Overcoming software adoption failures

Behind every enterprise software purchase sits the quietly powerful contingent of people who can make it a failure. These people aren’t angry or malicious. They don’t have plans to destroy the project. They simply don’t understand what to do with the recently purchased product; they have no motivation to use it or they have loyalty to a competitor’s solution.

There can be other reasons that software adoptions fail, of course. Perhaps the product selection was misguided, and the product can’t actually solve the problems for which it was purchased. Or, perhaps it was never fully implemented.

Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of to come across implementations that were scheduled to be completed in six months and three years after kick-off, the project team distributes a weary congratulatory email for completing the fourth milestone in a six-milestone project.

Though these scenarios do happen, nothing has quite as much impact to the success of a software solution as the person responsible for using it. This person is the end user and she/he is royalty.

Seek out the trouble

First, let’s assume customers go through a rigorous implementation process, including an enablement course with the product team.

The company stakeholders agree it has been delivered as promised. The end users have been trained on where to click and what to type.

You check in occasionally with the customer’s decision maker or buyer, but in the absence of trouble or issues reported to the customer support team, it may be tempting to sit back and wait for that software maintenance renewal to roll in.

However, 30 days before the renewal, it transpires that the primary end user left, and the product hasn’t worked since June.

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Other factors affect software adoption and renewals.

Organisations may be reallocating budgets or working their employees – the end users – past capacity. Or, the business goals for using the software aren’t shared with the new users.

They are unable to provide value using the solution, and so they are faced with a terrible time proving there is value. In their confusion, users open support tickets in dribs and drabs, or in bulk, and the only thing to do is react.

Instead of waiting for trouble to knock on the door, instead seek it out.

For SaaS solution providers, for which real-time data on a product use is likely available, the proactive approach is de rigueur and even automated.

For companies that provide on-premise solutions with no “phone home” mechanism, there are no usage-based triggers for engaging users, but it’s still necessary – possibly even more so than in SaaS – to engage end users.

Service is not success

Customer service is a way of doing business and treating people. It’s the rules of engagement implicit in business. In short: it’s being respectful, empathetic, and delivering on your promises. It’s a given.

Success includes service

Customer success is an informal partnership in achieving goals. It is part aspiration and all directive. It is embodied in roles like customer success manager (CSM), which proactively engages the end users, joining their business goals with products and expertise.

In some organisations, this role and discipline can point its toes toward managed services, or offer hands-off consultation.

But no matter how it is fulfilled, its final shape is relentless advocacy of customers’ interests to the rest of the product owner’s business.

Guiding principles of customer success

For all the catch-phrases, principles and mantras offered in business, customer success is its own guiding principle. It’s both the intention and the action, made up of proactive, closed-loop advocacy and ownership.

Proactive engagement: contact end users to learn if they are meeting their goals, if they’ve learned about the newest feature, or if they need help.

The mechanism for contact will vary by the revenue or strategic value segmentation they’ve been placed in. But don’t wait for them to ring.

Closed-loop communication: people want to be heard and understood. And proactive engagement means little if nothing is done with the feedback.

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Work with the product, engineering, and support teams. Make sure those groups know their customers’ feedback.

Then, close the loop with the customer by explaining what is being done with the feedback and if they can expect further action on it.

Relentless advocacy and ownership: advocate for customers back to your organisation. Own their concerns. Own not letting them fail. Combined with other voice of the customer (VoC) inputs, the insight provided is that which internal teams may not receive otherwise and it is so important to driving the business and development of products.

Similarly, advocate for the provided solution with users. This is different than selling them anything (note, nothing turns off an end user faster than feeling like they are being sold to).

But you can help them use the product better. In turn, they may respond to this influence to expand the use of the solution.

Creating a customer success organisation. Do you or don’t you?

When entertaining the idea of creating a customer success organisation, there are plenty of resources available on how to create one.

Look for experts in the discipline and understand that they may be the very people who profit from helping to grow customer success as a discipline.

Some of them are software vendors providing a great deal of thought leadership that is generally agnostic of their solution. Join LinkedIn groups on customer success; the members will enumerate their own successes and failures.

But first, ask the critical question of what problem you are trying to solve.

Is it a struggle with customer churn? Is the sales team failing to achieve growth goals because they are managing all aspects of the current customer relationship? That will help identify the gaps in the current processes and decide if customer success is how to fill them.

Justifying It

It’s likely that the creation of the Customer Success organisation will need to be justified on many levels with the company, particularly at the board level.

