Helping your Customers Stay your Customers

This piece was also published in the Portsmouth Herald on October 24, 2014.

 

I got such a positive response to my last piece (“How to Manage a Successful Relationship”, 10/10/2014)  I decided to expand on the topic this week.  In particular, many questions came in asking about how to get started with the concept of Customer Success Management (CSM).

Let’s start with a core premise: 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 is incumbent upon those 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 must be doing fine.

Trouble is, 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 seek corrective action or redress.  Most complaining comes after the customer is gone.

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 customer turnover (also known as churn), less work for you, happier customers and a better bottom line.  Now let’s figure out how to actually make this work by looking at 3 key areas: Engagement. Information.  Infrastructure, keeping in mind the details of implementation will be very different if you are, say a men’s clothing store than it will be for a digital marketing company or a manufacturer of precision ball bearings.

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 frequently 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.

So how to enable engagement? Often customer touches are siloed, meaning each functional area only knew about their “part” of the customer, creating different views: a good payer, an uneducated user, an unstable installation, a potential lost customer.  All may be accurate, but they are thoroughly—and dangerously– 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 in an organized and useable way to everyone  who touches the customer.  Financial status. Any pending new deals. Support issues or complaints. Changes in their management. Product usage.  In short, a view which lets you determine the “performance” of the customer—and infer a view of their likely perspective on your performance.

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 is to make sure there is something in place (I suppose in some businesses it could be non-technology driven, but it wouldn’t scale) capable of supporting the storage of ongoing customer information, not just the accounting side.  You need to cover the many departmental entry and access points for customer-related information.

Given there is always compromise in the selection of tools 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.

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