Making customer success a growth engine with data

A powerful strategy in today’s digital and data world is putting customer data at the centre of business operations.

For native SaaS businesses, it should be a fundamental part of daily business operations. For other organisations, the ability to use this data often arises from digital transformation initiatives. Typically the end goal is to use customer data to drive growth. Customer data together with innate industry expertise offer organisations the ability to anticipate the needs of the customer.

Once anticipating the customer’s needs, this offers the business a route to develop intelligent products and services with frictionless growth. As a data-driven partner, this gives the business the ability to quickly understand what they want and when they want it – often before they have articulated it.

Utilising data science to build predictive behaviour models is a necessity as many organisations must now care for customers in near real-time. These models are a key method, particularly in SaaS to encourage additional and more complete product usage, while reducing customer churn. Retention is at the heart of all subscription models whether they be from purveyors of cars, groceries, or pet food, they all use customer data in the same way to drive retention. In these economic times and with increasing uncertainties, customer retention becomes a priority for businesses of all types.

It has always been a challenge to ensure customers receive the desired levels of care when marketing, pre-sales, sales, customer care, and the helpdesk can all play a part in the experience. It is not enough to work in a silo, it is essential that all parts of the business are geared towards delighting, retaining, growing, and attracting customers to give the right customer experience. One responsible lead can plot a seamless path through the usual business functions to make a harmonious whole out of the departmental parts.

Overcoming cultural inertia can be a barrier but is worth breaking through. It all comes back to data; using it business cases are proven, goals are shown to be reasonable, and new experiments can be undertaken. This data-first approach does not need to preclude creativity but should enable it. Creativity can be harnessed in the right direction with a data-led goal and a data-tested plan. Data does not replace the personal touch, but supports people in finding the right direction, and provides a guide with guardrails for action.

A strong leader with a clear roadmap, armed with data, is central to this strategic vision, which is why a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) is a growing role. The imperative is to drive accountability with these customer-focused roles around driving the best use of customer data towards growing the bottom line.

From my experience at PagerDuty, our own CCO has been essential in incorporating customer signals into our business strategy. Led by a data orientation, we have implemented a machine learning model to predict early warning signals to drive engagement and manage risk. Our business now understands customers’ propensity to buy or unlock further value. Getting these insights into a dashboard empowers the functional teams to use the latest data individually and collectively. Our teams are now able to anticipate customer needs, suggest the right solutions, and deliver better results for their end customers. So ultimately, the real winners have been our customers.

Whoever leads the charge must put in place clear guidance, security, and compliance measures, to support doing the right thing with this data. There must be cross-functional integration by design, from research and development to after-sales and customer support.

The change needs to be strategically linked both horizontally across the organisation, and as well vertically through the organisation layers. Leaders are critical to effecting this change, and must be a guide, and support their teams. As with any transformation, both collaboration and adherence to shared goals is how an organisational shifts and lives or dies.

It is not the data, nor the technology, it is all of this plus the people. Motivated people, and teams make this work within set business processes. Communication is a two-way process and experienced leaders will adapt their models with what they learn from their people as strategies unfold in the real world.

Almost 90% of organisations claim to have a CCO or an equivalent role. The question then is, how are they operating, what goals are they setting, and are they adapting to the signals from within the business as well as customer insights? It is a role, and an approach built on listening, and carefully considering how to act. It suits a business that prides itself on taking a thoughtful approach to growth. As we are in a volatile and recessionary business world, hopefully, most organisations would commit to using a data-led approach to protecting what we all really want now, and over the next few years:

Happy customers, stable revenue, and strong business growth.

About the Author

Tony Smith is the Head of EMEA’s Customer Success and Client Services at PagerDuty, where he leads the Customer Success, Technical Support, Professional Services, and PagerDuty University teams.  He comes to the role with over 30 years of leadership experience in the enterprise and commercial software space. He has a proven track record working in EMEA and global roles driving product adoption, value realization, and growth in the post-sales world including Oracle, TIBCO, Syncron, Salesforce/ServiceMax, and TIBCO.

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