Professional Services: Your Key to Happier, More Successful Customers

It’s no secret that rapidly growing software businesses love — and thrive on — good customer references. After all, those references are organic, pre-qualified, and, maybe most importantly, inexpensive leads that are very often easier to close. What’s not to love?
So why then, asks OpenView Senior Advisor Chuck Linn, do so many of those businesses approach professional services — their key to higher customer success and satisfaction — ad-hoc?
“The only way you’re going to generate a high volume of good customer references is if you have a system in place that ensures existing customers are implementing and using your product effectively,” says Linn. “And the only way to do that is to develop and leverage a dedicated professional services group.”

“It’s all about understanding what your customers need to implement your product, use it effectively, and drive a return on their investment.”

That means hiring or putting someone in position to focus solely on services. This focus should include professional implementation services as well as hiring a true customer support team, rather than borrowing manpower from other departments to handle those responsibilities.
“The biggest problem with the ad-hoc approach is that it can lead to inefficiency and misalignment in other areas of the business,” Linn explains.
“For instance, let’s say you close a big client and don’t have a professional services group that can onboard and manage that customer. Who’s going to take on those responsibilities?” Linn asks. “Salespeople? Developers? Not only will that disrupt your future revenue targets, development cycles, and product release strategies, it’s also not going to provide the quality of service that customers expect.”

5 Objectives of Professional Services

After the software is licensed and before the customer sees the benefits of your solution, professional services is the liaison between a company and its customers.
As a result, Linn points out, that group is largely charged with managing a set of objectives that ensure customer success, improve customer retention, and drive strong customer referrals.
Those objectives include:

  1. Ensuring customer satisfaction: Professional services must work with customers to help ensure that the clients use and understand the product better and that it solves their business issues. Doing that will improve the likelihood of customer success and yield more (and better) referrals down the line.
  2. Protecting the product in the market: Because software products by nature will never be perfect, Linn says professional services is also responsible for ensuring that product issues are quickly fixed and that a product’s reputation in the market isn’t harmed by product misuse or confusion.
  3. Driving product improvement and innovation in the field: While most companies’ product management teams leverage focus group and advisory boards to collect product feedback, current customers can be a fantastic source of information, as well. A structured professional services group should gather key customer insight and apply it to future product improvements.
  4. Capturing and driving the re-use of best practices, implementation, and support: Once a product issue is discovered, professional services can serve as a critical vehicle for determining a fix and rapidly sharing it. That will allow everyone in the company to operate uniformly, Linn explains, and it will prevent the inefficiencies of trying to reinvent the wheel every time a similar issue arises.
  5. Pushing rapid adoption of the product: At the end of the day, referrals will never happen if it takes customers two years to fully understand and adopt a product. Professional services teams can help customers make the best use of your product in as little time as possible.

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While the five objectives above illustrate the core responsibilities of professional services, Linn is quick to point out that they shouldn’t be the responsibility of professional services alone. For a professional services team to be successful, Linn says, the entire company must be aligned around and committed to those objectives, as well.
“You can’t have a salesperson horribly oversell the product and then ask professional services to manage unrealistic expectations on the backend,” Linn explains. “Everyone has to be focused on their own responsibilities while also being committed to the overarching objective of customer success.”

Getting Professional Services Right from the Start

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No two software companies are exactly alike, so there isn’t a universal roadmap for how and when to set up your company’s first professional services organization. The roles and processes you need, for instance, will very likely depend on factors like company size, market focus, product complexity, and industry standards.
However, Linn says the sooner you realize the need for professional services, the more effective it will be in the long-term.
“It’s all about understanding what your customers need to implement your product, use it effectively, and drive a return on their investment,” Linn explains. “The earlier you’re able to understand that, the easier it will be to deliver the services your customers need to be successful and the more you’ll benefit from the referrals that those satisfied customers yield.”

Chuck Linn
Chuck Linn
Owner & CFO

Chuck Linn is the Owner of Specialty House of Creation and the President of CLM/MLC Management LLC. Previously, he was the president of C.J. Linn Enterprises, where he provided executive-level consulting and assistance to high technology and small businesses. Prior to joining OpenView Venture Partners as a senior advisor, Linn was Vice President of Enterprise Services at Hewlett-Packard, where he led several professional services practices within HP, and Group Vice President at Oracle, where he led professional services organizations and drove strategic initiatives to expand market share and customer satisfaction.
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