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Make Customer Success Your #1 Metric

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The big 4th quarter sales push is on, as companies work feverishly to ‘make their numbers’ before year’s end. Worldwide, employees are pulling out all stops to close the year on a positive note.

But new sales are just part of the story: For healthy, ongoing growth, customer success is the key. Existing customers form the basis of robust growth for every mature organization. If a company ‘leaks’ dissatisfied customers, an endless flow of new business is needed just to keep sales figures from dropping.

Build business value with customer success

Customer success programs build business value by maximizing customer retention and lifetime value. They require employees to go beyond excellent service and effective solutions, and to truly understand and provide just what customers need to succeed. Success for the customer begets success for the vendor, as delighted customers stay loyal, renew contracts, upgrade solutions, and increase their orders. As a result, customer success programs generate a healthy revenue baseline that grows steadily and organically over time, with higher ROI than new customer acquisition.

For a Customer Success approach to succeed, it must be more than a slogan or a self-contained program: It must be intrinsic to the company culture, and reflected in the company’s org chart, executive compensation plan, and the performance goals of every employee.

How can you make Customer Success central to your organization? Here are some practical tips:

Put someone in charge

Appoint a Vice President of Customer Success and put her in charge of customer retention. Set clear goals for retention, upselling and annual AOV growth and publicize them throughout the organization.  Make sure that every head of every department — R&D, customer engineering, customer support, product marketing and others – understands that they are responsible for supporting Customer Success in meeting those goals.

Get vertical buy-in

Customer Success touches all company functions. For customers to succeed, they must be trained and onboarded correctly. When they need support, it must be timely and effective.  Sales must sell products that suit each customer’s needs, without overpromising or making false claims. R&D must deliver products that work as needed.

Don’t fall into the trap of focusing customer success efforts solely on customer-facing employees who directly impact the customer experience. Experience enablers – the behind-the-scenes workers who are responsible for processes and systems that enable an outstanding customer experience – are equally crucial.

Make sure every employee understands exactly how his job contributes to customer success as well as to the bottom line. Set goals and priorities that focus on customer happiness, not on internal processes. Where possible, have workers shadow the customer-facing employees who depend on the worker’s output for a time, so they can truly experience the impact of their work.

Build a company culture in which every single employee acts as a success enabler who does what it takes to deliver solutions that perform for the customer.

Integrate customer success in performance measures

Make contribution to Customer Success a key metric in performance reviews. Establish benchmarks and set clear goals. Recognize and reward exceptional efforts that resulted in successful upsales or retention of customers at risk.

Understanding how your product or solution builds business value for your customer is, of course, essential. But pay attention to the goals of your internal sponsors and the challenges they face. Let them know that you are committed to helping them deliver value and build their personal brands within the organization.

…And in your executive compensation plan

Build retention targets into executive compensation plans, on par with sales goals, to ensure that Customer Success gets the attention, resources and cooperation that they need to succeed.

Start on success before the ink dries

Have a customer success manager debrief the sales rep as soon as each deal is signed.  Get an honest evaluation of how likely the customer is to succeed and what issues to watch out for, both on the customer side and internally. Document the rep’s assessment and share it with anyone who will be onboarding the customer or working with her. Check red-flag issues periodically and act to reduce risks.

Make customer-facing employees the eyes and ears of customer success

Gather data from customer service managers, engineers, professional services, even receptionists – every employee who interacts with the customer. Let them know that every interaction is important. Have them record specific concerns expressed by the customer as well as general impressions of their feelings about your product. Track changes over time and share the information. Make a review of the interaction log a prerequisite for any customer contact.

Gather feedback and use it

Find out what your customers think and feel about your product. Thank them for sharing their thoughts and let them know that you take them seriously. Act on the feedback. Share it with relevant departments and follow up to make sure they act on it.

Establish early warning systems

Don’t wait until a customer decides not to renew or until sales trickle off. Understand how customers use your product and identify leading indicators of problems ahead. Track logins, per capita usage, numbers of users, and payment patterns. Notice which features customers are using and note whether use of specific features falls off. Don’t wait for failure to work on success.

Celebrate success

Does your company send out an internal email when a new customer signs? Announce new contracts at sales events? Celebrate renewals and upgrades with equal fanfare.  Identify key contributors to the success of the customer and call them out for special recognition.  Publicize customer comments that credit employees with outstanding efforts and dedication. Reward success.

Success works for sales, too

In today’s connected world, customer success greases the wheels for new customer sales as well as retention. Satisfied customers are happy to recommend your solution, participate in advocacy programs, and go public with stories of how your company went the extra mile to ensure their success.

This Q4, plan for success for the coming year by instituting a customer success program for your business.

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