Customer Success at a Fast-Growing Startup

The following blog is written by Marta and Katie, our newly formed Customer Success team that has quickly transformed how we engage with our wonderful customers.
Customer Success at a Fast-Growing Startup

Our journey in creating a new department from scratch in a hyper-growth environment has been equally exciting and challenging.

The first team member, Marta joined in November when Cledara was just starting to enter hyper-growth. New customers were joining at a faster clip every month, and current customer activity was growing daily. With barely any process or strategy in place, Marta had a clear north-star:

Our Customers’ success is our success. 

The team worked with our CMO to set up the processes and programs, along with an initial 3-month strategy. Fast forward 6 months and the Success team doubled in size, just like Cledara did, as companies realize that they need to get control over their SaaS subscriptions.

Tip: "Speak with as many people as possible (colleagues and customers) as you create your initial Customer Success Strategy. All insights are valuable and you’ll be surprised at where precious ideas are across the company!"

Onboarding - setting the right tone

The team's main priority was to onboard new customers effectively. Onboarding is like inviting a guest to your house for the first time. You wouldn’t leave them at the front door and tell them to figure out where the drinks, food, and bathroom were. Rather, you would show them around, make sure they know where to find everything, and ensure they are taken care of. Make sure they feel welcome. 

The existing onboarding process offered a one-to-one onboarding session to almost every customer. The team realised the approach worked well but wasn't set up for scaling. Given the projected growth (in Q1 2022 we acquired as many new customers as in all of 2021) we sat together and thought on ways on set us up for serious scaling without losing the personalised and curated approach that characterised the existing process.

This is how our weekly onboarding webinar sessions were born; We invite all new customers to a live session where we walk them through not only Cledara but also the steps to get started as well as answering their questions in a Q&A. This also allows new customers to interact and learn from each other as the Q&A is usually very informative for all.

We also concentrated on creating more self-serve materials. This meant customers didn’t need to wait for a call to get going, and we could focus our time on the customers that needed a more hands-on approach.

KPIs - we can’t track what we can’t measure

To know if our onboarding strategy was working, we needed data and a benchmark.

Activation

We decided to define the first, most important milestones in our customer’s journey with us, that first aha! moment when they unlock the value of Cledara. Every company has one of these, and we had to find ours - and agree on it as a team. 

While many SaaS companies use login rates as a sign of adoption, for us that wasn’t enough. The delight from Cledara comes when customers use our virtual cards to pay for their SaaS subscriptions. That’s the first key milestone. We consider this the first moment of activation and started tracking it, as well as the time it took from becoming a customer to that first transaction date. 

This became our benchmark and our goal to get more customers to activate in a quicker time frame. We’ve set the goal for 80% of new customers to make that first transaction in the first 30 days.

Tip: Especially at the beginning, look for a simple metric that is easily trackable and gives you a sense of how you’re doing. It may not be perfect, but find the one that feels like the right starting point.

Retention

Every Success team’s main goal is customer retention. Just as Sales and Marketing teams are focused on bringing in new customers, it’s the Success team’s job to retain and grow them.

Understanding why customers stay is one side of the story, but there is a lot to learn from customers who decide to cancel their service or prospects who decide just not to move forward. 

We started simple. We tracked logo churn - meaning the customers that end up closing their Cledara accounts. When we looked into the data, we realized that we actually had a very, very low churn number. The issue we found that was worth spending time on was the trial to paid customer rate.

Getting actionable feedback from those customers has been key to deciding what strategies we need to put in place to move the needle on this KPI, and making sure we were capturing that data was key.

We’re now working to separate free trial conversion from churn to look at them individually. We have strategies in place to improve this metric which include working closely with our Sales team when handing over customers.

Tip: Learn from your customers that love you, as well as those who leave you. Speaking to churned customers will offer you unique insight into their world and why there wasn’t a match in the end. 

Challenges

Data

Our biggest challenge is data. This is probably not a surprise to anyone reading this. 

Certainly, we have no shortage of data, but understanding where all the data points we need are and how to efficiently query our database has not been easy. Customer Success has this unique position in a company where we want to know not just who our customers are, but what actions they take on our platform. That’s a lot of data points to bring together and make sense of from different sources. 

Simplifying our key metrics was a great starting point. That start-up mentality of just giving it a go, getting a metric that will give us the insight we need to move forward and make progress. 

Marta tackled the data challenge early on and stepped up, got her hands dirty dusting off her data skills, and learned new ones. As soon we had an amazing Google Sheet as our Customer Success' source of truth, we started tracking KPIs. Katie then built on this and each of us now has a data-centric view of the business and our respective areas of focus and analysis. Working as a team is when we all bring different strengths to the table. 

Tip: Data is a topic that requires early cross-company buy-in. Get with your data team (or person, or founder…) and understand what data you have access to. Chances are your company will have a nascent data strategy and you may be asking tough questions. Keep at it, and always work collaboratively. And yes, start simple!

This brings us to tools

Yes, we’re working off of a spreadsheet. Sound familiar!? While we know this is a temporary solution there is something to be said for taking advantage of this time to get our processes and data in order, so that when we bring a tool onboard we’re ready and know what we want to use it for. 

Tip: Take a manual approach before bringing a Success tool on board as the tool will only be as good as the data you connect and understand first. Understanding your CRM and other tools first, as well as getting your data strategy in place is paramount. 

A word on prioritization

There is a lot we want to achieve which can feel overwhelming at times but that’s part and parcel of the start-up life. Getting our priorities straight, understanding our key KPI’s and how to find and use the right data to make decisions has been critical for us. 

In a SaaS startup, things change very fast and we need to remain super flexible. Embracing change with an open mindset allows us to keep growing by learning every day.

It’s a skill to see the end goal and visualize where you want to be, but also to take the baby steps to get there. We consistently remind ourselves to stay focused and spend time aligning and validating our work together. This helps us stay on track and connected to shared goals. 

What’s next?

We’re in the first stages of building out a Customer Health Score through a combination of the activation metric we mentioned earlier, along with other milestones that our customers hit during the onboarding phase. By tracking this score for the first 30 days of the customers' journey with Cledara, we can measure what our most successful customers are doing, allowing us to tailor the onboarding process to deliver better results.

We’re also starting to streamline the Customer Journey, using tools to help automate parts of the process and organize our workload. That will free up more time to build out the rest of the Customer Journey post-onboarding.

Our customer’s success is not just a shared objective across the company, but it is also a shared responsibility. One of the great things about working at Cledara is everyone’s willingness to listen and their motivation to improve the experience for our customers.

This journey has just started and we’re convinced that most things will probably look different in 6 months, but at the end of the day, our passion for serving, understanding, and helping our customers will always remain the same.

What is your journey to achieve customer success? Let us know!

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Jenny Liu
Head of Finance @ Marshmallow