Without a doubt 2020 has been an exceptional (unusual) year.
In many ways shocking and gloomy, but also with its fair share of silver linings.
Dealing with change and challenges are by no means anything new to Customer Success, however the pandemic certainly forced us to deal with both very rapidly and differently than normal.
In this Good Riddance 2020! year in review article, we take a look at how the pandemic affected Customer Success in 5 key areas - Customer Engagement, Commercials, Employees, Customer Success Team, Revenue - and how companies responded accordingly.
Customer engagement, whether it be 1:1 or automated, is obviously a key component in building customer relations and loyalty.
The pandemic reinforced this need, but it changed how we engaged with customers on multiple levels.
With the new uncertainty, Customer Success sought to engage with more of its clients to understand their needs and ensure that they were properly aligned to meet them.
Organizations significantly increased their focus on customer conversations in order to protect customer retention.
Empathetic listening to re/discover customer objectives validated goals, commitment and re/established relationships.
Business interactions also became more personal.
Customer Success Managers (CSMs) were meeting customers (virtually) in their homes, with potential interruptions from children and pets and were going through similar pandemic experiences together, resulting in more authentic conversations and personal relationships.
A lot of new and different challenges that customer facing roles confronted resulted in CSMs learning that it’s ok not to have an answer for a customer right away.
Knowing how to pause, take the customer situation back to the internal team for problem solving, and getting back to the customer later with a solution, were new skills that many teams acquired.
As soon as the pandemic hit, companies started to batten down the hatches with respect to their financials.
Price sensitivity and payment terms were the trending areas of discussion with CSMs.
Customers, regardless of the industry they are in, were asking for changes to their pricing and contracts.
Those hardest hit asked for deferred payments or to end contracts.
And if CSMs were not already meeting with the customer’s CFO (Chief Financial Officer) previously, they were very likely to be doing so this year.
Companies with strong value propositions had an easier time with these discussions and actually saw increased customer retention and revenue growth as a result.
Those without one, had an even harder time than before.
CSM training on how to have commercial discussions occurred more frequently to arm even those that normally do not hold a revenue target, with the information necessary to have these conversations.
Companies that adapted quickly and offered flexible and creative payment terms not only better retained their customers, they also demonstrated their commitment to partner with them, driving better customer experience and loyalty.
The way we looked after employees also changed.
At home distractions, hidden disabilities that are exasperated by working remotely, socio-economic disparity that may make video calls uncomfortable, and all-day, online meetings added to employee stress.
New employee onboarding and working with colleagues one has never met added a new level of complexity to making employees feel at home quickly.
As everyone was dealing with ambiguity and stress, organizations looked to ensure their employees were supported as equally as they were looking out for customers.
Simply asking employees more often “how are you?”, creating other avenues for social connectedness, introducing alternative means for work collaboration (to alleviate video fatigue) and introducing humour were some of the solutions.
As were walking meetings, fewer meetings and doing away with otherwise unproductive work.
Customer Success Team
With the increased focus on existing customers and the labour-intensive effort required to have deeper customer engagement, the challenge of Customer Success at scale became greater than normal.
How were CSMs going to be able to drive onboarding and adoption while engaging more with more customers?
Companies therefore started to expedite onboarding and implementation programs to ensure customers adopted faster and easier.
Documented subject matter expertise and educational content was increased and made freely available to offload the burden of knowledge dissemination from the CSMs.
Customer Success teams also turned to more proactive retention strategies as a means of being more efficient and reducing reactive firefighting.
Understanding the customer objectives validated through customer conversations, and employing more frequent risk analysis of customers, allowed CSMs to work with customers before time consuming problems occurred.
Product and sales teams quickly aligned to customer needs (and therefore Customer Success) to immediately provide relief as well.
Product roadmaps focused on features and functions that help drive a better self-service, customer experience.
Sales supported commercial discussions to protect existing revenue.
Protecting revenue took on a whole new meaning in 2020 given the level of ambiguity in every respect.
Businesses had to get real about account risk and forecasting.
They also had to be nimble and frequent in their forecasting as market and world conditions changed rapidly.
Organizations re-evaluated how risk was categorized, looking more broadly at macro-level conditions that impacted industries (not just customer specific circumstances and anecdotes) and combined that with information gained through further customer discovery in order to guide appropriate action.
Frequent forecasting was also used with the objective of driving more proactive and effective effort.
CSMs were also coached to ask customers “why” more often in order to sincerely get to the core of their needs so that creative solutions could be identified for customers and revenue protected for the vendor.
Pandemic as Customer-Centric Forcing Function
In summary, the pandemic forced organizations to engage better with customers, demonstrate their commitment to partner with customers for mutual commercial benefit, “see” employees holistically, drive more effective cross-functional collaboration and customer success, and use data to identify better solutions for customers and protect revenue for themselves.
Forgive me if I do the 2020, what-the-heck, head scratcher but...
Being customer-centric is what companies should have already be doing to drive successful customer experience, loyalty and revenue growth!
In working with and talking to many different organizations and executives, it was glaringly obvious which companies were already customer-centric and which had to adapt very rapidly in order to protect their business.
Ironically, the pandemic was a forcing function for companies to be more customer-centric.
As I look forward to the new year and putting 2020 behind us, I am grateful for many things – good health, family, friends – including the lessons learned during this adventurous year.
Here’s to wishing everyone good health, happiness and a joyous holiday season!