When you think of the three keywords in the title – engaged, happy, successful– which one seems the most significant?
Actually, the only one that really matters is success. Once you have a strong roadmap for customer success, those other traits will naturally follow. Want to know how to build a roadmap for prolonged customer success? In this article, I’m going to show you how.
There are many different steps along the way. So, let’s break them down here. 👇
Main talking points
- How to jumpstart on customer success management
- Understand the ups and downs of your customers
- Select who you interact with carefully
- Evaluate feedback and craft solutions
- Build a task force that is truly on board
How do you jumpstart customer success management?
This is the situation we found ourselves in. My team and I took on this assignment for customer success. We were a newly-staffed team coming from many different backgrounds.
As a new team, we were given VIP accounts, which have the top revenue contribution. Our clients were B2B wholesale, meaning these were not your typical individuals and consumers. They are wholesale business decision-makers.
We knew that we weren’t just there to investigate or conduct research, we were there to take on the objective of advancing the growth of these VIP accounts.
Questions we asked ourselves
When we were brainstorming, my team and I mapped out some crucial questions on the whiteboard:
- Who are they?
- More importantly, who should we start with?
- What challenges and resources face us?
- How are we making sure that the strategies are really useful?
Before I go into the specifics of how we built the roadmap, let me give you some background on myself and my company.
My name is Sarah and my background is in financial analysis. My very first professional experience was at Telecom. I was dealing with Excels, and a lot of data analysis, and after that, I was in marketing communications.
About two years ago, I took on the new role in customer success, and totally fell in love with it! Within my company, I also rotated through multiple markets, including the US and Southeast Asia. 🇺🇸🌏
These days I’m mainly covering the US and Mexico because that is our main target. My passions are customer success, entrepreneurship, eCommerce, as well as women’s empowerment! 💪
Being an eCommerce marketplace, a lot of people would compare us to Amazon or Alibaba. But the truth is, we’re totally different! We’re targeting a very different and niche clientele. We’re now the largest eCommerce marketplace.
We started in China, and now we have 25 million live listings on the marketplace.🤯. And we started as a marketplace, but now we like to think of ourselves as a full ecosystem.
We can offer:
- Payment services
- Cloud services
- Over 30 product categories
Every consumer product that you can think of can be found on the platform. For our customers, this is really important to point out because they're very unique. We are B2B, so our customers are wholesale providers.
Our platform allows people to create their own websites and start selling wholesale. These are businesses, they're not corporations, but their decision-making process is very rational.
What they mainly look at is the price and of course the service. For these people, we are the supply chain service provider. There’s actually a very high switching cost if they decide to use another supplier. There’s a risk factor there.
Understand the ups and downs of your customers
So, back to our CS project, we decided to zoom in on our customers at a closer level. On the above image, you'll see what’s normally described as a customer journey. You know the story by now, you manage to hook people in, sell them on your product, and onboard them, that’s when everything else magically falls into place, right? The thing is, that’s not really how it works.
What it’s actually like
Instead, the type of customers you usually get resembles this graph.👇
You start with a very excited customer when they're getting onboarded. They're super collaborative, cooperative, and eager to get started.
And then we get to this stage, and customers start to get a little bit hesitant and unsure and they don’t really know what to do. This is when the role of CS is so crucial! You really have to be a guiding hand to them.
This is the chill phase. 😎 This is where customers are generally happy and content with the products. This is all great, but we're not really growing. On the other hand…
A very small portion of them might find difficulties using our services or products, and they’re gonna get frustrated. There are going to be conflicts and complaints that aren’t resolved. We call these the ‘heartbeat stops.’ It's where the client leaves our company, which is obviously the last thing we want.
The lesson in all of this
The crucial thing to take from this is that it’s not always an upward trajectory for our clients. It's a very volatile process. Acknowledging that there are clients that will go through the process of ups and downs is critical when we craft our strategy.
Once we realize that, it's much easier for us to put our finger on how customers define success. The lessons are found in the conflicts.
Select who you interact with carefully
Remember how I mentioned we were told to focus on VIPs? Well, they account for the highest revenue contribution. In a nutshell, they spend more money on our company. But that understanding didn't really tell us much about how to approach the VIP members.
So here's a very basic segmentation breakdown. 👇
We turned our customer contribution into an equation and divided it into high contributing VIPs versus the low, and among the high, we further segmented that into high contributing and active versus high contributing but inactive. And as you can see, there’s a similar equation for the low contributing VIPs on the right side of the equation.
What we took from this equation
Through this breakdown, we noticed that the high contributing VIPs, who have been relatively inactive, actually make up a large proportion of the revenue we were making. They're actually really critical. Because they're inactive, this means they urgently need our help.
They're on the way to leaving us. But we’re not paying much attention because all the VIPs are high-contributing. They're all important. This matrix really helped us understand what the code red is about.
We realized these VIP members who were turning inactive were holding some complaints in their hearts. There's a need that we're not satisfying. Knowing how to bring them back would really help us develop a fuller roadmap for our customers.
The equation helps you to build evangelists
For example, let’s say a customer is highly active and they're also contributing a lot to a growing trend, they can be a brand evangelist regardless of their current VIP status. They are the ones that will speak up for you.
