Monday, October 26, 2015

unConference 2015 Track: Customer Success

Having a satisfied customer is not a guarantee of their business next year, or even next month.  More than ever, customers are powered by choice.  Consequently, a satisfied customer no longer guarantees that you will have their business, as they continuously seek to reduce costs and increase profitability.

Every year companies spend millions to generate revenue from new sales.  Yet, after the sale very little (in comparison) is spent to protect this investment and retain customers.  There is no doubt that retention, churn and customer lifetime revenue have replaced the idea of a simple closed sale.

These and other aspects of Customer Success were one of the areas of interest tackled by attendees at this year’s MassTLC Innovation2015 UnConference.  Facilitating this highly interactive track were Brian Gladstein co-chair Boston's Lean Startup Challenge and EVP of GYK Antler, Dave Witting, Vice President, Customer Success at Localytics, and John Paladino, Vice President of Client Services at InterSystems.  Based on experience and with the desire to learn from their peers, attendees contributed thoughts, ideas, and questions to help shape an improvised agenda that UnConference is known for. 

The areas of interest were wide ranging. Attendees wanted to know how to measure customer success.  They wanted to learn how product, marketing, and customer facing teams could work together to drive change around customer engagement.  And, they wanted to explore ways in which companies could create customer success outside of the actual product or service they are selling.

Based on near equal interest, suggestions were narrowed and smaller breakout sessions - mini-unConferences within the UnConference - were held to discuss the top three selections:

·         Effective testimonials/case studies
·         How to increase renewals and limit churn
·         Nurturing the client relationship

What came out of these conversations were shared experiences, lots of ideas, and lots of questions.

Is the Case Study Dead?

For some, the traditional method of producing a case study to promote customer success came into question early in the conversation.  Many feel there is a disconnect between what internal account managers and delivery teams think a case study should be versus what marketing feels they need to create for lead generation. Marketing likes one-page summaries organized around the mission, problem, and solution to use as a conversation starter, while delivery teams want a long-form post mortem.  Finding common ground can be challenging.

For others, “case study” has become a dirty word – at least in the eyes of the customer.  It was discussed that customers often feel vendors over-promote themselves, while it is the customer proving the benefiting of the product, service, or technology that should be the focus of the case study.

Whether it is format, content, or distribution channels, in near unanimity, attendees believed there must be a better way to include the customer in the process, craft more natural case studies, and find creative ways to distribute the message. 

A few creative ideas included:

·         Using video to create more engaging and potentially viral testimonials
·         Finding an internal advocate at your customer to be a storyteller in an effort to build word of mouth referrals
·         Become a teacher by creating a story that will help others solve their business challenges
·         Position the customer as a thought leader, not just a user of your product
·         Co-host events with your customers, giving them a chance to outwardly market themselves

Nurturing The Client Relationship

Discussions on nurturing the client relationship and reducing churn covered lots of ground, with an underlying commonality being the necessity to be a complete “partner” with your customer.  Doing so can promote a lasting relationship based on trust and help you avoid guessing what your customer’s needs are.

It was agreed that having the right people on your team is key.  It can be helpful to have staff with deep experience in the customer’s market so you can easily anticipate customer needs and identify pain points.  However others pointed out that being too immersed in a customer’s market might be restrictive and limit your ability you to think outside of the box and look beyond near-term needs.

Attendees agreed that having a customer service mentality is important.  Making your customer’s problems your problems and introducing a practice of collaborative conversation – as opposed to constantly selling – is critical.

Near- and long-term planning, being honest about your own abilities, and having a well designed feedback loop were factors everyone agreed help to build trust for future success.

In the end, said one participant, courageous leadership helps.  Having executive leadership with equal focus on vision and execution can make all the difference in the world.

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