How to Help your Customers Stay your Customers

January 29, 2015

customer success managementMuch has been written in the press and in the blogosphere about the concept of Customer Success Management (CSM). Why it’s so important. Why it’s good for business. Much less has been written, however, about how to get started with CSM. That’s why I want to talk about the “how” in this piece.

First, let’s start with a couple of core premises: first, in a world where prospects and customers are well-educated about the choices they make, and in most market segments have unprecedented ability to switch vendors, it’s incumbent upon vendors to work very, very hard to keep their customers, well, customers. If you’re like most businesses, your baseline assumption is “no news is good news,” i.e. if your customers aren’t complaining they’re doing fine. Trouble is, while this worked for most of the past 50 years, things are different now—see core premise one. Survey after survey demonstrates the fact that disaffected customers are much more likely to quietly walk away (or at least make plans to do so) than they are to complain.

So enter CSM. A commitment to interact with your customers even before they are your customers. A model to manage them over the course of an extended lifecycle. Less churn, less work, happier customers and a better bottom line. Model agreed to. Now let’s figure out how to actually make this work by looking at 3 key areas: Engagement. Information. Infrastructure.

Engagement sounds simple—stay in touch with the customer and make sure things are going well. That said, having the wrong people as touch points may be worse than no contact at all. Who wants a sales rep calling every week to make sure everything’s OK? At first the customer may think that’s nice, but it soon feels more like hovering for more business. That’s like noticing someone coming to your website with frequency and calling them up, saying “Hey, I’ve been seeing you on our website…” Chances are you’ll never get to them again.

So what’s the right way? I suggest it’s using the team members most relevant to where the customer is in their lifecycle. That is, sales guys during the selling cycle (with an exec or two tossed in maybe), but installers/implementers during the post-sale work. Once in and running, then it’s the support team or an account management team who are tasked with customer success. The right people at the right time, engaging in the right way is a critical process to get right from the start.

Now things get interesting—how to enable engagement. Historically customer touches were siloed, meaning each functional area only knew about that part of the customer, a bit like the story of the three blind men and the elephant . Like the sightless men in the tale, each part of the organization often has a different view of the customer: a good payer, an uneducated user, an unstable installation, a merger candidate and a potential lost customer. All vantage points may be accurate, but they are thoroughly incomplete. This is where we come to information and infrastructure. For CSM to work all pertinent information about a customer’s lifecycle has to be available. More than that, though, it has to be organized in a way that is meaningful to anyone who might touch a customer. Financial status. Any pending new deals. Support issues or complaints. Changes in management. Product usage. In short, a view which lets you determine the “performance” of the customer. All this information and more must be at the ready in order for you to make decisions or take action, or just knowledgeably interact with your customer.

That’s where infrastructure comes in. We’ll talk much more about tools, how they should interact and even what’s available out there in later articles. For now, the important takeaway, dear reader, is to make sure there is a technology infrastructure in place (I suppose in some businesses it could be non-technology driven, but it wouldn’t scale) which is capable of supporting the many departmental entry and access points for customer-related information. Given that there is always compromise, sometimes lots of compromise, in the selection of technology to support any business initiative, it’s important to make sure you’re clear about your roadmap, priorities and desired outcomes from a CSM initiative. Mapping out in detail what you want to accomplish will best inform the selection of the tools to make CSM happen. And no, don’t assume what you’ve already got in place will work. Nor should you be taken in by vendors who have jumped onto the latest and greatest industry initiative, recast their marketing message to support that initiative, but then bring in software designed for a fundamentally different world.

CSM takes commitment, planning, and the right tools—keeping a customer a customer makes it all worthwhile.