By Andreas Knoefel
In the previous article on Leveraging your Champions I described how to detect, nurture and leverage your customer Champions to increase adoption, expansion, and ARR across the entire customer portfolio. Not everyone can or will be a Champion, and many customers become Cruisers; customers who are comfortable enough where they are to come back year after year to renew. However, at the other end of your spectrum, you have customers who are lagging behind the general expectations, hold the highest churn risk, and warrant a closer look. In this age of customer experience, NPS and other satisfaction measures we want to help all of them, but in reality, some are time sinks and money drains that are not worth the effort.
Over the years I developed three strategies for Laggards, called Rescue, Recover, and Farewell, based on whether the effort to change is mainly on ourselves, shared, or on the customer.
In my experience, there are typically less than five issues that are “mission-critical.” The best way out of such a crisis is a realistic plan. General platitudes and unsubstantiated assurances will cost you the last bits of trust you may have left in the account. Since executives are involved, concise and honest updates are essential. As part of a customer journey, I like to outline a communication plan and set expectations early. This plan includes a chapter on communication across internal teams to develop a game plan for working with the customer.
Success story: I had an over-zealous customer who was drowning in details. In the prototype phase, all of the available data was enticing to them, but in production, this focus on every little detail resulted in slow response times and frustrations across the user base. I restored harmony by working with the customer to take only the required details into consideration. The business value was not diminished, the users could actually find what they wanted, and the executives saw how we captured the expected value. To avoid deja-vu, I updated our knowledge base to help our team and our partners to avoid similar issues in the future.
When the sales team worked with the customer to define the business goals and timeline, the customer may have been overly optimistic about what they could achieve. If lower goals or a longer time-to-value still create a positive return on investment, adjusted expectations may be all this customer needs. If I experience more than a few of these, especially if they are coming from the same rep, I work with Sales to refine the account qualification process. Success stories and details on how customers are effectively using a solution can help realign sales reps with reality.
Success Story: One of our customers strongly believed that any project planned for over a year was likely to fail. Our team had planned out a very optimistic, multi-year transformation and we were losing traction with the customer. After conferring with internal project managers, we restructured the project to include multiple, shorter phases. The customer’s team relaxed, and early successes helped them regain confidence. We ended up rolling out the entire stack and had multiple extensions along the way - a win-win.
“You can lead a horse to the water, but …” is a fitting catchphrase for these customers. The key to their success or failure is clearly in their own hands. Maybe the customer lost executive sponsorship for your solution, maybe their champion is not influential enough, or maybe their tools or processes are not at the required level. They may be experiencing a bad solution fit because their vision is not aligned with your actual product scope or they are in a different market and operating by a different business model. If a customer genuinely falls into this category, any resources should be spent on them with caution. If they stay, ok, if they move, wish them well.
Note: These customers are different from the innovators who challenge you to do new things and you have an agreed-upon joint roadmap to a new and hopefully brighter future. “Crossing the Chasm,” one of my favorite books, is full of great strategies on how to expand into adjacent markets in a controlled and managed fashion.
Success Story: In my interview with Lauren Costella, the VP of CS at Medrio, she described how she and her peers assess the solution fit and risk of new leads that “break the mold” and define a mitigation strategy ranging from mandatory services as part of the deal, to accepting churn without a dedicated rescue.
Does your team need help dealing with customers in crisis? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that provides workshops that facilitate discussions and provide tools that can help your customers. Please visit TheSuccessleague.io for more information.
Andreas Knoefel - Andreas is the inventor of the Customer Success Performance Index™ and a passionate customer success leader. He applies his practical and holistic approach to startups and giants alike, combining his Ph.D. from KIT and MBA from Santa Clara with his international experience leading customers to success. Andreas finds work-life balance through modernist cooking, outdoors photography and teaching high-octane cycling classes.