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How to Customer Success during Disruption Part I

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

How to Customer Success in a Downturn Part I
Photo by Jon Tyson

Companies continually look for ways to improve how they drive customer success.

It is a complex practice involving the interests of multiple parties with different objectives, company cultures and many, varied personas and stakeholders.

The pandemic has disrupted business like never before and companies are paying extra attention to customers, especially as new business pipelines have significantly diminished.

More than ever, Customer Success is an imperative to ensure customer loyalty and retention remain high.

I was recently asked to present at CS in Focus’ first virtual event to discuss how to navigate Customer Success during a global pandemic.

People have many questions about how to handle this. In part one of this two-part series I answer many of them.

How can we start to prioritize customer centricity without seeming like we’re only doing it out of desperation now?

A sincere and authentic desire to help customers achieve their desired outcomes will never appear desperate. Start there. Make sure you understand your customer’s objectives and make it clear to them how you’ll be able to support them to their end goal.

This of course does not mean that you do this at the expense of meeting your and your company’s objectives. The beautiful thing about customer centricity is that by aligning the organization to ensure customers win, so does the company and its employees.

If you’re aligned to the customer and them realizing their objectives, you’re practicing customer centricity and ensuring your company’s success as well. This is great Customer Success practice and will never come across as disingenuous.

Is there a certain level of assumption we should be making around the % of customers that will churn?

There is no hard and fast customer retention rate number I can offer you given that industries are currently experiencing different levels of activity depending on the markets they serve.

However, to get a better understanding of churn some leaders I’ve spoken with recommend the following: Industries hit hardest by the pandemic – travel, restaurants, hospitality – should be categorized as high risk for churn. Companies serving industries that are booming now that people are working from home and can’t go out – telecommunications, sporting goods and equipment, healthcare – are considered low risk and good candidates for positive net renewal rates. The remaining businesses in-between should be put on a watch list for churn. CSMs should reach out and talk to these companies to find out how their business objectives may have changed due to the current market conditions and evaluate churn risk accordingly.

What advice do you have for CSM’s that want to be more customer centric but are finding they are last on the list of people a customer wants to talk to?

This is a hard one. Companies are busy at the best of times.

At the start of the pandemic everyone was scrambling and communication was slowed for anything other than the highest priority topics. As things have started to settle, you may find customers ready to resume communications.

Regardless of the situation, CSMs should always be aware of what’s important to customers and make sure that every interaction adds value for the customer. Don’t just contact the customer because your company wants to execute its success plan or know whether a customer will churn. Reach out because you want to validate their objectives and understand where they are to achieving them, and for them to know best they can accomplish their goals with the product or services. You want to talk with customers when you know it will be helpful for them.

How can we look at how customer KPI’s are changing given what’s going on with COVID? Do you recommend contacting them to talk about COVID specific metrics of success if their business has changed dramatically?

I do recommend talking to customers to see whether their business objectives have changed in light of Covid-19 and then adjust how you are working the customer to ensure their success accordingly.

That said, I generally believe that customer KPIs should be tightly correlated to customer success. If this is the case, then unless the customer’s business has pivoted drastically, the value proposition of your product should largely still hold true and therefore so should your customer KPIs.

In that case, it is important that a company has an intelligent framework in place so that it can continuously measure and monitor the customer desired path and adapt customer KPIs appropriately.

Join me again next week as I continue to answer questions about how to navigate Customer Success during a global pandemic.

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