The Implications of a Down Economy on Customer Success and Customer Education - with Kristen Hayer

The Implications of a Down Economy on Customer Success and Customer Education - with Kristen Hayer

Gordon Johnson
May 20, 2020 9:03:06 AM

How has the suddenly remote workforce changed Customer Success now and in the future?

No doubt, the terms remote working, telecommuting, or working from home have taken on extra dimension in our new pandemic world. 

To get an idea what this all means for the customer success profession now, and in the future, and by extension to customer education, we recently spoke with Kristen Hayer, founder and CEO of The Success League, and an acknowledged expert in the field of customer success and customer retention.

Kristen believes that customer success is critical to driving revenue, customer retention and exceptional customer experiences. Her areas of expertise include developing success goals and metrics, designing the optimal customer journey, selecting technology, training teams, and building playbooks.

Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies.  

Customer success while sheltering in place

Hayer begins with the observation that the current “shelter in place” work situation has two positive and two negative short-term implications for customer success and customer engagement.

On the plus side:

1.  More personal interaction - Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are having more personal interactions with clients. Using Zoom or other technology, you actually see your customer’s home environment, their pets, their kids. 

This turns the relationship on its head. Now each CSM has a relationship with a person vs. a portfolio of companies. I hope this is a permanent change.

2.  Assess and improve - This environment is also giving CSMs some time to reflect and assess their programs and their progress. CS leaders, with more time for pure management, are looking into additional training for their teams, tightening processes.

On the downside:

1. Lack of structure - Customer Success is a fairly new field and many managers may not have formal managerial training, and have not had a lot of time in the saddle. 

With this disruption, we are seeing a lack of structure, of gaps in process, and missed goals. Some of this is attributable to the pandemic. The rest is a lack of direction.

2. Staffing gaps - With some companies needing to furlough staff, and some staff becoming sick and unable to work, we are seeing staffing gaps. 

Plus, family commitments are taking more time. I’m now shopping for myself and my mom. Instead of just running to the store, everyone has to wait in line. There’s also home schooling for some. This all affects work time.

She adds that achieving the first two of CS’ three metrics, churn reduction and an increase in expansion revenue, depends on the verticals being served. Hospitality, restaurants, etc. are showing a significant loss of revenue. Delivery services, groceries, and tech are seeing growth. The driving factors are beyond our control.  

The third metric, satisfaction can be controlled. If CS treats customers fairly and provides a great experience through this crisis, they won’t be forgotten. These businesses will come back for more. However, if customers are mistreated in an effort to get paid, as soon as they are able, they will leave.

Customer success teams should focus on maintaining the long-term customer relationship

Some industries are getting hit hard. Best to make an exception – perhaps a discount or a 3-month moratorium. Focus on keeping the long-term relationship. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the only thing that will work for your company, if you want to be in business tomorrow.

“Great communication is a hallmark of what customer success teams can do well right now. She cites the example of Delta Airlines. They don’t have the best news to share, but they communicate regularly with their medallion holders – their best customers. They let them know that they are committed to taking proactive steps.

“Good or bad, great brands communicate. This is a good area to invest your energy. People remember.”

An immediate and substantial opportunity for customer training

Hayer also sees immediate and substantial opportunity for customer training. She observes that all your contacts are at home, with no commuting time and no travel (which is also good for the planet). Certainly there are other demands, but it seems that carving time out for training, as long as it’s on-demand, is easier.

However, she cautions that many customer training programs that are focused on technology products need to shift from focusing on application training to focusing on the value the individual and the company receives from that training. It’s more than “just click here,” it’s click here and why. 

Here’s how this fits into the big picture: “You must connect the dots to value. This crisis is going to encourage more holistic thinking. We’ve got to make sure the learner experience is consistent with the brand and that brand is consistent with accomplishment.”

Moreover, she adds, perhaps training becomes free as an extension of this positive experience, as part of deepening the relationship.

These are not normal times

“CSMs are on the front line, so they need to take the time to talk to each of their customers and ask a lot of questions. These are not normal times. Some are all alone and need someone to talk to. Others are looking for ways to help save their businesses. Highlight these conversations and share so the whole company can be responsive.”

Kristen advises that this is also a good time for Customer Success leaders to stop and reflect on their customer retention strategies. Do you have the right people to engage, the processes for them, the tools that allow flexibility? Moreover, does each team member understand what it takes to be a top performer?

“I hope that this crisis results in a seismic shift and further personalizes the field of customer success. At the end of the day, we engage with people, not companies. Zoom, and like services, helps us realize this.”

Longer-term advice for customer success and customer education

Hayer’s advice is consistent: 

    1. Focus on value. Satisfaction will be high if CS and customer education deliver the value the customer expected when they bought. 
    2. Connect success and training - CS and training need to work more closely together. Too many times they operate in silos. Each team needs to understand the ROI component, the development communication cycle, use cases, knowledge gaps, and progress.
    3. Make sure of the positive outcome. Without value, everything else falls apart. 

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