doctor holding up  stethoscope
PHOTO: ALIAKSANDR

Research has found that personalized preventive care with active patient-physician relationships is effective at both reducing overall healthcare costs and delivering improved healthcare outcomes.

Customer success teams, take note! Everyone pays attention during the business equivalents of a visit to the ICU, such as renewal negotiations or a customer complaint, but what about the other 360 days of the year? All too often customer success managers (CSMs) don’t proactively engage with customers and are then surprised (although they shouldn’t be) when the customer churns and they have to explain to their manager why they won’t be hitting their quarterly renewal target.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Just as serious complications from heart disease or cancer can often be mitigated via preventive screenings, so too can CSMs mitigate the risk of customer churn via proactive outreach. The key lies in two areas: quantification and technology.

Customer Success Managers Must Quantify Everything

As is true of so many other fields, gone are the days when CSMs could simply rely on “gut feeling” to assess customer health. With the caveat that you want to avoid meaningless vanity metrics, CSMs’ modus operandi must be to attach a number to as many things as possible.

While the specific metrics will vary based on the unique attributes of your business, they often include the following:

  • User/License Assignment: This is particularly important for SaaS providers. Depending on the size of the organization, IT departments may procure hundreds, if not thousands, of seats for a SaaS offering, which they then hand off to a LoB professional to distribute. Unfortunately, seats often get distributed only to a handful of power users who have expressed a clear desire to use the software with the rest going unassigned, left to collect virtual dust in the ether. Don’t let this happen! Unassigned seats are likely to fall prey to new leadership who, seeing that the license is not being used to its fullest, demand that the contract either be renegotiated or cancelled entirely. This is especially true in periods of business uncertainty like today.
  • Self-Service Engagement: While this may come as a surprise to some CSMs, one of the best ways to gauge customer health has nothing to do with how they use your software. Instead, it’s critical to understand which, if any, of your training courses and marketing materials the customer has consumed. If the answer is little or none, that’s a clear sign the customer either doesn’t see the value of your software or service or doesn’t see your business as a thought leader in the space in which you operate. The same holds true for customers that don’t attend your events.
  • Usage: The metrics CSMs typically spend the most time reviewing (and rightfully so) are those related to usage. How many times has the customer logged into your application? How long do they typically spend inside the application? How often does the customer login to your application? Every hour? Every day? Every month? Never? Whether at work or at home people are busy and will prioritize spending time on the things they find most interesting and most valuable. The answers to questions like these will help you gauge how critical your offering is to the day-to-day work of your customers.
  • Depth of Adoption: Separate from usage is the depth of customer engagement with your software. In other words, adoption. While it’s critical to understand how often customers use your software, that’s not enough. To really understand how much value customers derive from your offering you need to understand the depth of their adoption. What features do they use? Are these relatively basic functions or something more? Consider the example of a media monitoring application like Cision or Meltwater. Are users only logging in to look up reporter contact information? Or are they going further in creating search queries, generating reports, monitoring social media mentions, etc.? There is a clear relationship between the depth of adoption and a customer’s likelihood to renew.

Related Article: Know What's a Powerful Business Driver? Customer Success

Use Technology to Help Track Metrics

Even the best CSM isn’t going to be able to keep track of all these metrics on their own. And relying on a collection of Excel spreadsheets is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, technology is available to help. The following are common applications used by customer success teams around the world. They are by no means the only technologies you can leverage, but they do provide a good starting point for considering how to implement a tracking regime.

  • CRM: The most important step to take is to ensure you have a unified data repository that serves as a system of record for monitoring customer health metrics. This typically takes the form of a CRM like Salesforce or a competitor like Microsoft Dynamics or Oracle CRM and will be where you collect all the data you have gathered. The particular advantage of Salesforce is its customizability, although organizations will likely find that this entails an additional cost for services.
  • Customer Service Applications: One of the best ways to engage with customers is via a customer service application like Zendesk. Zendesk in particular has two advantages in its high degree of customizability and its integration with Salesforce, so everything can flow back to your system of record. Whatever solution you choose you will need to provide customers with a unified help desk and ticketing system such as the ones these applications deliver.
  • Customer Success Software: While customer service applications offer a lot of value as help desks and ticketing systems, recent years have witnessed the emergence of a whole universe of software specifically designed to support CSMs. One of the best known is Gainsight, which integrates with many popular CRM suites (including Salesforce and Dynamics) and helps CSMs view a composite score of customer health across many metrics such as engagement and adoption. A relatively recent entrant of note is ChurnZero, which was founded in 2015 to combat customer churn specifically in subscription-based businesses. Among other things, ChurnZero is useful in equipping CSMs with real-time alerts regarding customer health and is often used in conjunction with CRMs like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics and customer service applications like Zendesk.

Related Article: Customer Loyalty Is Based on the Little Things 

Talk to the Customer!

The cadence of customer interactions will vary by your price point, the type of software you sell, and the preferences of your customers. However, a regularly scheduled quarterly success review (QSR) is typically a good place to start. Before meeting with the customer you should have reviewed all the pertinent metrics and be ready to drill into those areas which are cause for concern.

Remember, all of the wonderful technologies above can equip you with a lot of important data but it’s up to you as a CSM to interpret what they mean for your customer. The exact questions will vary depending on your customers and your offering but they should typically cover topics like the following:

  • Customers at your level of maturity have typically deployed three solutions on our software. You have built only one. What needs to happen for you to build more?
  • Peer organizations generally log into our platform at three times the rate your team does. What would it take to get you and your colleagues to the next level?
  • I noticed that you haven’t attended any training courses this year. Would it help if I were to highlight a few sessions that organizations like yours have found particularly beneficial?
  • Were you aware that we have a customer conference later this year? What would be needed in order for you and your team to attend?
  • The latest version of our platform was released over a year ago and most customers have already upgraded. How can we get you in a position where you feel comfortable upgrading?

Don’t be afraid to have hard conversations with your customers. A great way to get an overall sense of the relationship from your customer’s perspective is to ask: “if you were up for renewal today, would you do it?” While you may not always like the answer, it’s far better to learn what your customer really thinks and what steps you can take to provide them with more value than to find out only when they move to a competitor.

Are You Ready for Your Checkup?

Customer success, like getting a regular health checkup, isn’t rocket science. However it does require, like a good doctor, that you devote the time to understand your customers’ business goals (often revenue generation), tie your offering back into how they can achieve those goals, and position yourself as a trusted advisor in helping them get the most value from their investments in technology.