Expert Interview: How to Do More With Less and Scale Customer Success
Creating positive relationships with customers and ensuring users get the most out of your products or services is a vital part of customer retention. Effective customer success and education can reduce churn, increase renewals, and boost revenue.
In this expert interview, Kristi Faltorusso, Chief Customer Officer, ClientSuccess, shares how customer success teams can evolve and succeed despite rapid changes in the market.
Kristi shares her advice for scaling digitally, getting buy-in, creating and distributing content, and more.
Read on to get Kristi’s expert tips that you can apply to improve customer experience in your organization.
Q: Teams are experiencing a lot of change, either rapid growth or restructuring. What can they do to succeed in the current conditions?
The best thing teams can do is clearly understand what’s expected to execute the customer journey.
Whether you are scaling up or down, your team and customers must be clear on what to expect at each stage of the customer lifecycle; this includes how they will work together, what the customer is hoping to accomplish with the partnership, and how they can leverage the partnership and product to achieve these outcomes.
The best way to drive scaled alignment is to ensure that all of the details of the customer lifecycle are documented and shared. For teams, having a central place to share these processes, such as an LMS or another shared document that can be edited and kept up to date, is a great place to start. This helps leaders make sure that everyone is up to date on everything.
Read more: How to Future-Proof Your Organization
Q: Organizations are focused on how to do more with less. How does this apply specifically to customer success?
The reality is that customer success teams manage anywhere between 75 to 90 percent of the company’s revenue, and for most businesses, sales are slowing down. At the very least, to keep the business going, you must sustain your current base and maintain and manage that revenue.
If a company is deciding whether or not they should or shouldn’t focus on customer success and those actions and activities, they need to rethink that. Companies need to be able to create a good customer experience, and having a customer success organization who is spearheading this can ensure customers can execute in a way that will help them achieve the goals they came into the partnership trying to achieve.
Without a formal process to execute that, they won’t be successful. Even the simplest tools can go underutilized by the masses if they don’t know how to use them. And so it’s as simple as creating documentation, creating a process, and having a team to help execute that. But that doesn’t happen on its own or magically, unfortunately.
Read more: Signs it’s Time to Invest in a Customer Education Program
Q: Renewals have become more challenging for some organizations. How should teams change their strategies or pivot?
First, you’ve got to start the renewal conversations much earlier than you have before. At some point, someone put a stake in the ground and said 90 days was an effective timeline to manage renewals. I’ve always started them at 120 days, which gives us four months. Just an extra 30 days makes a big difference. Customer success teams must check customers’ sentiments at least six months out. And when I say sentiment, this isn’t, “how do you feel about the partnership?” It’s, “is it your intention to renew?” You need to understand intent very early.
Something else teams can do is understand when their customers are doing their budget cycles. Budget planning happens at different times for different organizations. Large enterprise businesses start well in advance, especially for big-ticket products. You need to make sure you have clarity around that. If you know they will start their budget planning in October, great. in August, you better be connecting with them to say, “I want to make sure we’re still being budgeted for. I know that your conversations will start in October. We want to make sure we’re still a part of that,” and start negotiations around growth before they even enter into that budget cycle.
I always recommend, even if you’re just using a CRM or have a customer success management solution, a custom field where you can document the date they start the budgets and create some automation or playbooks that happen 30, 60, or 90 days in advance. That way, you’re measuring intent, and you’re also talking through that renewal motion.
Securing multi-year renewals is something else that we’ve done here at ClientSuccess, and I’ve done other companies when we’ve gone through similar times in navigating these challenges. The more you can do to lock in the revenue longer term and the more you can do to combat any risk over time, that’s a significant motion. So we are focused on that. We’re making concessions for customers to lock them in and finding mutually beneficial terms and agreements.
For example, some companies will have a set lift built in. So you can anticipate a three percent lift on your contract every year. Well, waive the three percent and lock them into a multi-year. Or get creative with other additional products that you can add in. Just make it appealing and seem as though you’re doing it in a way that’s supporting where they are right now.
