Strategies for the New Year
With 2018 coming to a close, and businesses busy making plans and finalizing budgets for the next year, Customer Success executives should take a moment to analyze if their current practices are emphasizing the right business strategies. One strategy to note in particular is Customer Engagement Strategy.
As the VP of Customer Success at Spear Education in Arizona, Customer Engagement is always top of mind. Spear’s mission is the pursuit of great dentistry. This involves leveraging a suite of educational products and services to help dentists improve their clinical and practice management skills. Spear has a very unique business model that combines the world’s best online dental education platform with best in class in-person seminars and workshops led by world renowned dentists. Spear is often referred to as the Harvard of dental education. Think of our product suite much like that of a university, which includes Spear Online (online platform), Study Clubs (group learning), Faculty Club (invitation only group of mentors), Seminars (lectures), and Workshops (hands on learning). In addition, Spear also has a comprehensive practice management and consulting solution called Spear Practice Solutions (SPS).
To further contextualize this concept, let’s take a deeper dive into the 7 Musts of Customer Engagement:
1. Know Your Customer
You can’t claim to be a customer-focused firm and not know your customer inside & out! Talk to your customer, get to know their pain points, see what excites them the most, and understand their goals. It is essential to have a 360 degree view of a customer’s health and collect as many data points as you can.
At Spear, we implement several strategies that help us get to know our customers better. We also collect significant amounts of customer data – how many customers are logging into the online portal? What kinds of videos are they watching? What sort of courses are they opting for? Collaborating and tabulating all this data gives us a fair idea of the overall health of the customer, and enables us to work on the areas where we feel customers should be more engaged. We also collect information around customer preferences, goals, and more, which is logged in their Strikedeck profiles, to better engage with them and drive key customer outcomes.
2. Training and Enablement
Customer experiences are shaped by the nature of engagements they’ve had with the front-line Customer Success or Support team. CS leaders need to make sure that they have a strong internal team, one that is determined to find solutions, equipped with all the right product knowledge, and has the essential communication skills to interact effectively with customers. For SaaS businesses, a significant portion of interactions with customers are digitized, which leaves little or no room for face-to-face communication, further emphasizing the need to be effective when time is scarce.
Spear focuses on training and polishing the product knowledge and soft skills of our employees, by using regular training modules and call coaching. We are further enhancing our training programs to be role specific, so that our representatives can engage with doctors with a higher degree of confidence and deliver significant value.
3. The Right Engagement Strategy
The engagement strategy you implement can make or break your CS model. Before executing or updating the current engagement strategy, make sure to have a clear view of what’s needed, versus what’s already in practice. Carry out a needs assessment – see if more digital resources need to be deployed or if customers instead need more human support.
A single strategy across all product versions might not be such a good idea. Depending on the type of product and the target market it’s catering to, tweak your strategy accordingly.
For instance, at Spear, we have several product offerings – ranging from online learning (Spear Online), to a completely tailored consulting software solution called “Spear Practice Solutions.” The latter focuses on coaching dentists on how to run their business, manage their practice, and involves more end-to-end engagements. Here, a white-glove engagement strategy is warranted, as opposed to a lighter touch model for the “Spear Online” product.
4. Tailor Your Outreach
Imagine reaching out to a customer via social media and later discovering that they don’t even use it! What a waste of effort!
It helps to learn how to run a really effective outreach campaign, so that you direct your time, efforts, and resources towards fruitful endeavors. Make it a point to ask customers their preferred medium of communication, for maximum impact. The best way to do so is to ask their preference during onboarding or run A/B testing. Shoot out an email or text and see how they respond, if they respond, and when they respond.
In addition to the mode of outreach, you can further tailor the content of outreach to enhance the impact it has on your customer. Again, collecting data on the type of content they are looking for during onboarding is critical to retaining the customer.
5. Celebrate Success With Your Customer
Every now and then, customers need to be reminded of all the ways they benefit from your product. As a CS centric business, it is important to remind them how much they have achieved with you, and how far they’ve come from the time they set sail. The next step is to celebrate their accomplishments, and pat them on the back with a “do-you-want-to continue-learning-pitch.”
For the “Spear Practice Solutions” product, we have at least two scheduled calls per month, with a progress report generated towards the end of the contract year. This way, the customer knows that you care, and that their success is inherently tied to your company’s.
6. Listen to Your Customer
With all this talk about engaging with the customer and maintaining open lines of communication with them, never forget that all this begins and ends with a business actually listening to its customer!
For SaaS companies, specifically, collecting feedback from the customer is even more important. Make sure to have proactive engagements with the customer, via annual surveys, focus groups, or any other medium – the point is to maintain a solid feedback loop with them.
A healthy customer translates into a healthy revenue stream and a lifetime of loyalty. Calculate and maintain health scores, run NPS/CSAT surveys, understand customer sentiment, and more. to determine where they are at and what needs to be done to make them even more satisfied. An important point to note here is to keep this process rolling, even if you feel that the customer is happy and content.
7. The Customer Journey
The Customer Journey has a significant impact on how you engage with your customers. From the awareness phase all the way through advocacy; knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to say it is usually a game changer for CS leaders. Right from awareness until the purchase stage, the customer will require a lot of information from you – mostly about product features and specifications. After purchasing your product, to retaining them and finally making them advocates, your engagement strategy will change again. Tailor your engagement strategy to each phase of the customer journey – you don’t want to sound too pushy just when you are building the foundations of your relationship.
Wrapping It Up
24/7 & 365 days a year – These aren’t just numbers – they represent what most customers expect from their products and services. In fact, most customer-centric businesses are forced to keep all lines of communication with the customer open at all times, just in case. Such is the world we live in, so it’s important to know how to navigate it with skill, to make it a pleasant engagement for all!
Suraj has over 16+ years of experience in developing strategies around customer success, customer experience, pricing strategy, process improvement, supply chain management, team building, and change management. He is currently the VP of Customer Success at Spear Education, a company that is dedicated to the pursuit of great dentistry through ongoing education for dentists and dental practices. He holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering from ASU and a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from University of Madras, India. He is also a certified Six Sigma Black Belt, and PROSCI® certified Change Management expert.Suraj Mohandas