At its tenth annual Pulse conference last week, Customer Success (CS) platform Gainsight unveiled a new product designed to digitally connect the various fragments of customer experience, oriented around CS and supported by a new company-wide licensing option. This aligns with the vendor's view of customer success, particularly among its largely SaaS customer base, as something that should permeate across the enterprise. Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, says:
What's happening is, customer success is becoming company-wide. It's not just a team. It's a company-wide thing, because it also extends to sales and product. Many of our customers are basically going from, it's a function, to, it's a strategy.
Currently, all the various functions that B2B customers typically interact with across an enterprise tend to operate in their own functional silos. He explains:
Today, when people do digital, they just do it really badly — very uncoordinated ...
Overall, it feels like the vendor customer experience is still very distant. In other words, you're talking to sales, you're talking to customer success, you're talking to the support team. There might be five different sites I have to go to, if I open a case versus going to the community with a product idea. So it's complicated for the customer.
It's also expensive for the vendor, he adds, because it takes longer to resolve issues and miscommunications, customer contact doesn't happen at the most optimal time, and satisfaction levels dip, both for customers and employees. The impact on staff isn't great, either, especially at a time of economic belt-tightening. He goes on:
If you talk to people in the customer success profession, they love the job, but they're burnt out. Essentially, what's happening is, the client load is going up, and the number of people isn't going up that much — that's how people get more efficient. But if you just keep doing the same things the same way, you're just going to burn your team out.
Bringing digital automation to customer success
Nevertheless, enterprises are still investing in customer success. A survey carried out for Gainsight ahead of its conference finds that virtually all companies surveyed (97%) have a CS function, and virtually all of them (98%) are maintaining or growing headcount, despite the economy. Among CS teams, 61% have responsibility for revenue growth, while 39% of companies have a Chief Customer Officer. Mehta argues that the problem is simply that customer success, especially in the B2B sector, grew up as a very manual operation based on one-to-one conversations between Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and their counterparts at customers. It's now time to bring a degree of automation to those interactions and take some of the pressure off CSMs. He explains:
We don't want to give up on customer success. It's just we want them working on the things that are truly valuable. In other words, building relationships with the clients, understanding their objectives. But do you need to be like a manual, telling every client how to use your product one-on-one? Or do you need to be, every time they have a technical issue, they're emailing you instead of being able to solve the problem themselves? ...
What does it mean to build digital into customer success, where it started out much more human? We started out with, I have a CSM, and they're helping me with my business and my adoption. Now it's, how do you have a CSM with a co-pilot, which is the digital capabilities, and all of that turbocharged with AI?
This is the thinking between the launch of Gainsight Digital, an online hub that connects across all of the various applications that contribute to the customer experience, and works alongside Gainsight's existing customer success and product experience products. This can be deployed either as a website or it can be embedded in the Gainsight customer's own digital product. Mehta says:
It's one integrated, personalized offering. It's one website to go to, and you can do everything from submit feedback, open a ticket, talk to other people in the community, consume learning content, events, that's all there today. Later this year, you can actually even see the data from the vendor about your own usage of the product ...
We can actually embed community posts in your practice relevant to that page, or the ability to ask for help in the product, or maybe seeing data from your CSM that they pushed you in the product.
Coupled with the launch of the digital hub, there's a new licensing option that allows unlimited users for a flat price, which is tiered based on company size. In part this is a response to how the company has been seeing the role of chief customer officer evolve in many companies as it expands beyond customer support, services and education, even as far as account management and pre-sales. Mehta says that for most companies the add-on will equate to about a 20% uplift on the per-seat CSM pricing they pay for the core product. He says:
It's about enabling the company to truly get everyone around the customer. You don't want pricing to be a barrier to adoption.
Adding generative AI capabilities
Last week also saw Gainsight reveal how it is starting to expand its AI offerings with the addition of generative AI. One example of the new capabilities is compiling a 'cheat sheet' that summarizes key information about a client, to help get a new team member up to speed. Mehta gives an example:
The person you're meeting with has had three support tickets open recently, they have these product ideas they're interested in, they were very unhappy about this release, but they loved this feature.
What we're doing to get that is, we're scanning through not just the structured data, but the actual text data. We basically end up in our customers mostly having all the emails and all the notes for meetings and the transcripts, so there's a lot. We can actually write an incredible executive summary.
Of course, with customer-facing information, there's always the worry with generative AI models that they may include inaccurate information, or 'hallucinations', where the model simply makes up material. Gainsight has been careful to guard against this happening, as he explains:
We route everything through a pre-processor on our end to look for hallucinations, and then train the system and make sure that the content we're sending, it has a very low rate. We've actually found this use case has a very low rate of hallucinations, because it's our internal data, and for that reason, it seems to actually work quite well.
But then that's why we are starting with internal use cases. In other words, things that you're doing for your team. Then over time, we'll get to external, end-customer facing use cases, where the price of hallucination is higher, obviously, the more it touches your end customers.
Other generative AI capabilities include summaries of takeaways from survey responses, a smart search function that generates a summary answer alongside keyword results, and a setup assistant that uses interactive chat to help users build content such as onboarding and success plans, customer goals, email engagements, reports and dashboards.
A future use case currently being explored is when a customer asks the CSM for an introduction to other similar customers — every customer is interested to meet others going through the same challenges. But that's very difficult to define, as Mehta explains:
How does a CSM even figure out who else is like them? That's such an unstructured question, it's not even clear what that means. But what's interesting is, when you run that through GPT, you get really interesting matches.
Ultimately, Mehta believes that one key use for generative AI will be in configuring products such as Salesforce or Gainsight, particularly for business users who only occasionally tangle with the product. Mehta gives the example of an executive asking for a report just using natural language. He adds:
This could revolutionize time to value and manageability for SaaS companies, because now you have a different, an easy path. My advanced users will still use the UIs, because the UIs are more configurable and convenient. But for those casual users, for those first time users, this could change the game for how SaaS is actually consumed.
I agree that the configuration example is one where generative AI could show a lot of promise — during our conversation, the phrase 'augmented no code' came to mind — the conversational AI interface expands the scope of no-code development because it potentially makes makes more complex actions available to casual users. It will be interesting to see how this use case pans out.
More broadly, the concept of broadening out customer success as an enterprise-wide motion is one that I'm fully on board with and have already been arguing in favor of, so it's good to see Gainsight move to support it with its new product. It's also, of course, an astute move by the vendor to turn its product into the front end for a panoply of established applications and tie them all together. In doing so, it will carve out a prime role for itself at the heart of customer experience delivery for its own customers.