One of the things we’re doing to incentivize multi-years is allowing payment terms on a multi-year. We won’t allow payment terms on a one-year subscription. Meaning if it’s a one-year we do, it’s net 30. Customers will pay one lump sum vs. quarterly payments. But if you do a multi-year, we will get creative with what we can do there. So finding the things you know will be appealing to your customers. This could be gifting them a new product. For some customers, we know they might not have the growth today they’re anticipating; we might gift them an additional license at no cost. So they would otherwise have to pay for it in the future. So those things we’ve been doing have had material benefit and impact on our teams right now that’s helped us navigate it. But it’s still a tricky time for everybody.
Q: A current challenge for teams is how to scale digitally. What does this mean for CS teams, and how can organizations do this effectively?
I don’t think this [scaling digitally] is just about using technology. The whole framework is around content and how you distribute that effectively to your customers in a way that will help them do what they need to do.
Customer success is a distribution channel, just like email marketing is a distribution channel, just like having an LMS is a distribution channel. So it’s really important to understand how you will distribute content to your customers in a way that will create connections. It’s not a push. Because you can push content all day to your customers. But that’s ineffective if your customers aren’t engaging and don’t have some way to create that two-way exchange.
It doesn’t need to be one-to-one or person-to-person. But all of those channels need to be designed intentionally with the ability to create a connected engagement with your customers through content distribution. Some of the things we’re seeing right now: Community is a big one. You see scaled engagement programs. More webinars, round table discussions, and office hours. Like that, you can communicate and connect with folks one-to-one or one-to-many.
There’s also more thought around distributing content to customers through customer marketing. How do you leverage automation to support administrative tasks? So it’s not to say that you should move everything for every business to a fully automated or digital experience. You’ve got to be more thoughtful about what your customers need to do at any given point in their journey and how you will guide them to do that.
So there are checks and balances that need to exist, and sometimes that can be led digitally, and sometimes it can’t. So it’s not to say that you should move everything for every business to a fully automated or digital experience. So you’ve just gotta be very thoughtful about each of those milestones; what is the best distribution, and what is the best engagement to have for your customers?
Q: How can CS teams continue to create or repurpose useful content to keep up with rapid product updates?
You have to think about how content is designed. And I think from the infancy of content creation, designing content intended to be created for multiple purposes. I don’t think CS teams should carry the weight of content creation. They’re not marketers; they’re usually not writers. And depending on the technical nature and skillset of those individuals, they’re probably not best equipped to craft the correct messages.
This is where, as a company, everyone needs to operate to support the customers. If new products are being released, your product team needs to be working with somebody who can help craft the right messages and the right content that your teams can use effectively.
Now, I do think that you can create templated content. So pieces of content can be repurposed and put into different distribution channels, whether put into a deck, an email, or sent out to a customer. You’ve got to be thoughtful about how you create those things so they can be leveraged in many ways. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and CS teams have to get a little creative.
Q: How can CS teams lead with the message that customers must come first while working with other teams?
You know, it’s a tough one because that doesn’t come from the bottom up, right? That’s not a CSM-driven initiative. If the company isn’t driving with customer-centricity, which sadly most companies aren’t, it’s difficult for a CSM to dictate what marketing or product does. So this is where leaders need to be the ambassadors of that message and drive those initiatives top down.
That said, the CSMs are the most aware of what the customers are experiencing and their needs. And so, from that standpoint, they do need to communicate: how do we enhance or how do we modify things that other teams might be doing to create the right assets at the right time for these customers?
The CSM’s job is to help other teams from an educational standpoint, communicating the journey, objectives, and intent. But if teams aren’t allocating resources or time and space to do those projects, it does become a bit of a challenge. So this is where companies need to determine whether or not they’re rallying around the customer and get all their teams on the same page.
Q: What are your go-to tools or processes for building a customer-centric mentality in an organization?
First, I believe in data democratization. So ensure everyone in your organization has access and visibility into all customer-related insights. The biggest challenge for many teams is that they don’t know what they don’t know.
So if customers are churning and the product team doesn’t know it’s because the product is buggy and doesn’t work or there are missing features, that’s not necessarily their fault. It all starts with ensuring everyone in the organization is properly informed, starting with data. So you’ve got to give everyone in the company access to that information and empower them to use that effectively in their roles.
