It’s times like these that really put what’s important into perspective.

Nick recently wrote a great post detailing five major reasons why customer success, and its impact on retention, is existential for businesses during a downturn. To paraphrase, being there for your customers when they need you most will enable you to keep and grow their business when you need them most.

It got me thinking about the similarities and differences of businesses from past downturns. Some things feel familiar: business uncertainty and reduced spending. Yet this time there are new pressures making work even harder on employees: social distancing, distributed workforces, combining childcare and work.

We’ve been here before but it’s almost like we’re in an alternate universe. Getting through this will take both compassion and creativity.

What is fundamental during a downturn?

Most of us are familiar with the fundamentals of the SaaS business model:

  • Land new customers
  • Get them to Adopt your product or service
  • Get them to Expand
  • Retain them

In an economic downturn, we tend to narrow in on retention. It’s a logical strategy—landing a new customer is more expensive than retaining a current one and nurturing your customer base allows you to maintain steady growth.

Your product experience plays a key role in retention. Here are five reasons why:

1. Your product will need to carry the weight of your customer-facing teams.

In uncertain times, a typical strategy is to stagnate hiring and “do more with the same amount.” Taking on new customers with the same amount of headcount can put a strain on your customer-facing teams. Support, customer success, and onboarding teams play a large role in ensuring that customers adopt your product so it’s vital that your product works in tandem to make the weight more evenly distributed.

Creating smoother in-product onboarding processes and easily-accessible ways for users to help themselves can set you up for long-term success.

2. You will need to keep existing customers happy.

It’s a challenging balance to keep every customer happy—even without the added complications of an economic downturn. There are ways you can leverage your product to ensure that you are creating an experience that benefits your users as a whole, not just the loudest voices.

What constitutes a “happy” customer will vary product to product, company to company. Providing ample opportunities for customers and end-users to communicate with you, whether that’s through surveys or in-app suggestion boxes, helps to hone in on what really matters.

Then you must take the most important step: action. Just look back on the past few weeks and you’ll see the gravity that acting (or not acting) can have on an entire society. Open communication is the best way to navigate times like these. Take in feedback, create a plan, and then let users know what to expect.

3. You need to be able to prove your value.

Happy customers won’t be that way for long if you don’t provide concrete value. In leaner financial times, businesses will be on the lookout for ways to cut down on expenses.

Being able to prove your impact on a company’s bottom line can help to ensure that you make the cut. Knowing what is valuable to your customers and delivering on that also works two ways—it retains current customers and it makes you worth the switch for new customers.

Do you know what “success” means to each of your customers? Do you know how your customers are using your product to reach their goals? How are you sharing the ways you’ve made an impact with customers?

4. You need to be able to see the best opportunities for expansion.

As a recurring revenue company, you have a wellspring of opportunity within your customers. Expansion within your current customer base will be of even greater emphasis in times where new logos are closing at a slower rate.

Having intimate knowledge of how customers use your product uncovers insights into use cases and features they’ve yet to find value from. Thus, an opportunity for expansion. Your customers may also be consolidating their own vendors, which opens up the door for your product to provide value in its place. It’s critical that you have processes in place to pinpoint these areas of opportunity—missing one could mean missing your revenue goals.

5. Your product will need to work smoothly in an isolated environment.

A lot of us are already feeling the influx of stress as we switch to a more remote work style at scale. Schedules are compromised, responsibilities are shifted, and new updates in the world are requiring quick pivots. Now more than ever, we need to be able to rely on the products we use every day.

Your product needs to be self-sufficient. Take Zoom for example. As more schools take on a digital approach to education, teachers and students have to be able to learn and use the product almost immediately. How are you taking a proactive approach to make your product usable in isolation?


These are uncertain times, but there are ways we can navigate these uncharted waters to better ourselves and the products we put out in the world. You’re in a noble position to make a positive impact on the lives of your users, customers, and teammates. Your product is an opportunity to make a difference and companies that will find success at the end of the tunnel will put their customers and product experience first.

Read more: Ganesh Subramanian