When the Coronavirus hit in early 2020, the world went into lockdown. You know that. Reading this, you probably also know how SME businesses instantly feared the worst. The global economy ground to a halt, people couldn’t go to work to make money, and they couldn’t go outside to spend the money they did have. The likes of Jeff Bezos got richer, whilst SME business owners were left in the dark.
Buyer behaviour changed for good and became less predictable. That means it’s essential for businesses to change, for good, how they communicate and deal with their buyers, whilst ensuring as much predictability as possible. They can achieve this through customer-centricity, applying more of a human touch, and showing more flexibility; my business achieved all of this by following a Customer Success Strategy.
What is a Customer Success Strategy?
If your SME business employs a Customer Support Team, I’d wholeheartedly recommend switching to a customer success model. For SME business, a Customer Success Team is an alternative to the traditional Customer Support Team. Larger companies often employ customer success teams, as well as customer support teams, to deal with enterprise-level customers, but this just isn’t possible for smaller businesses with smaller budgets.
Customer support is a reactive approach to customer queries and problems; a one-time fix for a one-time problem. I think of it as something like two ships passing in the night. When ships pass, they flash their lights at each other and parp their foghorns to make sure they don’t crash into each other. It’s a brief, but very intense encounter. With customer support, encounters can be similarly intense; sometimes angry. Afterwards, you don’t encounter that customer again until the next time they have a problem.
A Customer Success Strategy is a proactive approach to customer relationships; anticipating the problems they might face by knowing and understanding them first. It also means making sure that customers have the right tools they need to reach their goals when they intend to reach them.
For NetHunt, our industry dictates that our customer’s success is our own success; as their business grows so does ours. We implemented our Customer Success Strategy before all this mess, but it became central to our recovery as the pandemic played out. It’s a daunting prospect, realising you can only get through this thing if our customers got through it as well… but it’s the truth for most businesses out there.
In true customer success-style, we were proactive in our approach.
How to implement a Customer Success Strategy
The first thing to know is this isn’t just changing the name of your customer support team and telling them to smile more. It means building real, customer-centric relationships through proper communication, being a voice for your customers, and better educating both your customers and your team. Before the first interaction with a potential customer, a Customer Success Manager needs to answer three questions about the prospect.
- Which industry are they in, and what product or service do they provide?
- Which problems will our product or service help them to solve?
- Which other tools are currently in their tech stack?
These questions help to define the use case more clearly which, in turn, helps to define the nature and the next steps of your conversation.
Onboard enterprise-level customers and run assessment calls
For prospects and clients who can potentially have the biggest business impact for us, we help onboard the whole team to help quickly bring them closer to their ‘aha’ moment. This, in turn, helps shorten their learning curve, reduces product friction, and helps them get more value out of the product.
Between every one to three months, our customer success managers do their homework and review client accounts. Afterwards, they book an assessment call with the customer to offer advice on deeper, more specific use of the product.
TIP. During the first conversation we always try to tone down the over-techy lingo. The person we are speaking to might not be so tech-savvy, and big words and jargon can very easily confuse them and scare them off. Start basic, and work your way towards the bigger words.
For example… instead of ‘when you import data from spreadsheets, you get columns depicted as record fields’, we simply say, ‘when you import data from spreadsheets, the columns turn into separate profiles in CRM’.
Educate your customers
Educating customers is at the core of customer success with your product. After onboarding clients, it’s important to continue educating them, especially as your product evolves and gains more features. Customers need up-to-date, realtime information about the product to continue developing a long-term strategy with it.
One resource we developed to educate our customers as the pandemic took its toll was our ‘Crisis-Proof Community’ group on Facebook. People want to feel part of something, and having the support of fellow SME business owners, both with our system and with other general business concerns, turned out to be a huge hit. Users were asking questions and getting answers from other users before our success team had even read them! A culture of sharing information and advice between the SME community can only ever be a good thing; everybody benefits.
Communicate in the right tone
Personality and empathy are at the core of our communication when we speak with our clients in the post-pandemic world. To communicate with personality means putting a sincere smile on both yours and their faces, asking how their day is, chatting about the weather, and not getting lost in bureaucracy. It is all-too possible to be overly professional, and people forget that.
Empathy is especially essential in post-pandemic business. An empathetic response is not only an essential part of building good relationships with your customers, it also helps build a foresight for what is going on in their company and industry. Ask how your customers’ businesses are holding up, if they have any problems, and similar, non-transactional questions. With this foresight, your business can make informed offers and decisions about cross-selling or upselling.
Align your teams
We have a dedicated Slack channel where all the Customer Success Managers can chat with the Product Development Team. They use this as a place to discuss objections, feedback, and suggestions before finding the answers to them and to get the wheels in motion for workarounds to more complicated requests. Having more interdepartmental alignment is never not a good thing, pandemic or no pandemic. If they are all working with the same customers and same goals, they should be in constant communication with each other.
Be responsive to problems and feedback
We always act on our customer feedback and suggestions regarding products and services. In doing so, I hope our customers feel appreciated that we listened to their feedback, and satisfied that they got the service or feature they wanted from our product. We never tell them something isn’t possible before discussing it as a team first. It’s also worth noting that we always inform our customers whenever there is a problem with our system, before they find it themselves. Proactivity pays.
Obviously it’s important to stick to our own roadmap and fulfil our own vision for our product. But we need to leave a little bit of wiggle room for what our customers want. The Customer Success Team are client advocates; the middle-person between the product developers and the customer. It’s impossible to guess or know exactly what features your client needs to be successful, so the Customer Success Team should ask more questions and open the floor for future features.
After all, how can our customers reach success if they don’t have the tools they need to reach it?
Our ethos is to try and make our system work for the customers, rather than having customers have to try and make our system fit their business. Post-pandemic sales aren’t about winning every deal, every time. Post-pandemic sales are about winning respect, trust, and ultimately referrals by offering useful advice and acting as trusted advisors.
Everybody wins with a customer success approach. Lower churn rates, more favourable LTV, and more word-of-mouth referrals the business. For customers, well…
They find success.