How to Improve Customer Retention—Even During a Pandemic

Customer retention is the continuation of a valued service. Like the binge-worthy series that demands one more late-night episode after another, when things are going well in business no one wants to interrupt the experience. So, what happens when external forces threaten that flow?

The answer is you must be flexible, proactive, and prepared to learn within a changing environment. In B2B terms, it is still possible to maintain your customer relationship and even improve customer retention during uncertainty, but you will need to focus on five key steps:

  1. Understand Your Customer
  2. Proactively Personalize Engagements
  3. Listen to Your Voice of Customer Programs
  4. Learn from Customers
  5. Adjust and Iterate Your Process

Uncertainty requires the responsiveness and flexibility of a customer-centric company and a proactive customer success team. 

COVID-19 Is an Interruption, Not an End

The effects of COVID-19 are undoubtedly going to linger in the market for the foreseeable futurethe majority of B2B companies have cut their budgets already and many expect further spending shifts in the future.

This uncertainty has forced the SaaS and subscription industries to work to improve customer retention as the market for new business shrinks. Protecting the core asset that is your existing customer base has become the most important function of any business and has shed new light on the role of customer success

Customer success is the process of forging mutual growth for your customer and yourself through the continual provision of value. In a time of global uncertainty, it is a practical and powerful goal.

How Customer Success Can Improve Customer Retention

Customer success makes it possible to improve your retention rates because it improves your customer’s ability to use your product to create value, as well as their understanding of that value. Through accurate customer monitoring, you can develop a thorough understanding of the customer experience and use this information to proactively increase the value realized by using your product. A growing customer gradually increases their need for your services and resources through expansion, in turn driving your own enterprise development.

As this development occurs throughout the customer journey, customer retention efforts have to be targeted across three key areas:

Onboarding: It is crucial that a customer experiences value early in their journey in order to develop confidence in your product and establish a link to the achievement of business goals. During the onboarding phase, it is critical to set a strong implementation foundation for product adoption. By focusing on first value, you set the customer up for success with the right foundation. Onboarding provides the first positive product experience and propels the customer to independently incorporate your product into their daily workflow. 

Adoption: In order for customers to stick with your product, it is not enough for them to simply use it, they must use it correctly. Customer success best practices encourage you to follow customer behavior and leverage automation to engage the customers with the right value at the right time. This increases the likelihood that your customer will reach their goals and milestones.

Renewal: Customer renewal decisions are not made solely when the calendar rolls around to an anniversary. Renewal, like churn, is the result of the ongoing customer experience, but you can position the retention strategy around a promise of continued success and a logical next step in your relationship.

Customer retention is about continuation. So, how can these core principles be used to improve customer retention during times of significant uncertainty and economic downturn?

Customer Success During Uncertainty

COVID-19 has produced a once-in-a-generation change to global markets, but the fundamentals of customer retention remain. Customers continue to base their renewal decisions on financial realities, emotional connection, and the trust they have that their business partners and process will continue to hold up during a crisis.

Your customer success goal should be to earn that trust by continuing to deliver value. That process begins with getting an accurate understanding of your customer’s situation.

1. Understand Your Customer

Now is not the time to guess. COVID-19, as with all major market disruptions, can lead to customer behaviors that seem hard to comprehend from afar. More than ever, you need to adopt the customer success cornerstone of making data-driven decisions on customer engagements. To truly understand your customer’s current needs and situation, you need to: 

  • Connect your customer data all in one place
  • Segment customers by COVID-19 impact
  • Establish and utilize digital forms of communication and service
  • Review goals and any adjustments that need to be made

By capturing a holistic digital footprint of your customers, you will have an easier time understanding their needs and how to fulfill them. Changing conditions will present new challenges and opportunities, but by aligning your entire organization throughout the customer journey, you can ensure customers are efficiently and proactively managed, even during a pandemic.

2. Proactively Personalize Engagements

Understanding how the current conditions are impacting your customer is only step one of a customer success strategy to improve customer retention. The next step is to use that information to make a meaningful contribution to the customer’s immediate business situation. This means uncovering potential new sources of value and shrinking the time-to-value for new customers to encourage momentum. By using the data you have collected, your CS team can create timely and effective personal engagements that connect with the customer at the right time. 

A wonderful example of this personalized engagement is messaging regarding the celebration of customer achievements. Sending a personalized message when a customer achieves a set goal or milestone helps establish a sense of value and progress that can engage a customer’s enthusiasm for your product and pave the way for a smooth renewal process. 

Let the client data you collect about your customers guide your team’s decisions on the timing and direction of your customer engagements. Segmenting customers to closely follow circumstances among specific industries, business sizes, physical location, and business models will also help you narrow down your messaging. That way, each message provides unique value to each client, at the proper moment. 

3. Listen to Customers

Listening to your customers and being able to iterate and pivot quickly is the key to retaining their business during uncertain times. You can increase your sensitivity to your customer needs by:

Staying relevant to your customers during a time of change will maintain your position as a valued part of their business. If you are able to adjust to the current circumstances and shape your engagements to meet new customer priorities, you will improve the likelihood of retaining your core assets.

Time is of the essence though. Rapidly responding to escalations and proactively working to introduce new solutions will help reassure your customer that you are still around to guide them through the current trouble.

4. Learn from Customers

Customer Success is not a stationary or fixed field. Customer needs are fluid, which is why it is critical to use a CS solution to monitor customer information and success metrics including customer demographics, financial information, voice of customer information, support tickets, product usage, and logged interactions. Tracking this data can alert CSMs to both rapid, short term changes and more subtle, long term shifts in customer behavior. Learning from your customers is critical to improving your services and preventing the same mistakes from happening twice. By using a CS solution, you can observe and analyze long term data that details customer interactions, usage, and escalations. This data can be used to automate your success plays, which provides context and specific next steps for your team so that they can take action right away to help better serve customers.

5. Adjust and Iterate Your Process

If you aren’t continuously analyzing and re-thinking your customer retention efforts, your customer satisfaction will suffer. Customer success requires constant agility—your customer success solution should be flexible and allow you to adjust workflows based on data findings, reduce bottlenecks, and continually improve products and services. By listening and learning from your customers, you will have the information you need to improve your services, but be ready for change. 

Improve Customer Retention with the Right Software

Maintaining contact in a time when many enterprises are stretched for time and resources requires the comprehensive solution of a customer success platform. Introducing a scalable digital solution now will leverage your current resources toward taking proactive steps to create value without the need to add to your headcount during an uncertain time.

To improve customer retention during a time of uncertainty, it is crucial to maintain a high level of service and visibility despite the threat of interruption. Developing a customer success approach now will help you better understand and bring value to your customers when they most need it.

Totango’s customer success platform provides a modular-approach to customer success to help you break down the customer journey into easier-to-manage blocks with built-in best practices, reporting, playbooks, and more. In these challenging times, you can’t afford to buy before you try. Get started for free today.

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