Customer Success Platform Alternatives (That Just Don’t Cut It)
Don't burden your CSM with franken-tools and half-measures. Dedicated CSPs will get you the best results.
“Why do we need a dedicated Customer Success Platform? We’ve already got [insert random product here].”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that statement. After all, SaaS platforms are a significant investment, and you want to get as much mileage out of them as you can. Other platforms claim to be a one-size-fits-all solution that can serve all needs of the business--including the CSP.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that in compromising your standards for the Customer Success (CS) platform, you compromise on all the process efficiency, data hygiene, and employee/customer satisfaction gains you would get from having a dedicated customer success platform. Either that, or your CSM team is forced to jump between multiple tools in order to do their jobs.
But you don’t have to take my word for it (this would be a really short article otherwise). Below I’ve listed some popular customer success platform alternatives and why they don’t work for CS teams.
CRMs and Sales/Marketing Platforms
Example tools: Salesforce, Hubspot
CRMs are built primarily for Sales and Marketing teams. Every single feature of these platforms is centered around the pre-contract flow, which has a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end.
That’s important to the business, but it doesn’t fit how Customer Success operates. CS is an ongoing process, and while contracts do eventually end sooner or later, customer relationships can span years or even decades (if you’re lucky). CRMs aren’t equipped for those kinds of timelines.
“But wait,” you say. “They market themselves as all-in-one. Aren’t there any features you can adapt to fulfill the CS function?”
Yes, of course. But the most important ones aren’t there. I’m talking about features that address:
- Lifecycle management
- Account health
- Product adoption
- Proactive alerts/triggers
- And so, so much more
None of these features exist without significant manual configuration in a CRM platform like Salesforce or Hubspot, and even then there are features that cannot be built in.
And while the different sales and marketing tools speak well to each other and ingest data from various sources (I’m looking at you, email and CRM), they’re rarely optimized for other types of data. I’m talking about metrics for product adoption, customer satisfaction, and churn risk.
Project Management Tools
Example tools: Asana, Smartsheet, Jira
I admit that project management tools can be helpful for certain CS workflows--especially implementation. Implementation and onboarding are task-heavy processes that are highly time sensitive and require the coordination of multiple individuals, which is where PM tools do their best work. PM tools can easily be configured to work reliably in these situations.
Where PM tools fall flat is that they often lack the “CS” perspective. The onus then falls to Customer Success leadership, Ops, or individual CSMs to figure out the processes needed and manually build out those workflows. And when you leave processes up to individual CSMs, they may or may not adhere to the guidelines (more likely not).
More crippling, however, is that PM tools rarely integrate well into CRMs. The CSM is given the burden of managing multiple tools. They have to spend significant amounts of time updating the CRM tool with the status of whatever goes on in the PM tool.
Example tools: Slack, Google Sheets
Collaboration tools can get the job done, but they require so much manual effort on the part of the CS team, that they don’t scale beyond a few individuals. There’s ironically little interactivity and communication between team members and tools, and that makes it hard to act on information.
For instance, let’s review what happens with your data. When every CSM manages their own spreadsheet and uses other “collaboration” apps like Slack, and Google Sheets for note taking and to-do lists,it means customer info is fragmented across tools and offers no visibility whatsoever.
You might be able to calculate customer health in a Google sheet. It’s “free” and gives you great flexibility. But whatever’s in the sheet stays on the sheet. There’s no way to easily act on the information in a scalable and consistent way.
Business Intelligence (BI) Tools
Example tools: Tableau, Looker
BI Tools are excellent tools to have in the tech stack. They help analyze and visualize various types of data. This data can often come from multiple sources in the organization, which helps get you a more complete and detailed picture.
But all of these features are built for reporting. Sure, you have access to great info, but once you see the report, that’s it. There is literally nothing more to do in the BI tool. Everything else happens outside of it.
There are no features related to direct actionability. There are no alerts to take action if a trend develops, for example. There’s no ability to make direct edits if some of the data is in error. Heck, there isn’t even a way to set a reminder to email a customer.
Another big gap in BI Tools is that they focus primarily on quantitative data, not qualitative. It doesn’t display notes on sentiment, current status, planned next steps, or other such context. Sure, it’s one thing to know that only 1 out of 100 people didn’t like your new feature. But that one customer might’ve been the only one who actually tested it out and had valid comments.
The End Result
Contrary to what it might seem, I am not bashing any of the above platforms. They are designed to do a job, and they generally do their core jobs very well.
But those jobs are not Customer Success. They’re not built specifically with CS in mind.
CS is an afterthought. And this is a problem.
The problem manifests when CSMs are forced to cobble together two or more of these tools in order to get half a solution. They basically DIY the workflows they need to understand their customers and give them value. Any exceptional customer experiences in this case are driven entirely by the efforts of the CSM and their “hacking” skills. Not the franken-platform they’ve duct-taped together.
When customers have a dedicated Customer Success Platform, one purpose-built to address adoption, retention, and expansion requirements, then CSM teams and their parent organizations can enjoy:
- Workflow efficiency
- Data access
- Proactive CS motions
- Cross-functional visibility
As it so happens, we have something like that here at Catalyst. Have a look.
Stories, best practices and thought leadership from the customer success community.