The customer journey is rarely seamless. But if you’re not utilizing customer data to address where customers are churning, it can be difficult to know where to start when fixing it. 🧰

Of course, we can’t promise to eliminate churn entirely, but these killer insights from customer success experts just might help you cut yours down to size! Leading the panel discussion in this article is Swati Chopra, Senior Director of Customer Success at Docusign, Francesca-Elizabeth Havemann Salisbury, a CS consultant and Matt O'Boyle, Customer Success Manager at Intercom.

Their main talking points include:

  • The biggest gaps in the customer journey
  • Dealing with delayed implementation
  • The 'end' of the customer journey

We’ve compiled some tasty highlights for you below. Dig in 🍴

The biggest gaps in the customer journey

Swati: When you think about the customer journey, most people focus on onboarding. It's a crucial stage, and we’ll talk more about that later, but focusing only on this part of the journey means that other parts can be overlooked.

I’d like to open up by asking the panel, where do the gaps in the customer journey come from and what are the biggest gaps you see? Matt, do you want to kick us off?

Matt: For sure. I think the biggest gaps in the customer journey lie between those milestones that everyone keeps track of – onboarding, cross-selling, and upselling. We need to look at how we maintain a really good conversation with customers so they're fully in the loop, even between these check-in points.

We all know that with churn, half the time it's over an issue that you probably could have solved if you’d gotten ahead of it.

Maybe the customer was looking for a feature that they didn't know you had and they went with someone else to get it. We need to be more proactive to fill in those gaps and talk to customers before they get to that churn stage.

Customer journeys: from onboarding to alignment [Q&A with Simpo]
Max Smith-Gee, Head of Customer Success at Simpo took the time to answer some burning questions on everything from onboarding to aligning the sales process to customer journeys.

Francesca: When we're looking at where gaps come from on a high level, often it's a mindset thing. If you have a company that's very siloed and the thinking is “every department for itself,” then gaps start arising – that has a massive impact.

Also, from what I've seen, when you go from startup to scale-up, right at the beginning everyone’s doing everything and trying to fulfill ten roles at once.

Later on, you have to pull all that apart and create different roles and responsibilities again. If you don’t do that well, gaps can start appearing there too.

Swati: As Francesca said, with scale, there are different kinds of challenges that you start facing because initially, a single person is probably doing multiple roles. However, when you start scaling as a company, you have to differentiate and diversify.

For instance, when I worked in a startup, I built customer success and professional services from scratch, and I had similar people who were helping out in every function.

As those teams grew, we had to specify who our customer success managers were and the roles that they were going to follow. Over time it was becoming more and more difficult to see who was responsible for what.

As you scale you have to clearly define what each function and every role has to do. You also have to decide what the KPIs are for your CSMs and the deliverables that you want to see.

Those KPIs need to relate very closely to each phase of the customer journey. For example, if it's onboarding, we need to ask ourselves, are we doing a survey within the first 30 or 90 days to see how that experience was? You have to do the measurements after each and every stage.

And I definitely think onboarding is the stage where you would see the most gaps. If your onboarding is not right, you're setting your customer up for failure. It’s the first touch point with the customer and if it gets messed up, then the entire relationship and the entire journey are impacted.

Dealing with delayed implementation

Matt: Obviously, you want to get your customer up to speed really quickly with the product education side of things and make sure everyone understands where they want to go with the tool they just bought. It always feels super odd when they don't want to kick off straight away.

I think that the main thing to remember is that we can't force anybody to do anything – people can do what they want with what they pay for.

However, you need to get an understanding of why they’re not kicking off and what's the business value for them in not implementing the solution right now.

If there’s a business value for them in waiting 30 days or 90 days before they use the product, personally I wouldn't argue with that. I'd say “Okay, let's put a pin in this and then start later. I want to make sure that you guys get the most value out of the product as per your terms.”

Now if delaying doesn't have any value attached to it, that's when I start getting worried.

