The business case for customer success investment is built on 360° data

This is a guest blogpost by Jean de Villiers, Chief Customer Officer, and Michelle MacCarthy, Global Head of Customer Success, Unit4

Customer Success (CS) is a programmatic approach to delighting buyers and forging bonds of loyalty that should be essential to every business. The precept is straightforward: discover the health of a customer account by creating a 360-degree view of your customer’s interactions with your organisation. This includes the customer’s engagement levels, advocacy and churn risk. Then, execute the appropriate digital or other in-person engagements via automated action triggers. Ensuring the customer has a seamless, consistent experience every time relies on strong leadership, a culture convinced of the importance of customer success, and the tools and applications to empower employees to be responsive.

Above all, the “success” of customer success is going to depend on how well organisations integrate rich data and automation. By doing this, we remove human error and offer scalability for tightly budgeted CS teams, but it must also be underpinned by what we call customer 360° data. It should be the foundation upon which all CS efforts are built.

Get the combination of rich data and automation right, and it will deliver superb customer experiences – but doing it properly requires investment. How do organisations go about building the business case to justify investment in CS at a time when every penny spent is being scrutinised? And where do they start?

Act on quality customer data in real time

To cement mutually rewarding supplier/customer relationships, the first priority for CS must be to ensure customer data is accurate, reliable and can be queried with confidence.

To justify the investment in sound data foundations, organisations should show how they can monetise CS, from persuading the happiest customers to invest more, to reaching out to the long tail of smaller customers who could grow with the company and might buy more products and services over time. When considering investment, it’s important to bear in mind the cost of inaction. In a difficult economy, customers have more choice, and if organizations fail to capture and maintain their interest, churn rates are likely to increase.

At the same time, organisations may have less bandwidth to be able to have one-to-one conversations and include the other types of feedback that power CS success. All this accentuates the need for monitoring customer behaviour, by creating a holistic picture of how they are using products and optimizing the data for even deeper insights into behaviour. If systems of record and engagement are not talking to one another, the picture can be skewed and recommended actions may not be effective.

The goal should be to become less reactive and be more pro-active in real-time. If we tie in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning with a clear understanding of the customer data available, we can set triggers to identify incorrect manual actions and even have our robo-colleagues provide recommendations, such as when to create a customer check-in, make a special offer, or offer a product tip.

These actions demonstrate responsiveness to customers and build towards them feeling valued.

Reorganize your team to gain fresh customer perspectives

If organisations have the right foundations in place, it becomes possible to develop more dynamic approaches to customer success. The driver of such process changes is to improve how you support customers. For example, could tweaking processes, teams, or skills within teams enhance the understanding of what’s happening with customers? One practical way to do this is by working more closely with adjacent teams. Having CS sit ‘two in a box’ with sales account teams is smart, even if only for an interim period, to get a more holistic view of the customer.

The organisation could experiment by adding a person with internal sales experience to its CS team: that’s a low-risk option that could broaden horizons, expand career options and bring a fresh perspective to the CS team. Alternatively, CS could build a new way for customers to network and share knowledge with teams, which will create plenty of opportunities to listen, learn and improve.

This may also be a time to pay attention to greater alignment, not just with sales and marketing, but with account-based management (ABM) and product development teams. These groups will have similar data sources – and share some of the same priorities as CS leaders – but data may have become siloed if the ABM or development team has emerged out of a new skunkworks project.

Create a customer success culture

Aside from using solid data foundations to experiment with ways to improve customer engagement, organisations must also act smarter and sniff out more clues of customer sentiment by trawling social media, observing below-the-line comments or recognizing a slowdown in support tickets. And sales teams must be encouraged to input by making it as easy as a few taps on a smartphone to update customer information. Think of the way Netflix, Amazon or Facebook learn from customers with simple software and UX incentives to ‘like’ and share. Word-of-mouth opinions should not be ignored either and that means not just keeping lines of communication open to sales, but to anyone who touches the customer from any angle and at any distance, from technical support to analyst relations.

Armed with this intelligence, organisations can also build up customer success champions: a cadre of people across the business who embody the customer success culture and reinforce the expectations of colleagues to exhibit the right behaviours.

At a time when other investments are being pared back, it may be better to treat CS as exceptional. Indeed, Unit4 would encourage boldness. Consider a slightly audacious alternative and make the business case to double-down on investment in customer success. New logos are always harder to convert in tougher economic times, and it’s a good time to forge deeper relationships with those customers who have already bought into your proposition.

Organisations will find that if they invest properly now in improving customer success, there is an even more important longer-term benefit – they will gain a competitive advantage and enhance brand reputation for commitment to customers compared to those organisations that have reacted by cutting back.

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