Like all of us personally, companies are going through extraordinarily uncertain times.
Some organizations have had to shutter business completely for now (or are at risk of closing the company altogether) while others have seen revenue growth accelerate as their products and services help keep people healthy, active, entertained and working from home.
Most are “battening down the hatches” tightening budgets to protect cash flow, focusing on core competencies and concentrating on customer retention to keep existing revenue during an expected long, economic recovery.
The point is that for vendors serving these companies, there are currently more questions than answers on how to manage customer relationships.
Is it appropriate to market and sell products and services right now?
Would a customer benefit from an executive business review to support them through these difficult times or would the time be better spent focusing elsewhere?
Are there creative solutions to meet the needs of both the customer and the vendor (who after all, also has a business to run) to retain their loyalty?
Never before have the customer relationship skill sets of the Customer Success or Account Manager (CSM or AM) been tested to this level.
Customer empathy is key for customer retention in the best of times, now it is absolutely vital.
Customer Retention Through Empathetic Conversations
I have spoken to dozens of executives over the last few weeks and one key area of focus for them is to prepare and arm their customer facing functions with the capabilities required in order to have empathetic conversations.
They know that in order for them to meet their customer needs, their organization must first understand what those needs are.
Given the precariousness of the current environment, historical data or usage patterns are not as helpful as they typically are and they do not accurately tell the whole story.
Companies Need to Talk with Customers
Companies need to talk with customers, understand what they are grappling with and then be able to come up with ingenious solutions that help them through these times.
Organizations are increasing their communication with customers, arming their AMs and CSMs with newly prepared discovery questions, different for healthy or at-risk customers, to better understand their current situation and requirements.
The objective of initial meetings is simply to listen and gather information.
Customers may be asking for discounts, to reduce licenses or to pause or cancel subscriptions.
Instruct AMs and CSMs to not react emotionally or make offers on the call right away, rather first understand the reasons behind the request and then have them bring that information back internally to the team for solutioning.
Are companies lacking the time to adopt or use the product, or is their financial position the reason behind the ask?
There may be existing education or thought leadership content that could be provided to the customer to assist with adoption – many organizations are providing their normally gated content for free and/or increasing their generation of use case specific content and delivery of webinars specifically designed to help companies through Covid-19 with the use of their products.
If the constraints are financial in nature there are solutions to address that as well.
Companies are offering all sorts of deals right now to ensure customers continue their subscriptions from providing significant discounting during the pandemic in return for a longer contract term that sees pricing go back to its pre-pandemic value after things start to return to normal.
Finally, organizations also recognize that keeping up the morale of AMs and CSMs, who are also under duress during this time, is vitally important.
If AMs and CSMs are to perform optimally and with empathy, their needs must also be met.
Companies are increasing communication internally as well, conducting more team meetings and establishing virtual social activities, so that their employees feel well prepared to manage their responsibilities and help customers throughout this time.
Bottom Line: Empathy Plays a Vital Role in Uncertain Times
With so much uncertainty, following the standard customer success playbook alone will not suffice in retaining customers.
Customer retention strategies must include increased communication with customers to listen empathetically to their needs and to provide impactful solutions to retain their loyalty.
Where empathy was key for customer retention in the best of times, it is now absolutely vital.
Empathy also plays a vital role in keeping the morale of the internal team up.
Supporting employees by helping them better manage these unusual circumstances will buoy them up to ensure that they continue to be effective business partners to customers.