Tag Archives: loyal customer relationships

The Customer Engagement Model

27 Jan

Proactive customer engagement. It’s a tenet of Customer Success. We all do it to some extent – some of us better than others. The question is “How do you best go about structuring that proactive engagement so that you can scale a team and provide a consistently great customer experience?” The answer is “With a good Customer Engagement Model.”

A good Customer Engagement Model needs to be flexible in two key ways:

  • It needs to accommodate different phases of the customer lifecycle; and
  • It needs to support both scheduled and unscheduled interactions with customers

In a prior article on Time to Value, I pointed out that it’s critical to keep momentum going once the initial sales deal is closed and ensure that you aren’t diverging from your customer’s original path to reaching their objectives. Your Customer Engagement Model should, therefore, start at the time of sale in order to maintain momentum and achieve a first “quick win”.

Good Customer Engagement Models should also help keep you focused on answering the three key questions you need to know about every customer:

  1. How is our customer measuring value?
  2. Are they achieving that value?
  3. Are we providing an experience that will result in loyalty and advocacy?

Irrespective of whether your company provides high personal touch Customer Success or whether your Customer Success model is more self-service, your proactive engagement with customers should be governed by an Engagement Model. A good Engagement Model helps you understand: A) what the engagement “moments” are for customers throughout their lifecycle; B) who in your organization is responsible for interaction with customers at those moments; and C) what the objective or expected outcome is for each of those moments.

I’ve illustrated what that model looks like conceptually in the image below:


The Phases:

The first key point of an engagement model is that it needs to work across two very different phases of the customer lifecycle, the Onboarding Phase and the Ongoing Usage Phase.  The first phase, onboarding, is the much higher intensity, much more critical, and much more interactive of the two. I think of these two phases very much like the takeoff phase and the cruise phase of airplane flight. In the takeoff phase you’re in close proximity to the ground, there’s quite a bit at stake, it’s the phase where more incidents happen, and it generally requires a high degree of pilot focus. During the cruise phase of flight, it’s important that pilots monitor their instruments, ensure they’re on course, and pay attention to external factors. They can’t ignore that they’re flying an airplane during the cruise phase; however the workload, intensity, and immediate consequences are lower than during the take off phase. Pilot’s don’t need to give the airplane nearly as much of their attention during cruise as they do when they’re screaming down the runway, getting it airborne, dealing with heavy air traffic, and monitoring for even the slightest anomaly – which could have dire consequences if left unchecked. During cruise, a pilot can leave the cockpit to use the restroom. During takeoff, on the other hand… not so much.

The Onboarding Phase:

The Onboarding Phase serves two purposes:

  1. It ensures that your customers are getting off on the right foot and are set up for success with your solution; and
  2. It creates a logical opportunity for both you and your customer to think about, articulate, and agree on how you’re going to measure value in the ongoing phase.

In a “high-touch” customer engagement scenario, much of the onboarding phase may be done by a CSM or someone from the customer onboarding or training team. The customer needs to become familiar with your solution during this phase, and you need to ensure that they’re able to be self-sufficient when using it.

A “low-touch” customer engagement scenario will have the same objective, but will achieve it more with automated marketing/email campaigns, automated measurement and exception handling of early adoption indicators, and automated training for the customer.

In both the high and low touch models, it’s critical to measure early indicators of user adoption and determine what course corrections need to be applied. The method for measuring the indicators and for communicating to customers needs to be much more automated in the case of a low touch engagement model.

In addition to ensuring adoption and self-sufficiency, the onboarding phase in a high touch B2B/Enterprise Solution world provides an opportunity for you to validate key assumptions with your customer on how they are going to measure value and how they’re going to quantify the success of their implementation of your solution. If your sales process is value based, you have probably already begun identifying use cases, measurements, and customer ROI expectations. You may very well have also quantified the expected ROI from adoption of your solution. The bad news is that too many companies don’t do any further measurement once the deal is closed.  A good onboarding process not only ensures that a customer is adopting your product but positions you as a partner to help ensure they’re making progress against their stated objective.

Example Engagement Moments during the Onboarding Phase (some of which are included in the sample model above) include:

  • A kickoff meeting to ensure that the customer meets your team (either virtually or face to face, as appropriate)
  • Confirmation that the customer has dowloaded / activated / or logged in
  • Initial Product Training
  • A formal review of the first set of metrics delivered by your solution. These should provide an indication of the customers adoption, usage, and effectiveness (how well they are doing x, not just that they are doing x).
  • A checkpoint with the customer to ensure that they understand how the product works and that they feel self-sufficient

In the spirit of Time to Value, it’s vital during the onboarding phase that the process moves as quickly and efficiently as possible and that customer momentum is maintained in the process. I’d strongly recommend two things to manage momentum:

  1. Once you have defined your Engagement Moments, measure the time that it takes each customer to progress from one to the other. Analyze your metrics and determine whether there are any systemic delays in any of your phases of onboarding and work quickly to get to root cause.  I’ve had teams shave weeks off of implementation/onboarding by measuring individual phases, identifying root cause for the delays, and then fixing the process.
  2. Set escalation triggers if you don’t see adoption events occurring with your customers according to expected timeframes during the onboarding phase.  If your customers haven’t created x accounts in y weeks for example, that should trigger proactive engagement on your part – in addition to the predefined moments in your plan.

