I was recently invited to engage in a webinar with Sandler.  I am particularly passionate about the topic of discussion:  How to Succeed at Customer Success Conversations in an Evolving Landscape and decided to continue the conversation here.

How do we continue to guide our clients and engage them when they, themselves are operating with so much uncertainty?

We’re certainly living in strange times, but what’s happening in the world today isn’t new.  We have experienced social unrest, survived plagues and pandemics before.  We’ve emerged from economic downturns, and we’ve risen above the ashes of recessions and we have raised the uncomfortable questions that expose inequalities.  What is new, however, is the way businesses today are evolving at such a rapid rate to remain successful and relevant when all of these issues are occurring at once.  There’s a lot of ambiguity and confusion.  In many ways, our personal and professional worlds feel broken.  As we’re working through social distancing and acknowledging the divides in our culture, and learning to work remotely, we’re headed into a new reality:  The way we service our customers is changing (and it could be permanent).

If you’re a Customer Success Manager (CSM), it might feel weird trying to work with your customer if that customer is being affected by either the pandemic or other factors.  Here are a few ways to help your customers through this ambiguous time.

Re-Segment Your Customers

Your company likely has a customer segmentation and tiering process.  I don’t propose that you remove all of that hard work and endure a complete re-segmentation process.  However, if there is a way that you can identify your customers based upon type of current impact that will help you to better determine the best way to serve that customer.  Give consideration to grouping your customers into these types of categories:

  • Medical / Healthcare / First Responder
  • Travel / Entertainment
  • Logistics
  • Restaurant
  • Retail

If you aren’t sure where to begin, S&P Global has a great report around industries that are most/least impacted by Covid 19.

If you serve small and medium businesses, consider flagging women and minority’s owned businesses for extra attention.  The SBA (Small Business Administration) can help you identify them.

Assess Impact

Different industries are being impacted in different ways.  Now that you have a different view of your customer segments, we can take some educated guesses at how they are being impacted:

Medical / Healthcare / First Responder and Logistics

Your customers are likely strapped for time and resources.  They may be unresponsive or slow to respond.  As these businesses are on the front line, if your technology is mission critical it’s possible that they need you now more than ever and just don’t have the time to ask for help (i.e. their use cases are evolving, or they have more users placing demands on your technology).

Travel / Entertainment

This customer segment is likely struggling with cash flow.  They may have reduced their workforce and some of your contacts might have been displaced.  In many cases, customers in this industry are inspecting where they are spending their money and looking for opportunities for savings.

Retail

Like the travel / entertainment industry, certain companies are struggling with cash flow where other customers are doing very well.  You’ll want to take a look at the type of retail customer they are to determine the level of impact.  Some of your retail customers may be impacted in the same way as travel / entertainment or they are growing! Others may be dealing with damage to their urban locations while others may be focused on how they can better contribute to relevant causes in their communities.

Define the Opportunity

Now is a great time to reach out to your customers even if it doesn’t feel like it.  Now that you have a new view of your customers and have taken an educated guess at the type of impact your customer could be experiencing, define where you can help.  Begin by answering a few questions:

  • Does your business offer a solution or a supporting effort that will help targeted customers through the Covid crisis?  Do you have a subset of customers that need special technical help?
  • Is your customer growing?  Is their use case expanding or do they have a number of new users?  Can you expedite their enablement?
    • If the customer is growing – can your company help accelerate their up/cross sell or onboarding process?
  • If the customer is struggling with cash – can your company delay the renewal cycle for a short period?  Or, can your company accept quarterly / semi-annual payments for a few periods?  Can you offer financing of any kind?
  • Are your customers taking on new initiatives to become more socially responsible and are there ways you can make that easier?
  • Are your contact(s) still with the company?

The answers to these questions and others like it, will give you the precise reason to reach out and continue to drive value with your customers.

Deliver With Compassion

The purpose of customer engagement is to continue to drive value.  You have targets that you’re responsible for delivering and it’s very easy to lose sight of your customer’s experience while you’re focused on the task at hand.  Especially now, take heart, as you’re working with your customers; there’s a lot going on socially and economically.    Your customers are stressed (and so are you!).  Their business is being impacted (and so is yours!).  Many customers are making difficult decisions around their staff, benefits, expenditures, responses to cultural issues, and working environments.  Some of your customers don’t even recognize the extent of the impact or reach of our current climate.

In the immediate term, lead with empathy.  Better yet, if your company is in a position to extend special consideration to the customers that are most impacted, that gesture of good will goes a LONG WAY with the customer in the future.

2 Pitfalls to Avoid

Bunt!

To use a few baseball metaphors, don’t swing for the fence.  Unless it’s welcome and necessary, don’t approach your customer with massive changes or major use case augmentations that will impact your customer. Of course, there’s a time and a place for this – but if your customer is impacted by current happenings or by the Covid pandemic, now might not be the best time to chase after a use case augmentation that will cause added change to your customer.  Rather, focus on small incremental improvements that your customer can tolerate and be successful with (Bunt!).  In a few months when life and business seem to be returning to a state of sanity – then go for the fence.

No Checking In

Years ago, it was a welcomed practice to “check in” on a customer.  Your customers are moving quickly to adapt and shift with the market and their own customers.  Be sensitive to their time and ability to spend it with you.  Engaging your customer to “see how they are doing” is likely a time waster for them (and you).  Use every opportunity you can to work with your customer but remember to have a great reason to engage them!

Going Forward

It seems cliche to say, “This too shall pass” (because it will) and we will all be onward and upward with some kind of new normal.  There are a lot of questions around delivering great value to our customers when there are so many that are struggling.  The business community is coming to learn some hard lessons, one of which is that we can all work remotely and do a fantastic job!  Another is learning how to protect our employees and customers from illness.  Yet another is that we all need to take a hard look in the mirror and begin to address systemic issues that impact minorities and create inequality. We’re a resilient bunch and our new future of customer engagement will be better than it’s ever been before.

This article was originally published here. 

Keri is a results-oriented leader with deep experience in Customer Success. With over 21 years of experience, Keri has shared her thought leadership and works to help pioneer the Customer Success function.

She is a hands on manager with a strong reputation for being driven and highly motivated. Her leadership proficiencies coupled with integrity and out-of-the-box thinking produces increased customer retention and generates revenue.

Keri is consistently named among the top Customer Success influencers.

Keri Keeling