Long-term proactive engagement with customers to drive value from products and services will result in a healthy bottom line, but requires buy-in to make the required culture change
Technology has rapidly changed the ways in which companies and businesses approach growth and retention of clients. Customers research products through digital channels and recommendations before engaging with sales and marketing professionals, social media giants act as gatekeepers for reaching new audiences, and targeted ads are becoming increasingly expensive and easy for customers to filter out or ignore.
Happy customers who can give trusted recommendations are the healthiest way for a business to combat customer churn
As the process of acquiring customers has changed, so too has the process of retaining them. With so much choice, subscription models that allow customers to opt out whenever they wish are increasingly popular in everything from gym memberships and phone contracts to entertainment and music. User behaviour across the board have replicated this as customers value experience and flexibility above price or product.
These factors, plus the fact that customers both in business-to-consumer and business-to-business environments are reluctant to lock themselves into contracts or packages, mean the goal posts have had to move.
How is “customer success” different from “customer service”?
As acquiring new customers becomes more costly, and customers can freely and easily take their business elsewhere, the focus naturally shifts towards proactively retaining them by ensuring their needs are met and that they are kept happy. After all, happy customers who can give trusted recommendations are the healthiest way for a business to combat customer churn.
This is why customer success is increasingly important for growth. Although customer success exists alongside customer support, it is different in several key ways: it is proactive rather than reactive, it aims to drive value from the product or service rather than resolving issues and it is focused on the long term, rather than the short term.
While there are varying definitions of customer success, generally speaking the key principles remain the same. The first point is the mission, the foundation upon which you can build customer success strategy. This is about values, but can essentially be summed up by goals such as creating a positive image and reputation.
Customer journey needs to be constantly re-assessed
Next is customer journey. This includes mapping out how customer interactions should best happen, which prepares organisations to think about the next step: people. With the right teams in place, with clear roles and responsibilities outlined, they can focus on process which is where the bulk of the detailed work happens.
The process has to be constantly assessed and built on over time to make sure it is as honed and effective as possible, tailored to the needs of the customer. Technology can be brought in at this stage to help create solutions, give support, and speed up and monitor processes.
This brings us to the final destination: measurement and iteration. At each step it’s important to monitor and reflect on efficacy to ensure customer success is fully aligned with the processes.
Customer success particularly crucial for software companies
Customer success is most clearly prevalent in the world of software, particularly with software-as-a-service companies. InfoTrack is a platform that offers technology services to law firms which helps them process time-consuming administrative business concerning housing, commercial property, land registry, and HM Revenue and Customs. Some of the processes have already been digitised, others are manual and there is no membership or subscription model, so customer success is integral to their business strategy.
“We are continually taking back customer feedback,” says Adam Bullion, general manager of marketing at InfoTrack. “We operate a model whereby after every call the customer is asked to rate their call from one to four which generates a report at the end of every day.” These immediate responses are handled by account managers whose job it is to make sure clients are making the most of the services, so they can save time and be cost efficient, thus showing InfoTrack’s solution is the best available to their clients.
For customer success to work for companies like InfoTrack, there has to be an integrated approach to culture, and change both within the company itself and with relation to clients.
“To get the best out of a client success, you have to bring them on a journey,” says Mr Bullion. “You can’t just train them on the software; you have to really work with them to understand why things need to be done in a different way. This makes the change easier to implement, which in turn makes success easier to achieve.”
Teams need the right tools for customer success
But clients can only be successful if internal teams providing the services are given the tools to help them manage changes. “A lot of businesses lose sight of the fact that they need to give their teams the tools to help their client, and make sure they are invested and driven to help these changes be implemented,” he says.
This means key performance indicators need to be visible to the whole business, not just executives, and that there is a full understanding of the client’s bigger objectives and long-term needs. This in turn means that customer team culture is important to bear in mind. These teams hold valuable experience and information, which can be useful for improving processes and services geared to customer success; they need to feel listened to, so they feel driven and motivated.
In Walker’s Customer 2020 report, three main points are outlined as essential for business-to-business environments: firstly, customers will expect companies to know their business intimately and personalise the experience; secondly, customers will expect companies to be more proactive, anticipating their current and future needs; and thirdly, customers will determine the experience they want and will expect companies to enable that experience through various channels, including mobile, social, and personal interactions.
Together these outline the culture shift in businesses to a customer-centric approach which, while presenting challenges, ultimately means companies working together have to communicate, act and succeed together.