Why Software Alone Doesn’t Make Customers Successful — But Great Customer Success Does

  • By: Josh Palmer
  • July 11, 2023
Customer Success
Reading Time: 6 minutes

It’s 5 p.m., your laptop is shut — TGIF. You celebrate the end of the work week by ordering your favorite pizza from that hole-in-the-wall place you like. Cheese, sausage, green peppers, onions, the works. 

You hear, “Order for Stacey!” cheerfully when you arrive. But they hand you an order for Cindy; it’s a Hawaiian pie with anchovies.

No, thanks.

You try to return Cindy’s pizza, but they assure you this is your order. You hand them the box; they hand it back to you. You see the manager in the back, but you can’t talk to them.

You wonder: Do they even care about my order, or me, at all?

An important lesson from that hypothetical pizza place: You need to truly understand your customers to ace customer success. Cindy wants and needs something different than Stacey does.

Recent research by Harvard Business Review confirms this: “The most compelling digital experiences start with a compelling understanding of the customer—who they are, what they want, what job they have to do, and even how they feel about themselves.”

Customer success is much more than providing customers with your pizza, er, software, and expecting them to thrive. 

Is the “Self-Service” Model Hurting Customer Success?

A good product isn’t enough to guarantee a great customer experience (CX). This idea plays out with companies that adopt the self-service model—in which the customer engages with, learns about, and resolves their issues with the product without live support from the company.

The self-service model empowers 24/7 support through chatbots, automated scripts, and help forums.

Sure, your customers want to be autonomous—and maybe they should be in some scenarios. But the drawbacks of putting your faith entirely in this model are plenty:

  • Little personalization: Customer loyalty becomes difficult when their experience with your product lacks a human touch. Not only are you missing opportunities for relationship-building, but you’ll have trouble providing personalization as the product evolves.
  • Frustrating CX: Some customers need more guidance than others. Maybe they’re not digital natives. Assuming they have the tools to navigate your product entirely on their own may lead to a confusing experience and subsequent churn.
  • Lack of understanding: Remember the pizza analogy from earlier? If you aren’t engaging with your customers, you’ll lose sight of what each person wants and needs.
  • Less customer feedback: Self-service CX models essentially take away your customers’ voices. If they go through 15 steps to find support and never get to speak to an agent, you might not hear their insights.

While a good product might get customers to sign on the dotted line, you won’t retain them unless you deliver better service than your competitors. There’s always a newer, cheaper product around the bend.

How to Actually Help Customers Find Success

In our hybrid world, humans naturally prefer solo work—but this isn’t a reason to go all in on self-service. Whatever your CX model may be, ensure services are robust and efficient as you offer customers education and outreach.

Bring CS into the conversation—before a customer is even a customer

Introduce CS to the customer at multiple touch points before they ever click the purchase or subscribe button.

At the start of the relationship, CS can build trust and loyalty by ensuring a short time to first value (TTFV). Meanwhile, customers get to peek behind the curtain and discover what’s in store, making them more apt to sign.

At OnBoard, CS joins sales calls early on. They share expectations for the onboarding process and explain what the best CS-customer relationships look like. This step enables a seamless customer transition from sales to CS.

“During onboarding, there is an element of people wanting to take care of and manage themselves,” says Cristine Carpluk, vice president of client experience at OnBoard. “If you’re doing onboarding correctly and introductions immediately, customers know what the roles and responsibilities are, how we’re there to support them, and they gain the education they need, whether it’s how to use the tool or best practices.”

OnBoard’s six-to-eight-week implementation process brings in a specialized implementation consultant, who decodes what’s important to the customer and their team. They ask about board frameworks, strategic objectives, and how members currently interact with technology.

Beyond implementation, CS continues the conversation with the customer through regular calls around their wins and 24/7 support needs. Nurturing this connection can even provide referral and growth opportunities within that account.

Keep tabs on the customer experience

Self-service CX models often fail because success teams aren’t hearing the customer or understanding their journey with the product and company.

OnBoard stays laser-focused on the customer experience through:

Customer surveys and feedback 

After the implementation process, CS surveys the customer about their experience, asking how the company can improve. 

“Surveys are super helpful because people can fill them out quickly and give their honest opinion across every area,” says Cristine. 

