resources is time-consuming, remember that it only needs to be done once! How to organize the resources is optional, but there is a number of software options to serve as a resource library. Actually, many support ticket software (Freshdesk, Intercom, etc.) include support material capabilities.
The key attribute to what makes a good education center is a great searchability. It is vital that a user can easily find an answer to their problem via keyword search. There is nothing worse than being forced to sift through hundreds of articles to find your answer.
Remember, learning academies for your product can be developed in stages depending on the resources you have. For instance, start with articles and focus on video content for high-quality educational videos.
From the education center, you can create a community. This community can serve as the central hub for users to share feedback, create forums about problems, or learn about product updates. It doesn’t take much to set up, and assigning one individual to moderate and manage the forum is doable.
Without daily, weekly, or even monthly interaction with your customers, there must be processes in place to effectively communicate new product information to your users. Communication is critical to excite customers with new features, promotions, and updates!
Emails: Sending out marketing and product update emails are critical. Marketing emails should be sent in a newsletter form to current, former, or prospective users. In the list of recipients, including the decision makers or stakeholders that approved your software since they are more likely to show positive engagement. This newsletter includes links to other marketing materials like testimonials or social media content. On the other hand, product updates interest the everyday user the most, so these emails should include what’s new and what’s changing in hopes of exciting them.
Surveys: Lastly, surveys are another component of external outreach. There is a debate on the value of surveys, but if you wish to send out surveys to users, be sure your approach is strategic. When I say strategic, I mean sending the correct survey style to a specific user demographic. Common surveys include:
NPS Survey: Surveys should be sent quarterly to decision makers (at the enterprise level).
CSAT Survey: Surveys should be shared with daily or all users on a quarterly basis.
Feedback Survey: Surveys should be shared with users after they have churned.
Note that surveys can all be automated, so you only have to create a survey once and set a send-out date – it’s that easy!
Webinars: Webinars are unique as they educate and inform users. Webinars require more work and planning, plus viewership is not guaranteed. One topic for each webinar can be used as a sales tool, providing leads or prospects, adding additional information about your product, and addressing any questions. For instance, hosting quarterly webinars educating users on the product's unique features is a great start.
Webinars can also be general marketing for educating people on platforms or topics. These webinars could include thought leaders discussing personal experiences and sharing advice. Regardless of the webinar style, remember to consider the value it could bring a customer. Address questions and feedback, and consider offering incentives to prospects as a way to thank you for joining the webinar.
There are two types of chats, live or support. In my experience, I strongly advise against live support for small teams or complex products. It’s better for customers to send in support tickets describing their problems (with as much detail) and respond in a few hours' time. Though this method hurts users' workflow, it’s best for maximizing time management. Ensure your ticket request form enables media sharing (videos and photos), as it can be a great visual of the problem and makes for easier troubleshooting.
For live chats, it’s best to answer simple questions. Consider an automated live bot to design workflows and manage FAQs.
Support Team: The support team directly handles customers' tickets and inquiries. Support calls fit into High-Touch and Support models. If you are a smaller company, I believe you should offer (at most) 30-minute support calls to your customers.
Avoid an abundance of support calls by setting up hurdles for your customers to jump over before booking a call. An example of a journey could look something like this:
Education Center Search →Community → Chat Support → Contact a Member of the Team
Like a support ticket, it should be required users to provide as much information as possible before the call to help the agent prepare. Additionally, post-calls can serve as mini-feedback sessions to extract more value for the company. If you find that your support team is answering redundant questions, I suggest eliminating this process or considering adding more hurdles to book a call.
You could also add restrictions on who can receive support calls. For instance, restrict calls to paying and enterprise-level customers.
Account Management: Dedicated Success Managers or Account Managers team address clients with a high-touch style (mainly for enterprise-level customers) and are often responsible for upselling, cross-selling, and renewals.
High Touch Models
High-touch models should be reserved as the method of communication and support for enterprise-level clients. Here are a few key reasons why:
- Their fees will justify hiring experienced Account Managers.
- Increase the likelihood of the customer successfully using the product with the proper guidance.
- Enterprise-level clients improve your company portfolio and marketing strategies.
- Enterprise customers have multi-domains most of the time, so your product could be an expansion of their tech stack.
- Exceptional support is critical, so make this a selling point!
This area of business can grow into its own department. Therefore I recommend your Account Managers and Customer Success Managers should provide the following:
- Detailed onboarding clearly illustrates how your product can hit KPIs and what needs to be done to achieve a given goal.
- Training or workshops to help customers use your product.
- Monthly and quarterly meetings or calls to ensure both sides are on target for product usage and other KPI goals.
Final Thoughts On How to Build a PLG-Driven Customer Success Team
Remember, I created this structure with a small CST in mind because more resources are often set aside for product development over a CST. This proposed model can be set up by a few people and made functional by even fewer. Most of these processes are set up once and can be left alone for a while. Even external outreach strategies do not require much work because once a marketing or product update email templates are created, adding in content isn’t super time-consuming.
Some processes are time-consuming, so it’s important to prioritize creating a solid network of support materials readily available for customers. This will reduce the number of support tickets and calls, but if it isn’t, consider rethinking your educational strategy. Maybe the articles are not accurate? Are your users aware of your learning academy? User feedback surveys, calls, or stats provided by the software host of your support center can help. The goal is to eliminate redundant tickets and ensure your support team is helping customers overcome their challenges. If a user gets to this stage, they are well-versed in your product and have a smaller chance of churning.
The four quadrants discussed shouldn’t just be used to increase your customer outreach. I encourage you to use other channels, such as SEO optimization, content marketing, offline and online ads, and much more. I will warn you that other channels will likely fall out of the CST responsibilities and shift into Marketing territory.
While the PLG model has no signs of slowing down, I don’t have a single reason why a company shouldn’t merge its high-touch model into a PLG model. Especially for smaller companies hoping to penetrate their market, high-touch is a great way to stand out from the competition as you can offer direct and better support compared to your competitors. High-touch, mid-touch, tech-touch (or low-touch), and PLG models are all possible with the Vitally platform, as it is driven by automation and data to help customer success teams deliver personalized and trusted support.
This blog was written and contributed by Adam Gosciniak. Vitally is proud to distribute thought leadership content to the Customer Success community, so if you know of an article or author with some Customer Success knowledge and wisdom worthy of endorsement, we would love to expand its reach. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with all the details, plus visit our blog to read more Customer Success content worthy of your time.