Trying to win back inactive contributors
Obviously, we’re going to go to high-level inactive VIPs first. So, we really dived in with them, tried to connect with them, interviewed them, and tried to let them know what the cost of leaving would be.
With a lot of wholesale people, once they make a decision to switch suppliers, they will not come back. This may be true for different organizations as well. The critical element here is to understand what is going on with them. Sounds simple, right? The problem is, they’re not always honest about why they're leaving,
Why customers leave
Customers don't usually leave just because of one incident or one complaint. There are usually a number of different problems. I personally conducted over 200 phone calls. And I found that customers would tell me one thing. An easy problem that seemed like it would have an easy solution, but usually, there’d be another problem that you’d have to kind of figure out for yourself.
For example, A customer would tell me that they weren’t receiving a discount anymore. A problem that seems like it can be easily fixed with promotions and coupons. But what they actually meant was: your prices are not competitive enough.
Now, this is obviously a much more complex solution. We have to take a further look at over 36 million products listed on our platform. That is a huge project. So we dived a little further, we listened closer, and we realized that a customer really needs competitive prices to succeed. In addition to price, there are a lot of other cost factors for the wholesaler.
The impact of the pandemic
The price actually didn't actually change much. But since COVID broke out, logistics went crazy. In fact, it's four times the usual price. So, what they're also saying (or rather, not saying) is that they can’t find a good logistic partner to ship their products.
It’s true, shipping costs went up too much. And people want to find a better carrier to bring the cost down. If we can't offer a solution, they have to find it somewhere else. So, the message we got was totally different from what the customer was actually saying.
Dealing with customer clearance
Another example: “I had an order that was delayed, so I'm not happy with the experience.” So, you would assume from this that we need to improve the tracking system. But again, when we looked into this we realized that these wholesalers are not professional import experts. They don't know how to deal with customs clearance.
They don't even know what the process is like. They need a lot of guidance and education. Now, that's a much easier fix than developing an improved logistic tracking system.
The moral of the story
The takeaway here is that simply sending out questionnaires for customers is not sufficient. We need to do extensive in-depth personal interviews. Here, you’re going to notice things that are different from what the customers are telling you. This will actually determine how you handle your win-back strategy and possibly your whole customer success strategy.
Evaluate feedback and craft solutions
So once we had some concrete solutions for why VIPs were leaving us, we could work on solutions. We could get the teams to evaluate their feedback and craft cohesive solutions.
For example, if you’re going to offer new product newsletters to our clients, what is the reach? What is the impact that we can have on our VIPs?
We noticed that’s a request and need that exists for at least our top five to 10 VIPs. So, we could put a check next to ‘new products/newsletter’.
The question is, if we launch this project, what are the tools, budget, and staff that are needed to mobilize? So on this one, we definitely needed a merchandising team on board to go through the new products. And we also need a marketing team to send out a message.
A lot of communication needs to be pushed to our customer success because we are at the frontier. We are the connective tissue with customers. The question is, is this product solution known to the customers? A lot of the time the customers come back to us and tell us the service is really good, but we didn’t even know it existed.
So, having a clear strategy and solution is also very critical to your success with winning back customers.
Yes, we definitely do all of this for the sake of improving customer experience. But a lot of the time, even for customer success, we take on some very measurable performance indicators such as revenue growth.
What are the returns on this type of investment? This is always an important question to bear in mind.
Will this win the respect of our customers? Another way to put this: will VIPs find a solution valuable?
Build a task force that is truly on board
This is not easy because this task force is usually cross-departmental. Usually, every team takes on different objectives and KPIs. So, bringing them on board already determines the results of your campaigns and solutions. In our case, we had at least five departments on board:
- Customer success is taking the lead obviously.
- Customer service answers questions that pop up.
- The merchandise team takes feedback regarding the products that they received.
- Business intelligence is really keeping track of how often customers buy.
- Marketing is responsible for making the service and the strategy known to our users.
The end result
In the end, the returns that we got were actually very fulfilling.
- We were able to reactivate over 10% of our target customers.
- We received really positive feedback from our VIPs.
- We created great evangelists in our VIP. They really spread our influence through word of mouth, and we were able to generate new leads.
The three pillars of the roadmap
This three-step cycle is actually a very simplified but useful version of my company roadmap.
If nothing goes wrong with a customer, they will stay in their retention state for a long time. However, if something happens, and we have to win back the customer, then it's really time for us to show our appreciation and bring them back into the customer lifecycle and journey. After we win them back, we’ve earned trust. Then, we can start to see growth.
This is when we use incentives, like coupons, activities, and promotions. But these three pillars really rely on each other. If you don't have retention, it’s very hard to incentivize them with coupons or discounts, especially for businesses. The trust is not there. And if you only win them with incentives, discounts, price incentives, they actually won't stay long.
In the end, their decisions are based on very rational reasons. If they're not happy with the services, they will leave.
1. It’s never about us, it’s about them. If a seemingly irresistible offer doesn’t fly, it’s because it doesn’t help the customers to improve their business.
2. For a B2B customer, the customer journey isn’t always a smooth ride up. Be prepared.
3. Segment customers in different dimensions. VIP level is only one indicator. There are other levels.
4. How do we improve on our customer success experience? Listen to your customers who raise concerns, not the happiest ones.