The second thing is finding themes and patterns of behavior. So often, you’ll have a CSM say, “Well, you know, Mary, at so-and-so company said,” And it becomes an isolated thing. But if you can say, “we’ve got 30 customers representing this much revenue, and this is what’s happening here, and this is what’s correlated back to.” Those themes, those patterns, and that data help drive that change. So being able to find those themes and develop an analysis helps perpetuate those stories you’re trying to tell internally.
The third part is storytelling. Everything through the lens of your customers has more power when you’re able to say, “Hey, Mary got promoted because we were able to do X, Y, and Z.” Or, “Mary got fired because we weren’t able to do X, Y, and Z.”
People connect to stories. So you’ve got to be able to share and distribute customer stories and data. We’ve invited customers to come to town hall meetings. We do them weekly; other companies do them monthly or quarterly. Invite your customers to come and carve out time to allow them to tell their stories.
And you can’t be afraid of customers who have a negative experience to share. A story is a story, and that’s how we learn. That’s how we get better. So invite customers to come. It’s more powerful if you hear what’s working or not from them.
We’ve also found that some customers are camera-shy. So we’ve asked, “Hey, can we just jump on Zoom and do a recording?” Or “Hey, can you just do this asynchronously or do a Loom video for us?” And ask if they can walk through the parts of the platform they’re using well today. Or the things they don’t love. And allow them to do it in a pre-recorded fashion.
It takes the pressure away from folks who are uncomfortable standing up in front of even a virtual crowd. Knowing your audience and creating mechanisms to achieve your objectives is essential. We can get stuck on needing to do things a certain way, but it’s about finding creative solutions.
Other things we’ve done is given the ability to have cross-functional teams connect directly with customers. That’s not always encouraged in many businesses, but if you can, have your product leaders interview your customers periodically. Or, if you’re getting ready to roll out a new product, be a part of driving conversations with them. Get their feedback on roadmaps. So being able to connect certain leaders one-to-one with customers is a great example.
But also, when was the last time CEOs had one-to-one conversations with customers? In small companies, it’s probably a regular occurrence. But as companies get bigger and they scale, the CEO becomes more disconnected from what’s happening on the frontlines. Your CEO should be connecting with customers. A portion of their time, I would say at least 20 percent, should be allocated to customer communication.
Other things that have worked are being able to document and showcase things that have worked well for customers. So, those are really powerful use cases. Engineers creating products don’t often understand how to connect the dots to product, and to the outcomes our customers are driving. So ROI case studies, customer stories. But again, it starts with democratizing your information around your customers so that everyone can use it.
Read more: How to Create Effective Customer Service Training
Q: What do teams need to focus on or move away from with the way things are and the way they could potentially go?
From a customer success standpoint, folks need to stop getting so wrapped up in arbitrary milestones. For example, we no longer default to a business review meeting. We introduce at a certain time, say six months, go to the customer and say, “we want to make sure we’re aligned. You’re getting value, and we’re in a good place with our relationship. You have three options for this: We can have a meeting, we can deliver a report, or we can communicate this asynchronously, which means we’ll do a pre-recorded presentation. You can come back with any questions that you have.” So you’re giving them options, and this is really important for your team.
The other thing I’d recommend is creating templates. Go through anything your teams are required to do and figure out ways to reduce the redundancy of recreation. For example, we’ve got every customer email pre-written and every deck pre-built. My team is plug-and-play. If you’re having a conversation with a customer, the presentation is there to support the dialogue; it’s not the dialogue. This means my team should be able to do a quick modification and use the same presentation effectively with 15 minutes or less of edits because that’s not the part that should be taking up time.
Double down on the things that drive value. We’re all here trying to do more with less. So just getting creative with how to make it easier for your teams to do the jobs they were hired to do. Scale back on the arbitrary things, automate more of what you can, reduce administrative overhead, use data to make better decisions, and don’t assume that the same journey needs to be executed for every customer. Instead of creating blanketed journeys, I’ve created blanketed objectives: Here’s what has to happen; how do you get there?
Focus on your customers and align your teams to drive success
Use Kristi’s tips to double down on the things that matter most, do more with less, and develop a customer-centric culture.
Follow us on LinkedIn for more advice and insights from our expert interview series.
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Maile Timon is WorkRamp’s Content Strategist. She has more than 11 years of experience in content marketing and SEO and has written for several publications and industries, including B2B, marketing, lifestyle, health, and more. When she’s not writing or developing content strategies, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her family.
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