Customer Portals are the Future of Customer Retention Technology
12 min read
There’s no magic bullet for customer retention, but most customer retention technology companies insist there is.
Track product usage, make a few tweaks, and boost retention. Automate customer engagement and boost retention. Predict churn and boost retention. Gamify your product and...you get the drift.
But as you’ve likely experienced, you cannot automate or gamify customer retention, or predict churn with a magical customer health score.
The best way to boost retention and loyalty for your product is to always stay aligned with your customer’s goals and hold each other accountable to achieve those goals. The best way to do this is with a customer portal.
Think of customer portals as the home base for your most valuable customer relationships. Customer portals help you capture customer goals, plans, stakeholders, and conversations, in one collaborative platform.
Customer portals are the most important customer retention technology you need to boost customer retention. Here’s why.
Customer portals help you keep customer goals front and center
Customer portals are centered around the customer’s north star—the goals they wish to achieve with your product. This is important because when it’s time to renew your product, customers will judge your product’s value on how well it helped them achieve their goals. A VP of sales, for instance, will determine whether to continue using a CRM based on how well it helped them achieve their goal, whether it’s increasing sales, improving team handoffs, or improving forecasting.
Most contemporary customer retention tools for SaaS only attempt to guess whether a customer is successful with your product by tracking metrics such as product usage. However, this gives you an incomplete picture of customer success, because it’s based solely on internal data and not the customer’s perspective. As you get too focused on tracking internal metrics, you can lose sight of the customer’s goals, which are the only way to gauge customer success.
Customers will judge your product’s value on how well it helped them achieve their goals.
Customer portals help keep the spotlight on customer goals from day one, make sure they're realistic, and help you revisit goals throughout your relationship. This ensures even when you start tactical implementation of a product using a customer plan or checklist, you never lose sight of the customer’s north star.
A customer portal also helps you remind customers of the value your product has delivered by reaching out to them when a goal is achieved. Once customers achieve a goal, you can also set new ones to keep customers invested in your product.
Even as customer goals change over the life of your relationship, a portal helps you stay aligned with customers by reconfirming goals periodically and retiring old goals that are no longer relevant.
Customer portals help you manage handoffs seamlessly
With a customer portal, all customer goals, milestones achieved, task lists, plans, and conversations are always accessible to all stakeholders. This accessibility means that when the management or team changes—like when the customer has a new VP, executive sponsor, or account manager—all new stakeholders can clearly see the history of your relationship, the value your product has delivered so far, and future goals. Such visibility into the past, present, and future of your relationship is critical to retaining customers that undergo an internal overhaul.
“All new stakeholders can clearly see the history of your relationship, the value your product has delivered so far, and future goals.”
Currently, account handoffs for SaaS products are chaotic and messy, usually managed through forwarded emails and documents. The result is the new executive sponsor at the customer's company doesn’t know the value of your product or service, and becomes a churn risk. Similarly, when an account manager for your product leaves, or worse, the person who championed your product leaves, and the handoff to the new account manager isn’t smooth, it destabilizes the customer-vendor relationship.
Messy account handoffs can be a grave retention challenge for software businesses, especially because most enterprise companies have as many as seven orphaned subscriptions, which means the person who bought the app left the company.
Customer portals make account handoffs smooth and hassle-free. They allow new executive sponsors and account managers to quickly get up to speed with customer implementation plans, progress, goals achieved, and future goals. With better handoffs, customer portals help sell the value of your product immediately to new stakeholders.
Customer portals help you realistically evaluate customer health
Customer portals help you evaluate and improve customer health through proactive communication with your customer. By communicating regularly with customers, you can identify and remove roadblocks to customer retention and keep up with changing customer priorities.
Most companies don’t know why customers churn. Why? Because most current customer retention technologies evaluate customer health with a customer health score, based on data such as product usage statistics, support tickets, and billing information. The problem is that most of this data is a lagging indicator of customer health. That is, by the time you see a RED or “at risk" health score, it's likely your customer has already switched to your competitor.
A customer health score may also be inaccurate because it's based solely on customer data you're able to collect and doesn't reflect changing customer goals.
“By the time you see a RED or “at risk" health score based on internal metrics like usage, it’s likely your customer has already switched to your competitor.”
Customer portals, on the other hand, help you check in with customers at every stage of their journey with your product, so you can understand where they truly are. You can identify churn risks early on and help them succeed with your product, instead of waiting for their product usage to dwindle.
With a customer portal, you can help keep customer health in good shape instead of guessing at what their future with your product will be.
Customer portals help you streamline customer account management
Customer portals help you streamline customer account management by bringing its different pieces—goals, communication and discussion about key milestones, onboarding and implementation checklists, and stakeholders—together in one portal. Robust account management ensures customer information stays up to date and accessible for your customer success managers and management. They can reach out in a timely manner to customers who need help.
For most SaaS companies, customer account management is scattered and siloed. Customer sales notes and information live in a static customer relationship management tool or spreadsheet, implementation plans live in project management tools, while customer communication lives in different applications like email, chat apps, and video calls. A lot of this information often becomes outdated or gets lost. This makes it difficult for companies to provide the necessary context for customer-facing teams to reach out to customers and help them succeed with a product.
Customer portals help customer success managers see what a customer's goals are as well as create detailed implementation plans to help customers achieve their goals in the same collaborative portal. They can also assign tasks to the customer as well as their own implementation team and attach due dates to each task, just as they would in a project management tool. If the customer hasn't completed a task, a customer success manager can also check in with them through the same portal.
But most customer success or customer retention technology remains largely focused on the technology itself: automation, churn prediction, analytics. It leaves the customer and their goals completely out of the picture.
Customer portals help you bring customers and their goals back into focus through communication, alignment, and collaboration.