In this case, it’s worth having a discovery conversation to get answers as to why things are going awry in the onboarding. Ask as many questions as you can to find out if it’s valuable to the customer to delay kicking off.

If there’s no value in delaying, show that to your customer, and quickly. That's really the best thing you can do. We can't force anybody to do anything; all we can do is support people.

You have to go through that discovery process to be a good and trusted partner. And that's the bottom line when it comes to CSMs: you have to be the trusted partner, and you have to be there for your customers on their terms.

Swati: I agree with Matt – you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink. However, there are times when you don’t want too much of a delay because that can come back and bite you when it’s time for renewal.

Even if it’s the customer who has delayed implementation, they might look at those first few months as a time when they didn’t utilize the solution they’d paid for. There are a couple of things that you can do to avoid these scenarios.

A good practice that we generally follow is having a connection not just at the level of execution, but also at the level of decision-making.

If you as the CSM are not able to reach out to your customer to speed up the implementation, your leader might be able to reach out to the BPO in the customer organization.

When both entities are aligned like this, the decision-maker in the customer organization knows why the onboarding is delayed. That’s very important.

I've often seen that when a senior leader makes that connection with the senior leader of your customer's company, that’s when there’s a top-down directive to move faster with the onboarding.

The 'end' of the customer journey

Swati: For me, renewal starts at the same time as onboarding, and I'll tell you why: because you have to start tracking your customer's health as soon as they sign the contract.

When you start tracking your customer's health, you’ll see the engagement, the consumption, the frequency of communication, and whether there’s a value realization.

Once you have all those parameters defined, you can gauge their propensity to renew six months, nine months, or even a year down the line. You need to track this week over week – it could change even six months before the end of the contract.

This isn’t something you should only care about during the last three months; the outcomes that you deliver from the moment you onboard the customer will define the renewal.

Stuti: In my experience, no CSM is hitting 100% of the potential toucpoints with every single customer in their business.

Let’s forget for a moment the super high-touch customers you deal with every day and the completely low-touch customers for whom auto-renewals might be the best option. What about the middle ground? How do you achieve engagement there?

Matt: This is exactly my role at Intercom. We had this kind of funky issue where there were loads of long-tail or smaller-sized customers that were paying for the premium plan but were considered small businesses as opposed to mid-market or enterprise customers.

We couldn't find a way to allocate CSM time appropriately to them and we were seeing massive amounts of churn there.

Now, I'm a big content guy – I love creating video walkthroughs, newsletters, product updates, and that kind of stuff.

So I put my hand up, and I said I would love to take on the SB space and work with all the SB relationship managers to create content for their customers.

There are a couple of thousand SB customers – it can be very tricky to get to all of them, but the way we've done it is by segmenting the SB space.

The customers who need that high-touch approach will still get one-to-one communication. I'm very lucky in that I have Intercom as a tool and that I can reach out to customers at scale and they can write back and start a conversation.

The customers at the mid and lower-level zones are treated a little differently. They might not, for example, be able to start a two-way conversation, but they still receive good videos from me, they know who their CSM is, and they see all the product updates and new roadmaps.

They're very much kept in the loop about what's happening.

I really advocate for that scalable approach with your SB customers and splitting them up into who gets one-on-one time and who gets nice little bite-sized chunks of content to keep them fully up to speed with all of the new training resources, product updates, releases, etc.

Swati: I completely agree. As you go down your pipeline to the smaller customers who are not bringing that much revenue, you have to drive other avenues of engagement. These could be recorded videos, webinars, or training sessions for example.

We use webinars a lot. We look at the common areas that customers struggle with and we run webinars on these topics. Customers get the opportunity to ask questions, listen to advice, and get solutions to their problems.

And then you have automated tools that send out surveys or automated checkpoints to them at different points in the journey. Those are the things that you can definitely leverage for long-tail customers when you don't have the budget to assign a CSM to all of them.