The Ongoing Phase

The focus of the Ongoing phase is to ensure that your customer is achieving the objectives identified in the Onboarding phase and that you’re keeping a pulse on their experience.

Engagement Moments in this phase can be categorized into one of two types: 1) Time-based; or 2) Event-based.

Time-based Moments

Time-based moments are ones that you can put on a calendar, such as a Quarterly Business Review, Monthly Metrics Review, Annual Account Review, or even Weekly Meetings for your highest of high-touch customers. Time-based moments are great ways to keep your customers interacting with you for the duration of the lifecycle – as long as you clearly set expectations and provide valuable feedback to them during those engagement points. If you aren’t continuously providing value to your customers during these moments, they’ll lose interest and stop attending regular calls/meetings, so be careful not to over-schedule them, and be sure to provide relevant engaging content in each of these engagements.  Dan Steinman from Gainsight recently wrote an informative blog post characterizing a good Quarterly/Executive business review.

Event-based moments are ones that are triggered by the occurrence of an event (or non-event in some cases), such as a customer logging a high-severity case with your Support Desk; a new product release from your company; a change in leadership or executive sponsorship at your customer; a poor or mediocre survey response; an absence of support cases over a defined period of time; a decrease in overall usage; or a decrease in key usage metrics from a given customer. The purpose of event-based triggers is to help you react quickly and appropriately to events that can influence the health of the customer relationship –  for better or for worse. In either case, the sooner your team reacts to the event that triggered the engagement, the better off you’ll be.

Customer Engagement Models are unique to companies, products, and customer types. An Engagement Model for an enterprise customer with a highly complex solution will look very different than one for a consumer with an off-the-shelf SaaS offering and both will engage different parts of the organization. Logically breaking down that model into two key phases (Onboarding and Ongoing) and defining the Ongoing phase in a way that supports both Time and Event-based moments of engagement with customers should help you optimize for your products and customer types. You will likely end up with more than one engagement model for different customer segments.

Have you employed a Customer Engagement Model and what methods or tools have you used to ensure that the model is consistently applied across your customer base?

When in Rome…

31 Dec

I was recently in a meeting in Europe and found myself talking to an experienced enterprise sales leader from another company about Customer Success. She asked me “How do you approach Customer Success in different countries and cultures where there’s a need for face to face interaction?  In the US you do so much by phone: Inside sales, Automated support, Customer Success Management, and here relationship building is still important. We need the face time.”

Which got me to thinking…

While I certainly don’t advocate running a high-touch, high-cost business model for customer success if the revenue model doesn’t support it, creating that personal relationship is incredibly powerful. As many US companies begin to expand their Customer Success efforts into other markets, it’s essential to recognize that each geography can provide some valuable lessons and examples for others. Organizations can learn quite a bit by exporting and importing best practices across regions. I’ve certainly learned by observing interaction models in different markets and applying best practices from one region to others. Taking this approach benefits both your company and your customers.

As you look at taking the “best of” from each of your regions, you’ll find that you can increase touch in some regions while increasing efficiency and scalability in others. As you dissect how and what to apply across geographies, it’s important to understand what makes each approach successful.

The Case for a Higher Touch Model:

Many of the effective Customer Success models outside the US are higher touch (more face to face) for a few reasons:

  1. The culture dictates it;
  2. In many countries it’s easier due to the higher concentration of businesses in fewer regional city centers
  3. It works. As much as we do over the phone and online in the US, in some cases it’s still important to build personal relationships through face to face interaction.

So when the opportunity arises, it’s important to engage with customers in as personal a way as you can. In many cases, an in-person meeting with a large customer is a great investment of time and money. It also proactively sends the message that the customer is worth your time and effort.

Other Ways to Connect:

As our conversation progressed, we also agreed that it isn’t possible to meet every customer face to face, and it certainly isn’t possible to meet any customer face to face 100% of the time. In every case, though, it’s important to connect with your customers in a way that is A) relevant and appropriate to them; and B) true to your company’s brand and mission. For example, companies who do content marketing extremely well don’t need to have face to face interaction with the vast majority of their customer base in order to connect with them.  Companies like MailChimp, HubSpot, and ZenDesk build incredible connections with their customers via mainly digital communications. Their messaging is so good and so authentic that as a customer you feel like you’re a connected insider.

