CX5/5: From reactive to proactive customer relationships

During this month, I’ve adopted a theme to my blogs focusing on various ideas, concepts and posts that I have shared in the past to help those of you considering customer experience transformation to take that leap of faith. In the fifth of five posts, I’ll focus on moving from reactive to proactive customer relationships.

In days gone by, we all realised we needed to establish a relationship with a customer to keep them happy. In order to have a relationship with our customers, we needed to build trust and nurture communication to create openness. And yet in customer service, we never really evolved our customer relationships. It was even harder in big businesses, where the sheer volume of customers stood in the way of getting to know each other. But there were always exceptions.

Doing things differently

I was privileged enough to spend 7 years working across the Virgin Group, where Sir Richard Branson instilled a customer focus ethic, valuing the staff who in turn valued the customer. Even in the largest Virgin businesses, customers often talk of being treated like an individual in a human way. Many have studied this cultural effect, and successfully created an even better model (Tony Sheih’s Zappos is a prime example), but transferring this model to the world of B2B has been a challenge. With the digital world driving higher expectations of service and the desire to have a working solution out the box, California’s tech start ups have been our guiding light to a whole new way of thinking about and behaving towards customers – customer success.

Create a customer success team

If customer service is the critical reactive element of your product (diagnose issues, restore service to drive down churn & drive down dissatisfaction), then customer success is the proactive arm to better bridge the sales and customer service gap. With the passion and energy of sales, and the natural empathy of customer service, your customer success team seeks out customers emotional needs to help them achieve their goals, connect deeply with your product and ultimately through the relationships you grow, spend more, stay longer and refer you to their network. Many aspects of customer success are not in themselves new, but bringing together all these elements into one powerful team to champion the customer throughout the customer lifecycle is the game changer.

Customised customer journeys

So you’ve recruited a team of exceptional customer success managers – what next? Process is key, and a clearly defined customer journey (what is the customer needs versus what does your product deliver. Focus on the customer plan – how will the customer make the most of their investment? How can the customer get their users to adopt this new way of working? What aspects of our product will really add value for the customer?

From customer data to customer insight

As with customer support, KPIs and SLAs set a solid path, but the sooner you focus on gathering data on what your customer want, what they do and how they feel, the quicker you will be able to create the customer health score. This in turn allows you to start predicting retention and growth patterns. Your customer success team will also be a core input into your product management team, leveraging the growing customer relationships with innovation forums, user groups, Alpha & Beta programs, rewarding customers for their commitment to the relationship.

To commission or not to commission?

Whilst some feel that the customer success teams need sales targets and bonuses, I find that such extrinsic rewards create a barrier to success. Many of us are taking this bold step, and customer success teams really do want to delight their customers, so why distract them from what they are passionate about? I prefer team bonuses to drive collective success, heavily influenced by customer engagement and satisfaction.  This mean we can still reward exceptional performance without the sole focus being revenue.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of post on CX (customer experience).  You can find the other 4 under my LinkedIn profile:

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