Shania Twain once sang you got to dance with the one that brought you, because continuous support and care is alchemized into loyalty.
That’s also the secret to customer success.
CSMs know that acquiring customers is its own challenge, and that a strong retention rate takes some of that pressure off the business. But how do you build loyalty that leads to customer retention?
We talked to a panel of industry leaders, learning some customer retention strategies that really work. The panel includes Jordan Olivero, director of customer success at Swimlane; Elizabeth Tsui, head of customer success at Blue Prism; and John Knox, director of customer success at Crowdsmart.
6 Customer Retention Strategies That Work
- Onboard customers effectively to accelerate their time to value
- Involve customers in drawing your product roadmap
- Send customers personalized messages
- Provide customers with valuable resources
- Invite customers onto an advisory board
- Learn from customer feedback
What Customer Retention Strategies Work Best?
Olivero: Retention is a specific component of strong relationships. I remind my team that business is human-to-human, and that occasional brief emails that have nothing to do with work but that let the customer know we’re thinking of them go a long way — especially in a pandemic.
Doing things that don’t scale is really important for our customers; they’re mainly enterprise accounts, which require a high-touch, white-glove experience. A simple personalized video can go a long way.
Additionally, we send swag to every new customer. And we continually share relevant resources, webinars, etc.
“Doing things that don’t scale is really important for our customers.”
Tsui: The retention strategies that work really well are those that understand where the customer is in their maturity, and understanding the complexity of those customers. With some of our more mature customers, that means a high touch; we’re talking to them all the time. For some of our customers that are just starting out, it can be like water from a fire hose, so you ease off a little bit; you might look at a lighter, less-frequent touch model.
Pre-COVID, we did a lot of onsite meetings with customers to build relationships, understand all the stakeholders and align them properly. Now, that same kind of white-glove experience means a sense of empathy and understanding and awareness of where they are otherwise. Yes, you’re still doing your Zoom meetings and having your phone calls and sending email recaps and all that. But it’s also showing that you’re helping them understand and articulate their business objectives, then helping them make smart goals and desired outcomes out of that, and then aligning your team and your organization’s tasks and efforts accordingly.
Knox: For us, the best thing to do to help retain customers and keep them engaged is to set up in-app messaging, coach marks and walkthroughs — so that there are smartly timed guides and pop-ups that accelerate their time to value. When they get that moment of value, and they get it as soon as possible, they’re more likely to be satisfied with the product, and then that makes renewal closer to a non-event.
While we do love to meet with people in person, about 90 percent of what we normally do is over the phone or over videoconferencing. So that makes it easier to keep engaged during this season. But I would say that it is a challenge because some of those meetings that we do get to have in person are special.
To accommodate for this shift, we’ve done two big things. One is communicating sincere care. It’s being presentable, turning on the camera during Zoom calls, smiling, injecting humor into the call to support our clients as humans first before discussing the engagement as business partners. The second thing is user-empathy interviews. These are part of our market research process, and allow us to make really good decisions on the customer journey, rather than focusing on customer satisfaction or purchase frequency or brand loyalty or things that can sometimes feel too codified.
What Are Some Overrated Customer Retention Strategies?
Olivero: There’s a focus on process that is efficient, but also tone deaf. I’ve seen that in the customer success space quite a bit — an emphasis on tech touch and automation, efficiency. But you have to know your customers and who you’re working with. Design that process with the customer in mind, and don’t ask how to do it more efficiently until you’re convinced it’s effective; focus on value first — then, make it easier and faster to achieve said value.
“There’s a focus on process that is efficient, but also tone deaf ... an emphasis on tech touch and automation, efficiency.”
Tsui: If you try a one-size-fits-all approach, you’re not meeting your customer where they are, which tends to fall flat. Things that work better are understanding where the customer is in their customer journey, what their desired outcomes are for the engagement, and helping them build the wherewithal to achieve those desired outcomes, which are as varied as the customer.
Knox: A lot of people recommend investing in sophisticated marketing automation. Customer success folks like me are taught to set up mail merges and stack up our email templates so that we can fire those off to customers to re-engage them with the product. Sophisticated marketing automation is nice to have, but I would definitely say to focus on the product experience.
How Does Customer Feedback Inform Retention Strategy?
Olivero: Churn analysis is really important. Customer feedback is often most impactful when you’ve had an event where a customer leaves. Through that post-mortem, a CSM builds a report of that account, then a cross-functional team of department heads meets and arrives at a consensus of what the root cause was, and we assign a percentage [of responsibility] to each team. We then put in place programs to address any kind of mitigation. I’ve found that that process unifies and motivates departments to address these root causes.
“Customer feedback is often most impactful when you’ve had an event where a customer leaves.”
More proactive stuff: Onboarding effort score, which looks at how much effort it took for the customer to get the first value. That’s a good indication to us of the customer temperature. We measure the number of days from the contract signing until there’s that “aha! moment” where the executive sponsor says, “I get it, I see [the value].” We’re trying to drive that median duration shorter and shorter.
We also meet with our customers occasionally to give them insight and influence over our product roadmap through briefings with product management. And I facilitate a customer advisory board annually.
Tsui: The voice of the customer can be represented — and should be represented — at multiple points throughout the customer’s interaction with the company. For us, that means through customer success, sales, support, professional services, our online portals and our community platform, which is a forum. Each one of those channels feed into our product management, so that they’re building the product based on that voice of the customer.
Knox: We have a member advisory committee, which includes our platform’s power users. And these are folks that are dialed in. They have early access to updates into investment opportunities, and we do quarterly meetings where they give feedback and key insights to help us drive the product roadmap. They’re absolutely partners of ours for informing our strategy, and they have an open channel of communication to us.
How Do You Use Data to Drive Customer Retention?
Olivero: We don’t have telemetry because our software is usually on-prem and hidden behind a firewall. [Editor’s note: Swimlane is a security platform.] We have no idea that people have logged in or what they’re clicking. So, we look at every customer touch point as telemetry. They’re all parsed into a chronological history of activity of the account.
We also look at the ideal customer profile, and then we try to assess each customer against that ideal profile, [giving us] a health score that’s dynamically calculated by different factors. Based on that health score, we engage or prioritize our attention. A lot of times, there will be certain groups of customers that are at risk. So, once a month we’ll bring the entire executive team together and the CSM has to speak to what’s going on, why the customer’s at risk, what the plan is to bring them from red to green and what help they need from the rest of the company to achieve that plan.
Tsui: We maintain a customer health index, and that looks at a variety of factors of the customer to give us a sense of where they are — a temperature check. We’re still building this, it’s an ever-evolving tool. But the idea is that it gives you a proactive and ultimately predictive book of metrics about your customer so that you can start to understand their behavior en masse. Every customer is unique, but there are trends that you can identify that are common among certain ones. And so it’s up to us to adapt our segmentation strategy and our engagement strategy accordingly. As far as software goes, we use Gainsight, we use survey data from Qualtrics, NPS, and we use Freshdesk for our support ticketing system, and everything is glued together with Salesforce.
“Every customer is unique, but there are trends that you can identify that are common among certain ones.”
Knox: Firms we’re collaborating with have Slack user profiles that are in one special channel that we can always collaborate on instead of just using email. We integrate Slack with our Google Analytics and with our website analytics, and that provides us data on the chats, the logins, the new user data evaluations, user state changes, testing environment and demo environment changes and even channel partner hubs. We can have a specialized channel where an external firm we’re collaborating with can reach us directly for feedback, updates and proposals.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.