5 Challenges to Proactive Customer Success

The history of Customer Success dates all the way back to 1995 when Concur became the first SaaS company by putting their product into what is today known as the cloud. Concur charged a subscription fee for the product, but other than the delivery model, nothing changed. For the next 10 years, as the first generation of SaaS products came into the market, the way we managed our customers evolved but came nowhere close to resembling what Customer Success is today. In 2004, Salesforce came up with the Customer for Life program, and set the foundation for all of the reasons we are so focused on Customer Success today. They put the program in place to retain their customers, prevent revenue churn, and maximize their upselling revenue capabilities. The rest is history. Fast forward to today, every SaaS company has a Customer Success team of some flavour.

Customer Success organizations can look a bit like the Rube Goldberg Machine. Even if you are using automation, Customer Success is largely manual and ad hoc. The thing that all Customer Success teams have in common is the aspiration to be proactive. We have yet to come across a Customer Success team where the Vice President or CEO states ‘we want to be more reactive!’ ‘we want to spend more time in the inbox!’ or ‘we absolutely love firefighting, love it!’

In light of this, there are certain challenges all Customer Success professionals come across, 5 challenges in particular:

Lack of Customer Visibility

You know, those customers who don’t get back to you no matter how many emails you send. You can practically feel them inching closer to the dreaded churn zone, but you can’t seem to get a hold of them to chat or even schedule a call. Don’t worry, you’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last CSM to struggle with MIA customers…rather than getting frustrated and overwhelmed, take a step back and re-evaluate. Your customers might have other priorities that they consider more important, but this becomes a negative factor for you and your ability to predict and mitigate churn. There are a number of ways in which you can approach this situation. These can range from congratulatory remarks on a recent success, product updates, or helping them promote their expertise through marketing collateral. Assess your options, and develop a playbook for unresponsive customers which will help you maintain a level of proactiveness and predictability throughout.

Interruptions and Firefighting

A significant part of lacking proactiveness comes in the form of distractions and interruptions. There are solid ways to mitigate these distractions and interruptions, but it takes some active effort to change and structure your daily workflow to become a more efficient CSM. Let us paint you a picture; you turn your on laptop, tune the world out and get ready to get to work on your daily tasks. And lo and behold! There’s an urgent customer fire awaiting you in your inbox, some customer needs something answered and requests a call with you as soon as possible. In these cases, spending 2 hours solving your fire means you won’t have that time available to start working on a meeting you’ve booked for the end of the week, and it throws your entire plan off. Unfortunately, a good part of being a CSM involves reactively dealing with these fires. Phil O’Doherty, Manager of Customer Success at HubSpot once told us that an efficient CSM should be 20% reactive to 80% proactive. A good way to prevent these 20% from spreading to 50% is to implement strong processes at the personal, team, and organizational level. You should have a clear hand-off process when a customer will be better served by Support or Account Management. Of course, you should also consider turning Slack on “Do Not Disturb” and closing your inbox for selected periods of times.

Poor Segmentation and Prioritization

By prioritizing your accounts, you’re ensuring that your attention is where it needs to be before problems even arise with your customers. But if you evaluate wrongly and always prioritize the same customer, you’ll end up moving backwards. There are two different ways to go about segmentation, first, the Static Approach which involves prioritizing customers based on one dimension of segmentation. A common static model is one that prioritizes customers by ARR. A second and more effective scheme is that of Dynamic Segmentation. In this case, the CSM will set up complex dynamic rules that prioritize accounts based on multiple dimensions included but not limited to ARR, health score, or lifecycle stage. This works especially well with a Customer Success Management Software, as it makes the activation of customer data and analytics a whole lot easier.

Following Ill-Fitted Processes

As mentioned above, creating actionable categories of customers enables CSMs to define powerful engagement strategies, which helps them get on the forefront and lead the relationship forward. In a lot of companies, Customer Success reports to Sales, and a common mistake is to organize customer segments along the same criteria, such as company size. A major setback when aligning customer segments between pre-sale and Customer Success is that it ignores a key concept: success. Customer Success teams need to align their processes in terms of “what needs to happen to make customers successful” as opposed to arbitrary differentiators like SMB vs. enterprise. When designing processes for Customer Success, always make sure that defining factors are actionable and action-driven, as opposed to static and arbitrary. A proactive Customer Success team will develop a language around customers which will help them interpret and act on risk levels, use cases, and ROI and outcomes. For examples, no need for a ‘3-Tier Churn Risk Indicator’ if your team only has one churn risk playbook.

Of course, Customer Success Managers are the interprets of your company, and they should develop processes so these different ways to categorize customers don’t get in the way of hand-offs and internal communication.

Manually Managing Every Task

Computers are very good at doing what you’re bad at: tedious and repetitive tasks. By relying on automation of time-consuming and repetitive tasks, you’re able to free up your time to do what you’re good at: relationship building, creative problem-solving, and much more. Automate things like customer emails and internal messages, calendar invitations, or workflows. Take small and personal interactions, and think of ways to scale them up. Start small and as you iterate, look at your more complex processes that will benefit from heavier automation at scale. There’s nothing worse than doing time-sucking tasks when they’re not creating value for the customer.

Levels of Proactiveness

Each of the aforementioned challenges impact you on a personal level, but they also bring the company and product into the mix. With all these processes happening at the same time, a lot can go wrong. For example, lack of proactiveness during Sales can be devastating for Customer Success, and the success of the company down the road.

A good example of progression level looks something like this:

5 Challenges to Proactive Customer Success

Finally, all of your progress throughout your journey to being proactive is going to be done iteratively: i.e. trial, error and learn. Start simple and keep revisiting actions in order to get to a solution that best fits your business. You are not expected to go out on day 1 with a prioritization system in place which is going to stay permanent. The process is ongoing and the journey to proactiveness never ends. And how do you finish a journey of a thousand miles? One step at a time.