In May 2018 we implemented a Customer Success Program (CSP) into our organisation. We did this for a few key reasons;
- We had some key trusted advisors telling us how it had helped transform their businesses.
- We had a growing sense that we were disconnected from our customers and
- An opportunity emerged to employ a key resource that we believed would be highly suitable to leading the program.
It felt to us that the time was right however we were still a little nervous about proceeding. We understood that it would require investment of significant financial, human and other resources without any guarantee of a return. In short it required us to have faith.
Fortunately for me I am a man of faith when it comes to trusting people and process. Bill George summed it up succinctly in one of my favourite books “Authentic Leadership, Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value” when he said “the purpose of any company boils down to one thing; serving its customers”.
So what is a customer success program?
Well it is an organisational culture shift that transitions the organisation to a customer-led state. It involves customer centric attitudes, processes, policies and systems that are developed and maintained to maximise the value that the organisations customers get from their products and services.
It can include program components such as executive outreach, strategic account reviews, user conferences and structured feedback mechanisms. In our case, the program, has a goal of delivering “Mutually Beneficial Customer Relationships” and the centrepiece to our program is the timed / structured contact plans. We effectively mandate intelligent, highly-structured contact for all customers every three months. In the case of our strategic accounts this is preferably done face-to-face.
Looking back on our first year of Customer Success I am able to clearly identify distinct phases of the journey. The diagram below shows the movement through each stage.
The first stop on our journey was Stabilise Relationship, and for some of the customers this ran concurrently with Stabilise Solution. We did not anticipate needing this step as we assumed since our customers weren’t calling to log support tickets that they were happy. Well the first round of meetings sure woke us up to the fact that they were not all happy. One customer even went as far as starting meeting one with a very succinct statement – “You Suck”.
That was hard feedback to hear and we had to really analyse our situation to understand what was happening. We take our customer feedback very seriously and in each instance of negative feedback we set about understanding where that customer was at and why. Without exception we rolled our sleeves up and set about changing the way our customer saw us.
In some instances the negativity was able to be resolved simply and on the spot. For one of our customers it was a simple as changing a viewer setting. For others it was more of a training issue and for some it required technical changes to be made. I am happy to say though that we quickly got them all on track and were able to then move onto expanding the solution.
The Expand Solution phase is exciting because it allowed us to elevate the value the customers took from our solution. We are able to return the implemented solution to maximum value. In a lot of cases this involved adding some new workflow routes to accommodate for changes in the organisations operation or structure. These changes were simple for us to do and added a lot of value quickly. In most cases our customers had a managed service and the changes were able to be done as part of that service. i.e. no net new cost to them.
As a side note, I wrote a blog last year on the merits of managed services for both customers and suppliers. If you are interested you can read that here.
The next phase came along after we had maximised the value of the customers current solution. This phase was the Expand Platform phase and it essentially allows us to help the customer to deliver innovation using the tools they have already invested in for the initial solutions. This might be adding a Human Resources solution to a customer that current does AP processing or adding Contract Management to a customer that currently has their Manufacturing Process automated on the platform. This phase allows you to give the customer a fantastic new outcome at an incremental cost. The ROI on these projects can be staggering as the customer already has the majority of the platform to deliver the outcome. Often it is just a bit of Professional Services that is needed to deliver the value.
The final phase we have seen so far on our journey is that of Cross-Sell. This is essentially the process of acting as a trusted advisor, helping our customers solve new problems that we have expertise in. For example, this might be us selling a Robotic Process Automation platform to a customer who currently uses us for Capture. It is yet another way we can help our customer maximise the value delivered by having a relationship with us.
Will there be additional phases in the future? I think there could well be. I am sure as our levels of trust within our customer base continues to grow, we will then be referred into the networks of our customers, essentially allowing us to sell our products and services to new name customers. I can also envisage an outcome where we bring multiple of our clients together to achieve collective project outcomes. This is just two more ways I think we could help our customers get value from the relationship.
What are the Benefits?
So far in this blog I have identified the many way we are now able to deliver value to our clients. Whilst this is an amazing outcome, we are a for-profit company and the program also has to benefit us. After all our program goal is “Mutually Beneficial Customer Relationships”. Here is a list of the benefits you should realise after implementing a Customer Success Program;
- Retention – The customer success program will maximise your customer retentions by reducing most risks that would lead to a customer departure. Of course there are risks that cannot be controlled by you or your organisation (i.e. Your customer goes into liquidation) but this is the best way we know of to ensure you have long standing customer relationships.
- Increased Revenue – The program will deliver new revenues in the form of change orders to current solutions, solution upgrades to handle increased volume, orders for brand new solutions and / or orders for new products and services.
- Increased Margin – Companies that deliver value to their customers find themselves under less competition at contract renewal time. You will also be delivering ROI based outcomes as opposed to cost plus product sales. These factors combined will ensure you maintain healthy margins.
- Stronger Business Development – In our experience potential new customers are looking for service differentiators. Showing a potential customer the program that you will be placing around them to help them maximise value will set you apart from your competitors. It is still early days for Customer Experience and it is unlikely your competitors will have a quality Customer Success Program to market.
- Recruit the best talent – We have found that potential new recruits are more attracted to us when they understand how we care for our customers. This makes sense when you think about it, after all do you want to work for a company that does not look after its customers well?
So hopefully this blog has given you the courage to investigate Customer Success. It has enabled us to transform our organisation for the better and it can do the same for yours.