Let's talk about product-led customer success.

When I became their customer in 2013, I received a monthly email from Zendesk even though I wasn't a day-to-day user of the product.

The email highlighted KPIs for my team the prior month and benchmarked us against our industry peers.

Not only did I read that email, but I also spent time reviewing it with my head of customer care. Every single month...

We didn't have a CSM because we weren't a big enough customer. But that didn't hinder our success with the product.

This is one of the best examples of scaled customer success I've ever seen.

I've been writing and speaking about "scaled customer success" for about 18 months now. But this week, Dave Jackson's LinkedIn post inspired me to think more deeply about it.

In the post, Dave points out that while companies acquire a myriad of technologies to help deliver customer success (think CS platforms, communities, survey tools, analytics, etc), there's a better answer hiding in plain sight.

"The [company's] product is the vehicle to deliver digital customer success."

I couldn't agree more.

Imagine a world where the product...

  • guides onboarding and setup (DAP solutions such as WalkMe, WhatFix, and Pendo provide a lot of the tooling here)
  • is aware of the most valuable use cases and interactions happening
  • benchmarks customers' performance relative to peers
  • monitors health indicators
  • diagnoses root causes of non-performance and recommends improvements
  • surfaces contextual help and prescriptive guidance
  • communicates a success plan and progress reports to users and non-user stakeholders (i.e., automates business reviews)
  • reengages ebbing and dormant users
  • intercepts cancellations
  • guides renewals
  • asks for feedback

In the future, the best software will have the SaaS business model, customer success, and self-service baked in, just like sales are baked into the product-led growth (PLG) model today.

This approach will reduce headcount and other downstream costs that impact unit economics.

Of course, we'll still need onboarding specialists, project managers, support agents, and customer success managers. But fewer of them. Likely, many fewer.

And they will be product and enablement program designers rather than hands-on doers working with customers one at a time.

They will design programs to be delivered in the product, the most scalable and cost-effective customer success tool a company has at its disposal. And the one place where product development can control the quality of the entire experience.

But you know, there's a catch..

Most SaaS companies don't prioritize "non-functional" features.

Given competitive pressures, customer feedback, and leadership vision, the simplest of bug fixes can be hard to come by, much less features that don't meet a specific market demand.

To make the case for investment in product-led customer success, one would have to believe that prioritizing these features will lead to better customer outcomes. And that those outcomes will lead to retention, expansion, and enhanced profitability.

All SaaS products trend toward commoditization within their categories.

They must demonstrate results better than their competitors. Be more helpful. Generate more buzz. Garner more customer stories and more engagement from executive sponsors (like me with my monthly Zendesk email).

They must break even with customer revenue paying the bills versus investors, giving them options their competitors don't have.

To bring the product-led CS vision to life, we need business-savvy product, engineering, user experience, and customer success leaders.

We also need in-app tools that enable teams to ship customer success capabilities without building them from scratch.

What is one customer success process you plan to move into your product in 2024?