Not All Customers are Created Equal
This may sound unfair, but we all know it’s true! You need to stratify your customer base and have offerings to match the current commitment & value of the customer to your organization. Your top tier customers must have a high level of engagement with someone at your organization on a regular basis, while your low dollar and high volume customers should be allowed to engage with you online as much as possible. Create customer tiers and then name them – with each increasing tier involved in a slightly increased level of engagement program. The key here is to communicate! Your Customer Success teams shouldn’t be the only ones who understand what customer stratification means. Share these levels with the whole organization, and set expectations around how your organization expects to respond to a top tier versus a high volume customer.
Automation, Automation, Automation
Spend your people resources where they’re needed. Many customer touchpoints for low-end customers can and should be automated. Your low tier customers should have automatic notifications to renew their maintenance and pay you via credit card on online portals. Mid level customers should be sent automated notices of expiring contracts that your renewals team follows up on immediately. Top tier customers deserve royal treatment, including personalized services, easy renewals, and incentives to further the relationship.
Strategic Accounts Need Strategic Management
The first step for managing the top tier of customers is to have a Renewal Account Manager & Customer Success Manager combination role, so that these important customers have one person who can handle their renewal, and act as a resource for other customer needs that come up. These reps should be your most senior people, and have a low ratio of customers per representative. Their role is very high touch, with strong internal cross-functional collaboration to bring in the right resources to ensure high customer satisfaction rates (which you’ll measure via your survey…see below). They should also work closely with their Technical Account Manager (TAM) counterpart to understand and track progress against the customers’ business objectives.
Medium Tier Customers – “One to Many” CSM
This is a role I recommend bringing in to supplement your renewals team when you need to scale, and can’t provide a high touch Customer Success Manager to each of your customers. This is an overlay role partnering with Renewal Account Managers. The goal is to ensure continual proactive Customer Success communication to your customers and provide the personal touch that Marketing may be lacking. An email alias or customer portal could be a way to contact this group / person and allow your customers to have a point of escalation aside from their renewal reps. And (and this is important!) as customer needs increase, this is your business development team for the TAM program which will really make sure your customer has the highest level of care possible.
Make Your Support Levels Reach New Heights
You already have different levels of support (if not, please do) and your highest level of support should include a Technical Account Manager role. A Technical Account Manager has more technical knowledge of the product and their customer’s environment, and is engaged with a much smaller group of customers. All of your top tier customers should have a TAM, since most strategic level customers I’ve spoken to expect to work with a TAM as the role is fairly standard in the industry. Customers working with TAMs have a much higher level of satisfaction, and feel more engaged with your organization. However, TAMs are an expensive resource, so you must find a way to fund them. If you don’t have a team dedicated to trying to sell a TAM standalone service, bundling it into your highest support offering (with appropriate uplift) may be an easier way for your field sales team to position with customers. The TAM should be engaged with their customers from the time of initial sale to ensure deep knowledge of their customer environment.
Let That Customer Be Heard!
The only way to know if you’re getting things right is to ask your customers. And don’t worry…they’ll tell you! Ensure you have a solid “voice of the customer” program to regularly capture, quantify, and track customer feedback over time. The program should include a process to follow-up and take action on any suggestions or concerns you get from customers. Setting up the right program with the right metrics can be hard to do well in-house, so consider looking at consulting firms who can provide guidance in this area.
These are some basics you should be capturing without concern of over-surveying:
◦ Post support case survey – Yes, we still do need this
◦ NPS (or similar type of customer satisfaction metric) survey – Done annually
◦ Post-implementation survey – The first true impression of the product and critical to set
◦ Loss / Churn survey – You need to know why customers are walking away
The Future of On-Prem
The above are some steps you can take to ensure that even your on-premise customers get the right level of both proactive and reactive attention to nurture their long-term partnership with your organization. In the end, the customer simply needs to know that their success is important to you, and that you’re equipped to ensure that success. As the software industry evolves, the customer/vendor relationship will become a lot more intertwined. Getting ahead of the curve early will help your customers achieve their goals with you. Those with positive experiences will transition into the future maintaining their loyalty to those vendors who valued them throughout the entire journey.
Anna is the VP of Customer Success at Flexera Software. She has over 20 years of experience in the Customer Success and Renewal management space. Her accomplishments have been attained through systematic attention to the most efficient customer engagement and on-boarding models, a focus on customer stratification, building online renewal portals, and creating other operational efficiencies that enable all Customer Success professionals to work easily with their customers. Prior to Flexera, Anna held management roles at Oracle where she spent 10 years building and evolving several renewals teams. When she’s not working in Customer Success, she’s trying to save the world – one animal and tree at a time.