On-demand, subscription-based services have taken over the technology world; a “one-and-done” contract is almost unheard of in today’s software industry, and this has changed the dynamic between you and your customers.

We all know it costs a lot to replace customers. But beyond that, there is a massive upside to customer relationships that surpasses preventing churn. These days, if you’re not proactively building a relationship with each customer, you’re missing a great opportunity to boost customer satisfaction and monetary value — and if you’re not building lifetime relationships, you’re missing out on a host of additional benefits that customers can deliver to your organization.

In my last blog post, I talked about some of the ways you can ensure customer success in this new environment. In this post, I’m going to look at ways to develop lifelong relationships with SaaS customers, at how you can evolve and shape these relationships, and finally, at how you can add value to — and harvest value from — each customer.

So let’s have a look at what you can achieve in each of the four stages in the Customer Lifecycle.

New Customers: Establishing Trust and Confidence

Obviously, the onboarding process is the first and most important step in getting started with a new customer. If you don’t succeed here, you can forget about success in the rest of the Customer Lifecycle.

I’ve found that establishing trust and confidence can be fairly easy as long as you take care of a few basics. Specifically, you need to establish strong two-way communications. You need to ask questions and LISTEN very carefully. If you do, I can guarantee that you’ll hear about, and be able to take care of, things that weren’t covered by your “onboarding checklist.” (Remember the story of the princess and the pea? Even little things can be very irritating if they’re not dealt with right away.)

Intermediate Users: Keep Them Engaged and Learning

Some users like to “set it and forget it.” But don’t let your customers plateau after they’ve mastered the basics. The intermediate user knows a lot more than beginners, but they still don’t know all the nuance and power of your product.

Being proactive by checking in with your customers is important. In a world of continuous development, product releases come so quickly that we have to keep the customer learning. But go beyond notifying them about the new features and fixes by — again — asking and listening. Many times, I have spoken with a customer who did not realize they had a need for a specific feature until we showed them its capability. Continuous coaching and training helps to ensure an engaged customer who is committed to the product and grows with it.

Advanced Users: Let Them Teach You

An advanced user is a customer who uses the product so frequently that they almost know the product as well as our own support team! In fact, because they use the product every day in their own real-world environment, they often do have a better, or more nuanced, understanding of the product than we do, and can make valuable recommendations about things such as feature requests and improvements to usability. Addition, they’re often interested in taking part in betas, and can help us figure out what solutions work and how to implement them. We depend on these users to help us build a better product and stronger support processes.

Here’s an example of the type of feedback that advanced, expert users can provide:

“I’d like an easy way of seeing all EC2 tags associated with the host. At present, when I mouse over the host, I can see to add to the search and copy to the clipboard, but it would be great if I got more context just by mousing over. For example, I’d like to see number of events, number of users, EC2 tags, availability zone, instance type, security groups, etc.”

As a result of feedback like this, we came to understand the value that would come from adding tag information, and quickly added the capability to our product.

Advocates: Let Them Speak for You

What do advocates do? They champion your product and sometimes they rave (that’s RAVE, not rage) about it.

Recently, for example, I was thrilled to discover that one of our customers, NextGxDx (a Nashville-based provider of a SaaS platform that helps physicians select genetic testing for their patients), had recommended us to Stratasan (another Nashville-based healthcare data and analytics company), who then purchased Threat Stack. While Stratasan vetted our product on its own merits through a rigorous evaluation of features and performance, NextGxDx’s recommendation certainly added persuasive power and credibility that put the deal over the top!

So What Can We Learn?

I’ve just skimmed the surface of the value that lifelong relationships can create for your customer and your organization. But as long as you understand the basics, you’ll be able to help them grow into knowledgeable and committed users. In turn, they’ll typically be enthusiastic about supplying you with positive feedback and valuable insights, and on a good day, their endorsement may be exactly what it takes to turn a prospect into a customer.