In this final post in our series of Customer Success war stories, we have a sterling example of success. Rachel English, Zuora’s Director of Insights for Customer Success, doesn’t have a fail story. Why? Because she takes planning ahead out of the realm of science and straight into art. You could pretty much cut and paste her response to my question “Tell me about a time you lost a customer” into a textbook of How to Do Customer Success Right.
“I almost lost a customer.”
“I almost lost a customer,” says Rachel, “when our ‘champion’ and top user within the customer company left for another job. This is all too common an occurrence, and difficult to anticipate. In this particular case, I found out because I had set our customer analytics system to alert me when the usage volume within any account suddenly dropped off, and also when one of our “Power Users” switched to a less active persona. Both alerts were triggered, so I knew something was amiss within the account.”
Planning & data made the difference
She and her customer success department had put in the time to plan ahead for just such occasions, creating thoughtful playbooks that laid out and tracked each step to winning back a wayward customer. As these risk alerts triggered, they simultaneously set off a workflow that gave Rachel a series of predetermined tasks to manage.
“First, I did some research using our customer analytics tool and looked into the account’s recent trends – what was their normal usage, and how had that changed recently; what kinds of results had they been achieving using our solution; who were all of their active users, who had dropped off, and who else was still active or increasing in their use?”
“Visibility into and automation based on ALL of the data you have on your customers (who they are, what they’ve bought, their usage patterns, and the results they’re achieving) is critical. Without that, you’re truly flying blind in your retention efforts.”
Rachel did some online detective work via LinkedIn to confirm that their former champion had, indeed, left the company – and she found the new contact who appeared to be the champion’s replacement. She then set a “churn risk” flag on the account in Zuora’s CRM and recorded all of her research notes there as well. Finally, after gathering all of her research, she reached out by phone to a few contacts within the account, including the executive buyer (the most active remaining user), and the new person in the former champion’s role.
“Through in-depth conversations with these key people, I was able to: 1) Share metrics that clearly depicted the growing value they were receiving from utilizing our solution; 2) Give them visibility into which of their users were actively achieving that value, and which might need to be reengaged; 3) Confirm that the new hire did plan to become a Power User and our new champion; and 4) Schedule a customized training session to help educate and engage all of their users.”
By the time she got off the phone, she says she was confident that they were on a good path to retaining the customer (and she lowered the risk flag on the account).
This isn’t to say Rachel English had all of the answers ironed out. She still learned a few important lessons from the experience, including:
- Visibility into and automation based on ALL of the data you have on your customers (who they are, what they’ve bought, their usage patterns, and the results they’re achieving) is critical. Without that, you’re truly flying blind in your retention efforts.
- Being able to clearly voice and even visually demonstrate for your customer the value they are achieving through use of your solution is incredibly powerful. Understanding that return on investment makes it much more difficult for a customer to walk away, even in light of internal staffing changes or shifts in priorities.
- It pays to plan ahead and create playbooks that define any and all steps to undertake when a signal of risk is received or an opportunity alert is triggered. It takes time and careful thought to do this well, but it allows you to take action quickly, in the heat of the moment, to document what was done and whether it worked, to establish consistency across your team and activities, and to iterate over time to improve processes.
A few other running themes emerged
In the course of curating this series, preparedness was the stand-out recurring theme, but it wasn’t the only one. The focus on having real conversations with customers, listening to them, and making sure they know they’ve been heard runs through all of these responses. And, the ways customer success leaders use automated alerts to stay on top of risks and opportunities is nothing short of inspiring (what did we ever do without CRMs?)
But possibly the most powerful running theme in these stories is this:
You don’t have to be perfect right away. All you have to do to build a customer-success-oriented company that retains, grows, and makes your competitors green with envy is to commit yourself to improve.
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