Authenticity and Relevance Trump All:

Whether its face to face or through broader communication, you need to connect with your audience in a relevant way.  You have quite a bit of information about each of your customers. Make your communication with them relevant, whether you’re targeting digital content based on their behavior or you’re tailoring a detailed Quarterly Business Review based on their specific metrics.

Even in the case of broader-based digital marketing or one-to-many communication, it’s critical to both create targeted content for your specific audience and to deliver that content in an engaging, authentic, personal way. I’ve attended webinars with solid content, but disconnected, impersonal presenters. In almost all cases, the disconnectedness of the presenter unfortunately trumped the relevance of the content.

Engaging with someone face-to-face, especially one-on-one (or few-to-few) inherently creates a strong connection. In the cases where you’re engaging digitally with customers en masse, you need to do so with a compelling, consistent tone and voice. Many of us will communicate with the largest segments of our customer base primarily through a digital channel. We have to make that channel engaging, personal, and authentic. Send the message to the group, but communicate with the individual.

Do something different

As you think about face to face meetings, it’s worth noting that not all face to face interactions need to be at your customer’s site.  If your office is in a major metropolitan area, chances are your customers might find themselves in your neighborhood occasionally.  If so, host them for a corporate visit.  Do your quarterly business review with them in your offices. Introduce them to some of your executives who they wouldn’t otherwise meet if everyone needed to travel to the customer site. Share your vision with them. It’s easy for us to fall into routines with our customers, so by holding meetings in a different context or venue, you have the opportunity to create memorable experiences.

As you engage with your customers, how are your learnings and practices from one geography creating more personal, authentic, relevant, and memorable experiences worldwide?

The Case for Customer Marketing

3 Jun

I’ve been jotting down notes on this blog post over the weekend, wondering how “front of mind” this topic is, then I saw David Edelman’s blog post on LinkedIn this morning about his presentation at SAP’s Sapphire Conference and thought:  Good.  Someone else is thinking about this… in a similar way… and it’s important.

Conventional Wisdom:

Most, if not all, companies with a Marketing function focus their efforts (and metrics) on activities that drive net new customers.  These metrics generally include new leads, qualified leads, analytics on web traffic/behavior, conversions, etc.  Over time, a number of organizations have gotten better at focusing less on “vanity metrics” and paying more attention to the ones that really drive sales; nonetheless, the primary focus of the marketing department’s effectiveness, and value to the organization, has been related almost exclusively to its impact on the company’s ability to acquire new customers.

One Level Deeper:

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of top line growth and customer acquisition; however top line growth doesn’t just happen by bringing on new customer logos. Most companies have a huge revenue growth opportunity in their existing customer base, and fundamentally, in a SaaS world, where value needs to be proven continuously, the initial acquisition of a customer is not the end of the Customer Journey, it is merely one of many Moments of Truth to come in a much longer customer journey and relationship. Once a customer is “on board”, organizations must now focus on ensuring that customer is getting value from the solution.  Paying attention to the data a SaaS solution can provide helps you understand what’s happening – on a customer-specific basis.  Effectively automating your communication, and nurturing your customers, not just your leads, through something that looks a lot like Marketing Automation, creates many 1-1 dialogs …that scale …that are relevant …that create loyal customer relationships …that build brand advocates …that generate more revenue.

Freemium to Paid: The Transition Begins

The freemium model has made the need for customer marketing clear for a number of “consumerprise” companies.  In many ways, converting a free customer to a paid customer is very similar to “up selling” a paid customer to a higher level of service.  A customer will go from one level of financial and emotional commitment to a higher one.  In order to get there, customers need to see value.  Conceptually this isn’t very different from the old enterprise sales model where a company would “pilot” a solution for little or no cost, then once they were able to prove value, the license sale would occur.  In the world of SaaS, however, this needs to be a highly repeatable, highly automated, highly scalable process, and has the opportunity to occur many times during the life of a customer.  Freemium SaaS companies get this, and the good ones are doing an excellent job understanding usage and behavior data from their free customers, and applying automation to nurture/market to them effectively (relevant in a 1-1 kind of way) and drive conversions.  The great ones are also using that data to constantly improve their product and make the customers’ product experience consistently better.

Connecting with Customers:

The fundamental objective behind customer marketing should be to create a connected experience.  Customer Experience is made up of two key components: 1) the experience a customer has with your product/service; and 2) the experience a customer has with your company via other interactions – online, in-person, on the phone.  The data and technology exist to create a connected experience with your customers and communicate value in a personal, targeted, yet scalable way.  I’ll cover those topics in a future post.

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