To help overcome this hurdle, the first compelling data point should be the chart illustrating the total lifetime value of a customer base with 100% retention versus 95% versus 80%, and so on. The net present value of these accumulated churn scenarios can be staggering.

A trial period

Maybe the chart was effective, but the company isn’t quite ready to invest. Consider launching a six-month pilot program of one or two customer success managers (CSM) in your organisation to demonstrate value.

Assign the CSMs to new customers who represent important segments and personas, but not to the highest revenue generating customers.

Decide the right metrics to track. Do you receive higher CSAT ratings? Higher NPS? Were fewer support tickets opened for the customers with a CSM?

Closely guide and monitor, and expect to modify as you go. There of course isn’t the prescience to prevent all failures, so adaptability is essential.

Designing it

Build the customer success organisation for your customers, not for someone else’s.

There are best practices across most customer success organisations, such as using high-touch and low-touch models based on your customer segmentation. Most of it should be custom to the business.

Customer success in SaaS is different from customer success for on-premise solution providers.

It varies from B2B to B2C. The technical expertise requirements are different for a security solution provider versus a data storage provider.

Some CSMs are responsible for gathering renewals, but most are not, and they do not reside in sales.

Design the CSM role to fit the company culture, your customer organisations and end users. If the software is fairly simple and easy-to-use, a less technical CSM may do nicely.

If the solution is seemingly esoteric or complicated, CSMs with deep discipline-related knowledge are required.

In addition, determine your own success metrics so that the efficacy of the organisation can be validated as well as the ability to recognise gaps.

Customer success is directly related to retention. Will it be measured by retention revenue or by logos/accounts retained? How will CSMs be measured: by support tickets deflected, how closely they follow the engagement schedule, by team or individual logos retained?

Implementing customer success

Once the right approvals are gained, creating the customer success organisation is fairly simple. The next big challenge is rolling out the function to the organisation and to the customer base.

Within the company

Find the change management expert in the company and create a plan. Part of the plan should be talking with every functional leader and framing the cause for them. Ask about their concerns. If they can’t be alleviated, start with what is known: the organisation won’t be entirely correct to start, but being committed to solving the problems as they occur is the right attitude to kick it off.

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Both leadership and Human Resources have to be aligned in favour of the organisation. It’s like any good change management process: it requires leadership, middle-management and the culture to buy in, along with continual framing, problem-solving, and ten times more communication than deemed necessary.

Expect scepticism, especially when jostling the groups that own account management. And always be transparent and forthcoming with information, the good and the bad.

To customers

For new customers, the customer success role will simply be how you do business. Current customers may require convincing.

If they have close sales or account management relationships, they may not be interested in the CSM’s help immediately.

Ask the sales rep to open the door with the customer, and let the customer know, with a no-pressure approach, when you’ll be reaching out.

Similarly, keep the account manager or sales rep informed of expansion opportunities spotted during user interactions. And never try to sell to the end user.

Once implemented, all of the loopholes that weren’t thought of at the time and the assumptions that proved false will stare you in the face. And that’s OK. Assess them, communicate them, and try a different approach.

Showing value

This is where success metrics, along with the adopters and influencers outside of the customer success organisation, will demonstrate ongoing value of the CSM role.

Results might not be immediately apparent, but in time, show a causal relationship between customer success and improvement in resolving the problems used to justify the program in the first place.

Everyone is in customer success

As long as the business has customers, everyone in it is in customer success. From the programmer who really wants to know how her feature is being used, to the person processing customer orders: each employee has a stake.

In large organisations, there are voice of the customer steering committees or customer journey masters who know the customer lifecycle inside-out.

>See also: Chatbots have started a paradigm shift in customer service technology

If the organisation is smaller, the need to understand customers is no less, there are just fewer resources. Consider recruiting volunteers to help the cause.

A customer experience ambassador program (CXAP) made up of employees throughout an organisation can help when it comes to better understanding customers’ life cycles and pain points.

If your business has been service-driven but not success-oriented, a CXAP can help build some customer-focused momentum. Some employees may be much removed from customer interactions, but need direct feedback no less than front-line employees.

Encourage volunteers who represent discrete functional areas, particularly those in non-customer-facing roles, to be part of the cause.

The early adopters and influencers in the program can exert tremendous pressure on their peers, making customer success an expectation and not just a role.

Over time, the CXAP will become more influential to the business and possibly (hopefully!) even employee-driven. That’s when it will become completely apparent that end users really do reign supreme.


Sourced by Heather Surber, VP of customer success at FireMon

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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