Nov. 8, 2021 | InBrief

How SaaS customer experience leaders can do more with less

The future of SaaS models has arrived. Are your leaders ready?

How SaaS customer experience leaders can do more with less

The increasing shift to software-as-a-service (SaaS) models continue in the enterprise technology world as companies race to meet market and investor demands. Gartner projects that the SaaS market will grow 17% in 2022, which in turn will drive high expectations on the part of investors and corporate leaders. 

Despite the bullish trends, tech leaders are facing challenging market dynamics.

The current environment brings unprecedented complexity, including a rapidly changing competitive landscape fueled by mergers and acquisitions and a war for the talent necessary to drive innovation and service leadership. 

These trends put added pressure on chief customer officers and the services leaders—including professional services/implementation, managed services, customer support, and customer success—whose functions are responsible for customer experience and ultimately growing net dollar retention (NDR). Demands to boost customer experience, retention, and revenue will continue to grow, but budget increases will be difficult to come by—meaning operating at scale will play a critical role in success. 

Organizations, then, will have to accomplish more with less. Here’s how we recommend approaching this challenge. 

Seek accountability for net dollar retention 

Net dollar retention (NDR) is increasingly a primary metric for assessing the strength of SaaS relationships and businesses. Yet in most software companies, accountability for NDR is still unclear or dispersed across multiple functions. The most effective way to grow NDR is to develop a deep understanding of the specific actions and activities that drive NDR, taking systematic action to execute on them, and orchestrating the roles and responsibilities across the sales, customer success, and renewals teams to achieve cohesive work. 

Chief customer officers are in a unique position to heavily influence or even own net dollar retention. Having accountability for NDR may be daunting, but it can increase your authority and—quite possibly—your resources.  

Digitize the customer experience 

Selling more to your existing market is the fastest, most profitable path to growth; top-performing SaaS companies report 41% growth from cross-selling and upselling activities alone. But the many touchpoints required to engage customers across the lifecycle and win their renewal can quickly strain your resources as your customer base grows. Adopting a digital-first mindset will be critical to scale your customer success, support, professional service, and renewals teams. Building that mindset begins with taking an outside-in view of the customer journey to identify ways to integrate digital touches with traditional engagement models.  Executing on this requires a strong foundation in customer data: knowing where they are in their engagement with you, what outcomes you’ve already delivered, and key friction points in their experiences. 

It also requires close coordination between the product, service, and marketing teams to build the necessary digital experiences within and around the product. Finally, companies should adopt an agile, test-and-learn process to innovate the journey based on learnings. 

Focus on continuous productivity improvement 

Every service function has unique opportunities to improve productivity. For example, support services should strive for non-linear growth in case volume, increased representative effectiveness, and lower cost per head. In professional services functions, look for new productivity opportunities in repeatable delivery capabilities through assets and center-based models, as well as by shifting some activity to partners. 

Customer success organizations can increase productivity by increasing use of digital touchpoints across the lifecycle to alleviate the strain on resources. Individually, some of these gains may be small; collectively, they can provide significant benefits to the enterprise.  

Leverage your partner ecosystem 

Implementation partners have a tangible influence on customer satisfaction, experience, and ultimately retention. Just as important, they have capabilities that can help extend the mileage and impact of your support and professional services functions. 

To handle high growth with existing resources, it pays to have a robust partner ecosystem and to fully leverage those relationships most relevant and strategic to your market(s). You will need a well-designed partner program, with sound operational processes for managing partners, strong governance that ensures tight alignment across services functions, and clear measures for partner performance.  

Never overlook your own people 

We’ve saved the most important for last. Customer experience begins inside. Focusing on employee engagement, culture, and empowerment—particularly in a hybrid work environment —will have both a market and talent-retention impact. 

As the customer champion, the more effectively you can energize people around a customer-first mindset, bring functions closer together to achieve common goals, and instill the right processes for driving relationships through to renewal, the more likely you will be to accomplish more with less. 

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