In biology, lifecycle refers to the series of stages through which a living thing passes during its lifetime. For a frog, this lifecycle includes larvae, tadpole, froglet and finally an adult (amphibious) frog. A frog cannot become a frog without first having been a tadpole. In sales and delivery, the lifecycle for a customer involves presales, onboarding, launch, engagement, measurement (insights), and growth (or some version of these stages). As with the adult frog, a thriving, mature customer cannot exist without first having been properly onboarded and nurtured through all the steps of a healthy lifecycle. And, if those early tadpole stages are unhealthy ones, the frog may not survive – just as our customer may churn if we don’t tend to their health in the early stages.
As we at Bolstra work with our clients to help them build sustainable and fruitful Customer Lifecycle Models, we have heard them express concerns about various stages in their current state lifecycle that aren’t optimal. For example, some say that:
- Implementation efforts are not well-defined
- Real level of effort remains illusive
- Their team doesn’t have focused roles and areas of specialization
- Launch and Go Live timeframes are highly variable
- They lack a common understanding of what to “do” after going live
Do any of these describe your Customer Lifecycle challenges? If so, have no fear. There are ways to analyze your current state, and take steps toward establishing a model that works for your customer success team AND for your customer. The end goal in these exercises is to enable a CLM that supports a strong relationship in delivery for your customer, that ultimately helps them reach their desired outcomes with your product.
We recommend a four step approach to identifying the risks and gaps in your current lifecycle model:
Documenting your current state is all about understanding your starting point. This self-awareness ensures you know how the team functions and how you handle customer experience throughout the lifecycle.
Gathering team input from the bottom up is an important exercise. Not only does it allow for a full spectrum of input, but the process also challenges and empowers the entire team to look critically at the entire cycle. In this process, you should identify tactical opportunities by synthesizing the pain points, risks, and recognized strengths of your teams.
This process is where management examines the lifecycle and identifies strategic opportunities to pinpoint early warning signs that your customers are not thriving, and may churn. It’s important to identify what these at-risk customers look like at each stage of engagement, and to mitigate their propensity to churn. We can do this by escalating, educating, or simply communicating.
On the flip side of risks, it’s important to identify growth opportunities, as well. It’s our job to help our customers identify challenges within their own organizations that are inhibiting their ability to reach their goals. Whether it’s missing skill sets or overall culture, we can help by bringing awareness to them and communicating simple plans to overcome these challenges and realize success.
HOW DO YOU START?
Gathering input from your team requires a non-threatening process. Let’s begin with a sample timeline for a first year with a client.
You might begin with your team by asking them to make observations about your customers during their first year, at these (or similar) intervals. As is said in the mental health world, knowing it is half the battle. The exercise of identifying your current state – the good, bad and ugly – is valuable to rebuilding. Only after that’s done can you begin to see your Customer Lifecycle for what it is, and then make essential changes.
Possible concerns about your customers’ behaviors may include:
- They are missing key skillsets
- They don’t follow best practices
- Extended timelines can result in customer fatigue
- There are often mismatches between expectations and capabilities
- Some customers don’t trust the data or metrics captured
- They lack of follow through on adoption
- Some customers aren’t meeting their desired outcomes
- There has been a turnover in the key contact
Risks, like the customer concerns observed above, are impediments to a healthy, thriving delivery story with your customer. Once identified by the team, you can begin to make adjustments to your delivery efforts to address those risks.
Another step in the process of building a strong Customer Lifecycle Model is to identify success gaps. What warning signs are there that your customer will churn? What gaps exist between how your customer is using your product and their ability to meet their desired goals?
Success Gaps are missed opportunities to maximize the benefits for your customer. A Success Gap is the gap between your product working functionally and your customer getting the business benefit they desire. It’s the difference between what you think successful use of your product is and what your customers think that is. And if your customer doesn’t achieve their desired level of success, they may blame your product. They may blame you!
Identifying Success Gaps is an exercise best conducted with your executive team. In working with our clients, we’ve helped them identify some success gaps, such as:
- Difficulty driving ongoing adoption across multiple classes of users
- Ineffective Launch or ‘Go Live’ Events
- Inadequate training attendance and effectiveness
- Implementation approach is not sufficient for all aspects of use
- Functionality involves too many or overly complex steps
- Customers experience fatigue carried over from implementation
- Customers are challenged to understand their own data
- Ineffective call to action
As you work to identify success gaps, know that NOT addressing these gaps comes with a cost. Left unaddressed, these gaps impede value achievement, increase support costs, decrease employee satisfaction and blur your customer’s trust in your product/service. It is critical in the CLM analysis process that time is spent to identify success gaps, and address them.
Once you have done a self-study and documented risks and success gaps in your current state, how do you begin to build a working CLM?
Customer Lifecycles vary among organizations, based in part upon the type of product/service being sold, as well as the type of customer (business or consumer). However, there are some clear best practices for building a workable customer lifecycle model – one that leads to a fruitful relationship. The goal of any CLM is to grow the customer, while helping them use your product to reach their outcomes. It’s not easy to build and sustain a thriving CLM. It’s especially difficult during pivots and growth within your organization. However, the process of gathering whole team input, and identifying risks and gaps in customer success is essential.
For more best practices on how to move from reflection to action in establishing a Customer Lifecycle for your organization, come back for part 2 of this series on Customer Lifecycle Modeling.