How Customer Success teams should respond to COVID-19

We all know the current situation we find ourselves in is unprecedented, and that many people’s lives and livelihoods have been fundamentally altered. Those of us fortunate enough to still have a job are grappling with uncertainty and insecurity- especially those of us interacting with customers on a daily basis. Before we pick up the phone or draft an email to our customers we need to pause and ask ourselves: how can we rise to meet this moment? Companies will be forced to answer to the pandemic (even operating with a “business as usual” mindset is a deliberate choice), and Customer Success teams need to think about how to shape their response to COVID-19.

Re-think your customer lifecycle

The customer lifecycle isn’t linear under normal conditions, and it will look even more erratic under current conditions. Customer Success Managers should be ready to adapt.

Start by auditing automated touch points to avoid appearing tone deaf during this difficult time. From onboarding (hey you haven’t logged in lately!), to payment failure (your credit card was denied, try another!), to NPS surveys (how would you rate your experience with our product that took 3x as long as usual to ship?) you’ll likely find more than a few messages that come off as cringe-worthy in this climate.

Hitting pause on some 1-to-many communications means CSMs will spend more time talking directly to customers. Now isn’t the time to adhere to rigid tiers or segmentation criteria around service levels, or tech-touch versus human-touch workflows. Being accessible and responsive to customers is critical as we adjust to this new environment. Be prepared for customers who were relatively low touch and self-sufficient to need more hands on support.

People don’t want a canned response. They don’t want you to measure their happiness after they’ve waited for a month for a product that normally takes three days to arrive. What they want is a drop of humanity, a bit of truth and honesty in the face of something genuinely terrifying and unprecedented for all of us. Make sure you give it to them. — Help Scout

Provide value

Companies are being asked to do more with less. In this environment it’s never been more crucial to demonstrate and provide value to customers. Where do you start when your health score is no longer reliable, your customer champion has been laid off, and the upsell opportunity you were discussing has been put on hold?

A recent survey from Gainsight showed 65–80% of companies have frozen hiring for the next few months and 30–45% have frozen hiring and backfills indefinitely. In addition, 60–70% of sales leaders polled are reporting delayed sales cycles (source).

Go back to the basics- make a human connection with your customers and seek to gain a deep understanding of their business. Ask how they’re doing personally and how their company has been impacted. Once you have a better lay of the land, come to them with solutions. Manage champion churn or layoffs/ furloughs the same way you normally would- build relationships across different teams and seniority levels and rest the partnership. Changes in your customer’s business (good or bad) mean big projects are likely to be put on hold or changed in scope. This could be the time to try something radically different to reshape your partnership. Or, it could be the time to double down on what has worked in the past if customers need to mitigate risk or cut costs.

Uncertainty has people looking for guidance and answers and Customer Success teams are naturally poised to fill this void. Despite the fact that we all feel a bit unmoored, you have access to insights that can be presented as meaningful thought leadership. What shifts are you seeing across your customer base? Can usage data be anonymized to show directional trends- see examples from ChurnZero and Chargebee. Can you conduct industry surveys or generate interesting content?

Finally, value is linked with cost. If customers are no longer able to extract as much value from your solution during these times, consider ways to lower costs to mitigate the risk of permanent churn, such as: downgrading their plan or reducing seats; pausing their account for a period of time; offering them a price reduction or discount.

Invest in the long term

None of us know what the future holds. But thinking long term keeps us from being too overwhelmed by the situation we’re in, and it also helps us avoid making decisions in the moment that could sacrifice our eventual success. A points to leave you with:

  • Be human, be kind
  • Remember people have long memories- your actions today will impact your customer relationships long after this pandemic
  • Take care of yourself and avoid burn out