Yes, customer feedback is addressed on OnBoard’s quarterly business review calls. But it doesn’t end there. The team reaches out to the customer again to ask if their feedback was completely answered. 

Being proactive is another key to a strong CX. 

(Looking for a good opportunity to do this? Try having your CS team members solicit customer feedback informally during regular check-in calls.) 

Platform usage and communication software

OnBoard’s CS team becomes more predictive of customers’ needs, thanks to support solution ChurnZero. Its Salesforce integration allows them to build customer journeys and monitor things like product usage and email open rates.

They also leverage the Salesforce health score to understand where customers are experiencing friction. 

If the customer’s health score drops from green to yellow, they investigate. Has usage slowed? Have the people using this product changed? The team then develops scenarios and provides solutions that meet the customer’s needs.

Health scores often change when new users subscribe to the OnBoard platform. Instead of letting the customer navigate the product alone, OnBoard’s CS motion will jump in. They offer to train these board members and leaders through their education platform, live modeling, and follow-up calls. 

Software integrations and automated motions help the team here at OnBoard stay productive and agile in supporting the customer journey.

The human touch

As companies scale, they often reach a point where they don’t need to pick up the phone to make 1-on-1 calls. But so much of life and work today is digital, and we crave more humanity infused into the journey.

“I think you have to sprinkle in reaching out to customers with a face or voice. Let them know that there’s a human behind the software to support them,” said Cristine.

Your industry dictates how much of the human element your customers require to experience success with your product. Consider how to interact with your customer base: phone calls, video conferencing, in-person meetings, or a blend of all three.

Proactive advocates > reactive order-takers

Here’s scenario one: A customer needs help with a specific feature within your product. 

They go through the website to reach support, and after scrolling through the FAQ page and support forum, they can’t find the answers they need. 

They just want to talk to a human being. 

Eventually, they frustratedly abandon the task. They may try again later—or potentially churn (choose to not renew their subscription).

Instead, choose scenario two: Championing proactive customer outreach. 

This practiced methodology empowers you to check in on your customers and stay ahead of their needs to avoid friction.

By regularly nurturing your customers, you deepen trust with your customer base.  

“It’s about really supporting the customer and not just being transactional,” says Cristine.

OnBoard’s customer success strategy is robust because it solicits customer feedback through surveys, continual business reviews, regular check-ins, direct product reviews, and customer advisory boards. Each of these opportunities is a moment to continue the feedback conversation.

Sure, calls can lead to growth through cross-functional selling. But instead of locking in on this goal, CS teams should work to understand the customer’s industry and why they’re using your product—without any ulterior motive. 

Cristine sees this strategy as being a consultant to the customer, supporting their needs and helping them grow both in their careers and with your product. 

Help customers achieve current (and future) goals 

A great CS team could be the differentiator between a lackluster experience and one that delights the customer and makes them want to stick around. 

One way to provide the latter? Help your customer achieve their goals, both now and in the future. This is a cornerstone of OnBoard’s expansion and retention strategy.

“We are focused on each customer’s success and their long-term goals,” says Cristine.

First, determine what customers need to succeed. Then, consider how your product can contribute. Make them look good. Maybe even help them get promoted. Stay in touch with the customer and offer your support toward future goals, too.

Strong CX for Seamless UX

CS is not just a support or billing function. It’s a collection of knowledgeable, empathetic human beings who guide customers through the best use cases for their specific, nuanced needs.

Building your discipline in this way turns CS into a symbiotic partnership that thrives.

“Really lean into the value of your product and what you’re offering to customers,” says Cristine. “And be that advocate for them and for your organization as well.”

Here’s the bottom line: It’s up to CS teams to not only notice those “Stacey’s getting Cindy’s pizza!” situations, but also champion their customers and ensure their satisfaction.

OnBoard’s award-winning Implementation and CS teams offer guided trials, a seamless onboarding experience, and 24/7 support. Every customer deserves this. To excel at CX means being a champion for your customers.

OnBoard’s board management software simplifies governance and supports boards at over 5,000 companies. Start your free trial today.

About The Author

Josh Palmer
Josh Palmer
Josh Palmer serves as OnBoard's Head of Content. An experienced content creator, his previous roles have spanned numerous industries including B2C and B2B home improvement, healthcare, and software-as-a-service (SaaS). An Indianapolis native and graduate of Indiana University, Palmer currently resides in Fishers, Ind.