In the world of cloud based software, the game within the game is creating negative customer churn. That is more than just retaining customers, it is creating a better customer experience, growing accounts and making better customers. The field of play for this game is every communication and every service delivery channel that exists between you and your customer. If you are a Customer Success Manager or are responsible for customer engagement, you cannot afford to lose this game. So, let’s talk about some ways to win. We are going to briefly talk about:
- The Defense: Customer Support
- The Offense: Customer Success
- The Customer Empowerment Playbook
- Customer Enablement
- The Customer Empowerment Playbook
In the customer retention game, customer support is the defense. Every day, every play your defense lines up and waits for your customers to initiate a play with a problem or need. If you have a mature team, you have likely assembled a collection of players with different skills so you are ready to stop any problem from becoming the seed of an attrition event. Having highly skilled, responsive customer support to field the phone calls and emails that come in is critical to the success of organizations that rely on subscription renewal. So we can all agree that a good defense is important to creating a great customer experience. But every good defensive coach I know would say that every play the defense is on the field is a risk. You want your defense to be ready to act, but the fewer times they have to act, the more likely you are to experience a victory. Likewise, every time your customer has to create a support ticket or call support for help, it is imperative that you have the capacity and skillset to get them to a solution. But you would always prefer that problem not even exist and that is why you build a strong offense.
So, in comes the offense. On a well-designed team, Customer Success is the offensive team. Customer Success is the name we give to a strategy and execution methodology that is proactive and prescriptive. It doesn’t wait for a problem to emerge, it analyzes activity and anticipates problems and then it acts to prevent them. A great offense has different formations, it lines up each play and looks at the customers’ situation and chooses the right play to run to maximize success.
Customer Empowerment Playbook
The cornerstone formation in Customer Success is customer empowerment. A customer who is provided resources and training to enhance their effectiveness of your solution and solve their problems is empowered. Let’s talk about three ways we can empower customers and how that gets us closer to a desired outcome of customers experiencing true value which is a catalyst of renewal.
The first play we should be running out of our customer empowerment formation is Customer Enablement. Starting with onboarding and continuing on throughout implementation and beyond, empowering customers with training and support collateral that addresses both product functionality and application or business use is critical. A huge miss that we see often is beautiful training materials and polished collateral that expertly explains the way a feature of your application works but not the way your customers will use it. The problem is that your customers can fully appreciate the well designed, easy to use feature and at the same time not be clear on when they would use it or a strategy for how they will implement it into their use of the application.
An easy example would be a great video, demonstrating the way to write an article on LinkedIn. The video shows the buttons you click to start the post, how to edit, add videos and images and then the button to push to publish the article. The customer can go back to the video at any time and review so they know exactly how to do it. The problem is they don’t know how they would get a benefit from writing an article. They don’t know the value of the article to their business. They don’t know who their target audience might be. In essence, they don’t know the business use of the feature they now know how to use. What they have is a video that explains product functionality. What they need is to know how to leverage that functionality to create a positive outcome.
You have unquestionably considered how your product or service should be used. That’s why you built it. To make it practical and clear for your customer though, you need to understand their business. You need to how their users will be interacting with your solution and consuming your services so you can create content that speaks directly to their user story. Moreover, you need to anticipate trends and triggers that would signal a barrier to user adoption or desired outcomes. If you know how your customers use your solution and you are working with them to understand barriers to success, you need only to be prepared to deploy collateral and support to counteract those trends.
Now that we have enabled our customers, we can focus on the second play in the Customer Empowerment playbook. Knowledge. A well organized and accessible knowledge base is a powerful and effective tool to empower your customers. There are common areas where organizations fall short when it comes to making knowledge materials available to their customers. The first area is simply failing to publish the material because it’s incomplete or lacks the polish that could be achieved with a bit more time and attention. Honestly, organizations often place a higher standard for knowledge materials than they do on their application. Your knowledge articles don’t have to be perfect, they have to be available and helpful. You can update and improve the look, the feel and even the quality of the content later. You forcing your customer to search for an answer and find nothing and have no option but to engage with you directly is not a better solution than putting out the help you do have.
The second area where customer success organizations often miss the mark is trying to force all customers to consume your help in the same way. In today’s digital world, customers are used to consuming content in a variety of different ways. The traditional knowledge article is effective and commonly used. However, not all customers are willing to read an article demonstrating vast experience and providing deep insights. The use of videos, quick reference guides and podcasts to supplement traditional help articles is quickly growing among companies who want to make it easier for their customers to get the answers to their questions in the way that they want to learn.
Make it easy for your customers to get to your knowledge base from within your application and make it easy for them to Google the answer to the questions they have. No matter how great your Help Center or FAQ page is designed, no customers want to spend time hanging out there. They have a specific question, they want an answer that gets them back on task and they want it as quickly as possible. If you have the ability, provide in-app contextual suggestions that are page or feature specific. If that is a bridge too far right now, start by making sure that no matter what page your customer is on, it is obvious and easy for them to ask a question or search your knowledge base.
Finally, make sure that you are collecting the types of queries that are being made. Be diligent about ensuring that you are continuously answering the most frequently asked questions and that the way you are answering them is beneficial. If you are seeing the same question being asked more than a few times and it is not already covered in your knowledge base, change that. If it is already covered, make sure that the answer is satisfying and helpful to the users. You have many moving pieces. Your product might be changing and improving. Your customer is changing and evolving. Their customers might be changing too. Knowledge content is not something you can do once and then walk away from. It needs to be continuously curated to provide the maximum benefit to your customers.
The last play we will talk about today in the Customer Empowerment playbook is building a user community. This might be the most under appreciated element of customer empowerment. As a Customer Success organization, you are vested in creating solutions and fostering success. However, you don’t have the same perspective and experience as users of your product. There observations and advice come with a kind of credibility that is only possible to acquire by way of a specific type of experience. The key is to harness that credibility and empower your users to help each other.
This is not a strategy without risk. If your customers are unhappy, they might say it. But you are in the business of creating happy customers who experience value and for you, even a negative comment is a great opportunity to deliver solutions, strategies and explanations that turn that comment from a negative to a positive. Beyond that risk though, building community enhances the value of your offering. It provides an outlet for users who have mastered your application to do something important, help others. It feels good to help. It feels good to be an authority on a feature or to have figured out a new way to use an old function. Still more, when done well, a community of users helping each other reduces your support overhead.
So to recap, in order for us to successfully empower our customers, we need to acknowledge that:
- Waiting for our customers to tell us what is wrong is waiting too long
- Enabling our customers to help themselves empowers them to own your solution as their own
- It is critical to create content and collateral that your customer will consume and be able to use to achieve their goals
- A community of users who are empowered and enlightened provide value to each other which provides greater value to you
That’s it. When you appropriately use customer enablement, knowledge and community in concert to proactively pursue problems, your offense reduces the load on your defense. If good offense was easy to create, everyone would already have it licked. We know this isn’t the case yet. A good offense requires a thoughtful approach. It requires that you are sensitive to the desired outcomes of your customers. It requires that you are intentional about creating content and experiences. It requires that you validate or invalidate what you think will help and tweak as appropriate to make each iteration better, more relevant and more impactful to your customers. A defensive strategy will help you to retain your customers. However, reducing customer churn is no longer the high bar it once was. Delighting your customers and helping them experience true value that can be attributed to your product and your services is more than retention. A delighted customer grows. They increase their subscription. They consume more services. They don’t just remain a customer, they become a better customer. So, tell your defense to hold the line and start building a better offense by empowering your customers.