CS and Engagement
As a Customer Success practitioner, I often partake in discussions on the core of a Customer Success Manager’s responsibilities. Some argue that CSM’s job is revenue focused, and based on renewals, upsells, and cross-sells, while others assert that its usage is centered around change management, adoption, and training. Some feel that simply avoiding churn is the main criterion. In reality, I think the focus of a CSM should be on all of these functions, with the aim of cultivating customer engagement in the process.
The byproduct of structuring Customer Success practices around positive revenue growth, usage trends, and avoiding churn is that you gain positive customer health and a customer that is fully engaged in your product. If you have engaged customers who are enthusiastically using your product, and proactively promoting you through positive word of mouth, then as a CSM, you have achieved your primary responsibility. The question is, how do you engage customers for the long haul?
When Implementation Goes Wrong
Prior to my current role, I managed the Customer Success Team for a growing SaaS company in the Bay Area. I was introduced to an unhappy customer after the initial implementation was completed. The implementation did not go well, we had multiple escalations, after which the customer was not excited about our solution. I knew renewal would be a challenge. I immediately decided to engage the customer and create a 30 day plan by which they could start using some of the key features of the solution.
While our solution was good, we had to spend time translating it for their business users, since they had not been part of the initial discussions. In parallel, we developed a change management plan to get all their users into the system in 90 days. As we spent more time with them and developed a trust, we start engaging them in more conversations during which we demonstrated a quick value realization each time. This resulted in the customer increasing their license count by 30% during their renewal.
Time To First Value
Let us take a second example of a customer that has completed implementation, and are starting to use your product. Implementation and onboarding are critical phases in the customer lifecycle. At these stages, either you engage the customer, or you lose them forever. Based on the product complexity and the end user, the essential piece to engagement is how the customer gets value from your solution. One of the key metrics that can be useful is Time to First Value (TTFV), which is the amount of time it takes from the initial sale to the moment the customer gets actual value from the product. You should plan is to make this phase the shortest. Capturing value and doing a value realization is a more complicated topic, but if you are interested, you can read about it here. Value Realization varies greatly based on the product complexity, buyer persona, and industry.
Avoid Planting the Seeds of Churn
The seeds of churn are often planted early, and while over-promising during the sales cycle can be the culprit, very often, these seeds are planted once the customer starts using the products. Once onboarding is over, all you have to do is to continue to focus on continued engagement. Here are some tips: Create a map of the buyer’s journey and develop strategies to engage them in every phase and measure that value. As you develop more of a relationship with the customer, build specific measurable goals, have regular communication, perform quarterly reviews, and always be available to help. Rather than waiting for your customers and users to feel anxious about what to do next, keep them engaged proactively. Measure value like you did in the TTFV phase and continue to iterate. If the initial engagement is done successfully, you will end up with a happy customer and all revenue focused activities like upsell, cross-sell, and renewals become more of a formality.
Don’t Risk Losing Them Forever
If you don’t engage customers right away, you risk losing them forever. Begin onboarding immediately and check-in with them to the point of extremity to make sure all their needs are being met, especially in the beginning. Once their product is fully online, you can ease off the hand holding beyond the regular scheduled meetings. Watch for the warning signs, and go forth with the intention of providing as much assistance in the future as you provided during the onboarding.
What tips do you have for engaging customers?
Head of Customer Success at PROS
Protik Mukhopadhyay manages the west coast Customer Success team for PROS (Big Data analytics for Sales and Marketing). He works with strategic customers by building long-term relationships and ensuring they realize full value from their investment with PROS analytics products. He has many years of experience with previous positions at NetApp, the Federal Reserve Bank, and Brocade. Prior to PROS, Protik was at APTTUS, where he managed a six member Customer Success team.