How do you structure proactive customer engagement so that you can scale a team and provide a consistently great customer experience? With a good model for customer engagement.
Proactive customer engagement. It’s a tenet of customer success. We all do it to some extent – some of us better than others.
The question is: “how do you best go about structuring that proactive engagement so that you can scale a team and provide a consistently great customer experience?” The answer is: “with a good customer engagement model.”
A good customer engagement model needs to be flexible in two key ways:
- It needs to accommodate different phases of the customer lifecycle; and
- It needs to support both scheduled and unscheduled interactions with customers.
In a prior article on Time to Value, I pointed out that it’s critical to keep momentum going once the initial sales deal is closed and ensure that you aren’t diverging from your customer’s original path to reaching their objectives. Your customer engagement model should, therefore, start at the time of sale in order to maintain momentum and achieve a first 'quick win'.
Good customer engagement models should also help keep you focused on answering the three key questions you need to know about every customer:
- How is our customer measuring value?
- Are they achieving that value?
- Are we providing an experience that will result in loyalty and advocacy?
Irrespective of whether your company provides high personal touch customer success or whether your customer success model is more self-service, your proactive engagement with customers should be governed by an engagement model.
A good engagement model helps you understand: a) what the engagement 'moments' are for customers throughout their lifecycle; b) who in your organisation is responsible for interaction with customers at those moments; and c) what the objective or expected outcome is for each of those moments.
I’ve illustrated what that model looks like conceptually in the image below:
The phases of an engagement model
The first key point of an engagement model is that it needs to work across two very different phases of the customer lifecycle, the onboarding phase and the ongoing usage phase.
The first phase, onboarding, is the much higher intensity, much more critical, and much more interactive of the two. I think of these two phases very much like the take-off phase and the cruise phase of airplane flight. In the take-off phase you’re in close proximity to the ground, there’s quite a bit at stake, it’s the phase where more incidents happen, and it generally requires a high degree of pilot focus.
During the cruise phase of flight, it’s important that pilots monitor their instruments, ensure they’re on course, and pay attention to external factors. They can’t ignore that they’re flying an airplane during the cruise phase, however the workload, intensity, and immediate consequences are lower than during the take-off phase.
Pilots don’t need to give the aeroplane nearly as much of their attention during cruise as they do when they’re screaming down the runway, getting it airborne, dealing with heavy air traffic, and monitoring for even the slightest anomaly – which could have dire consequences if left unchecked. During cruise, a pilot can leave the cockpit to use the restroom. During take-off, on the other hand… not so much.
The onboarding phase
The onboarding phase serves two purposes:
- It ensures that your customers are getting off on the right foot and are set up for success with your solution; and
- It creates a logical opportunity for both you and your customer to think about, articulate, and agree on how you’re going to measure value in the ongoing phase.
In a “high-touch” customer engagement scenario, much of the onboarding phase may be done by a CSM or someone from the customer onboarding or training team. The customer needs to become familiar with your solution during this phase, and you need to ensure that they’re able to be self-sufficient when using it.
A “low-touch” customer engagement scenario will have the same objective, but will achieve it more with automated marketing/email campaigns, automated measurement and exceptional handling of early adoption indicators, and automated training for the customer.
A good onboarding process not only ensures that a customer is adopting your product but positions you as a partner to help ensure they’re making progress against their stated objective.
In both the high and low touch models, it’s critical to measure early indicators of user adoption and determine what course corrections need to be applied. The method for measuring the indicators and for communicating to customers, needs to be much more automated in the case of a low touch engagement model.
In addition to ensuring adoption and self-sufficiency, the onboarding phase in a high touch B2B/enterprise solution world provides an opportunity for you to validate key assumptions with your customer on how they are going to measure value and how they’re going to quantify the success of the implementation of your solution. If your sales process is value based, you have probably already begun identifying use cases, measurements, and customer ROI expectations.
You may have also quantified the expected ROI from adoption of your solution. The bad news is that too many companies don’t do any further measurement once the deal is closed. A good onboarding process not only ensures that a customer is adopting your product but positions you as a partner to help ensure they’re making progress against their stated objective.
Example engagement moments during the onboarding phase (some of which are included in the sample model above) include:
- A kick-off meeting to ensure that the customer meets your team (either virtually or face-to-face, as appropriate).
- Confirmation that the customer has downloaded / activated / or logged in.
- Initial product training.
- A formal review of the first set of metrics delivered by your solution. These should provide an indication of the customer’s adoption, usage, and effectiveness (how well they are doing x, not just that they are doing x).
- A checkpoint with the customer to ensure that they understand how the product works and that they feel self-sufficient.
In the spirit of Time to Value, it’s vital during the onboarding phase that the process moves as quickly and efficiently as possible and that customer momentum is maintained in the process. I’d strongly recommend two things to manage momentum:
- Once you have defined your engagement moments, measure the time that it takes each customer to progress from one to the other. Analyse your metrics and determine whether there are any systemic delays in any of your phases of onboarding and work quickly to get to the root cause. I’ve had teams shave weeks off implementation/onboarding by measuring individual phases, identifying root cause for the delays, and then fixing the process.
- Set escalation triggers if you don’t see adoption events occurring with your customers according to expected timeframes during the onboarding phase. If your customers haven’t created x accounts in y weeks for example, that should trigger proactive engagement on your part – in addition to the predefined moments in your plan.
The ongoing phase
The focus of the ongoing phase is to ensure that your customer is achieving the objectives identified in the onboarding phase and that you’re keeping a pulse on their experience.
Engagement moments in this phase can be categorised into one of two types: 1) time-based; or 2) event-based.
Time-based moments are ones that you can put on a calendar, such as a quarterly business review, monthly metrics review, annual account review, or even weekly meetings for your highest of high-touch customers. Time-based moments are great ways to keep your customers interacting with you for the duration of the lifecycle – as long as you clearly set expectations and provide valuable feedback to them during those engagement points.
An engagement model for an enterprise customer with a highly complex solution will look very different than one for a consumer with an off-the-shelf SaaS offering.
If you aren’t continuously providing value to your customers during these moments, they’ll lose interest and stop attending regular calls/meetings, so be careful not to over-schedule them, and be sure to provide relevant engaging content in each of these engagements. Dan Steinman from Gainsight recently wrote an informative blog post characterising a good quarterly/executive business review.
Event-based moments are ones that are triggered by the occurrence of an event (or non-event in some cases), such as a customer logging a high-severity case with your support desk; a new product release from your company; a change in leadership or executive sponsorship at your customer; a poor or mediocre survey response; an absence of support cases over a defined period of time; a decrease in overall usage; or a decrease in key usage metrics from a given customer.
The purpose of event-based triggers is to help you react quickly and appropriately to events that can influence the health of the customer relationship – for better or for worse. In either case, the sooner your team reacts to the event that triggered the engagement, the better off you’ll be.
Customer engagement models are unique to companies, products and customer types. An engagement model for an enterprise customer with a highly complex solution will look very different than one for a consumer with an off-the-shelf SaaS offering and both will engage different parts of the organisation.
Logically breaking down that model into two key phases (onboarding and ongoing) and defining the ongoing phase in a way that supports both time and event-based moments of engagement with customers should help you optimise for your products and customer types. You will likely end up with more than one engagement model for different customer segments.
Nello Franco is senior vice president, customer success, at Talend.