It seems so obvious: Businesses that take a proactive approach to customer success by going out of their way to anticipate customers' needs, and to offer help rather than waiting to be asked, are more likely to have loyal and repeat customers.

Shifting from reactive to proactive customer success is especially important for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies; after all, their subscription-based business model demands keeping customers happy over the long haul.

Yet, adopting proactive customer success is easier said than done. Many SaaS companies don't understand that proactive service can't be just an aspiration and that it requires a well-thought-out strategy with the right processes and technology tools to support it.

Here are five steps for a proactive strategy that can improve satisfaction and customer loyalty.

1. Customer Success Journey

You must start at the start: defining the customer's success journey.

"Customer success journey" is more than a buzzword. You really need to have a firm grasp on all the milestones, touchpoints, and metrics you can use to construe the value the customer gets out of your technology. And success plans should be predefined, with minor customer-specific adjustments post-sales.

As you onboard customers, work with them to lock down specific goals they want to achieve with your product and outline a path to achieve these objectives. Doing so helps provide a blueprint for identifying potential problems in the future and ensures alignment on strategic goals.

2. Behavior-Based Engagements

Most customer relationships have processes such as quarterly and midyear business reviews that provide a regular opportunity to check in on how much and how well the customer is using your product. That's easy.

More challenging is picking up on behavioral triggers that could indicate a need for increased handholding even though the customer hasn't asked for it. To do that, you must deeply understand what customers are doing with your technology, and you need to be able to predict reasons for concern.

Make sure you're keeping track of the customer's behavior over time: not just a month or two, but six months and beyond. Compare each customer's behavior and actions with cohorts of similar customers, and look for patterns of success and failure. Identifying those trends is important to predictive and proactive customer engagement. If you see leading indicators of failure, proactively reach out.

3. Proactive Customer Success = People Power

Business relationships are about people. Again, that seems obvious, but consider this scenario: You sell your product into a company, and everything seems to be going well; then, after months of success, you see a decrease in usage and overall success behaviors, leading to a notice from your customer that they are looking elsewhere; after reaching out, you learn that your primary champion and customer system administrator took another job some time ago.

To mitigate such risk, you need to monitor user and usage behaviors and identify changes, especially those related to power users. Identifying changes will allow you to proactively approach other users to build relationships, answer any questions, merchandise your product's success to date, and discuss future road maps.

Know your customer and your champions!

4. Visibility

It's crucial to have a dashboard view into the health of your customer base, both by individuals and by segments. You need to have your finger on the pulse, in real time, and ensure you are managing capacity appropriately to engage the right resources at the right time. Proactive customer success platforms such as Totango and Gainsight can help in this area.

5. Repeatable Results

Now, everyone talks about engaging the right resources at the right time to drive the right results. However, having the behavioral triggers defined and knowing whom to engage does you little good if you lack an effective blueprint for success for a given situation.

Build a database of repeatable success plays or playbooks as part of your success resource; you can then harness those to ensure consistent engagements, actions, and results. So, you should know not just the customer but your own people and the tools they need to consistently drive the success of your customers!

Bonus Tip: Real-Time Answers

In today's hyper-paced world, customers don't want to waste time calling, emailing, or even live-chatting with customer service agents. Therefore, provide a way for customers to access your knowledge base from within your product's interface so they can find answers with minimal effort.

Encourage customer communities (online boards/forums, local user groups, etc.) that help customers build relationships with each other and foster a sense of, well, community... around your brand.

* * *

By drawing a detailed picture of the customer's success journey and having an aggressive, thorough game plan for proactive engagement, SaaS companies can increase the value their customers experience, improving renewal rates and ultimately leading to more predictable growth.

More Resources on Proactive Customer Success

How to Drive Sales and Marketing Alignment in an Enablement Role

Why Delivering Live-Chat Support to Customers Is a Must for Your Business

Are Marketing Teams Organized and Proactive?

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image of Matt Zelen

Matt Zelen is chief customer officer at Act-On Software, provider of marketing automation for small and midsize businesses.

LinkedIn: Matt Zelen

Twitter: @Matt_Zelen