Adam Joseph, Founder, CustomerSuccessManager.com
Anyone working in a Customer Success role should be well used to the roller-coaster ride that comes with the job. From that amazing feeling and thrill of helping your customer achieve (and surpass) their desired outcomes to the desolate low of dealing with failures when they occur. When something does go wrong and with the benefit of hindsight, you typically arrive at the conclusion that it was not the result of one individual factor but a combination of much smaller events that at the time seemed incidental but when combined, culminated in something much more sinister.
There is actually a name for this principle - the “Black Swan” theory - which was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American essayist, scholar and statistician. It describes a terrible event that comes as a complete surprise, has a major effect, and is often triggered by something relatively minor.
From a personal perspective and as a parent to two children, my wife and I spent much of their formative years constantly worrying about things that hadn’t happened yet and probably never would. When they were babies, were they still breathing in their sleep (every parent would have shared this worry), when they started walking were they going to going to hit their head on a corner of a table, was an open door about to slam shut on them? These worries were exhausting and of course, on the whole, my kids - who are now 13 and 11 - are absolutely fine (even if they have both inherited my clumsy gene).
However, as Customer Success professionals, we should all be programmed to think about our customers in a similar way and constantly be looking for the “soft underbelly” (or weak-point) of everything we do. Pinpoint the factors that could go wrong in your internal systems, processes and products and build Play-Books (i.e. process workflows) to deal with each one. Review your customers who have churned or downgraded unexpectedly and ask yourself “why?”. In hindsight, could you have built better controls, checks and balances to prevent it from occurring because if you haven’t, the chances are that the next nasty surprise is not far away.
You can see the Black Swan theory in full effect at some very large companies quite recently. It is not often that you can find a common dominator in companies as diverse as Marketo, Foursquare.com, Microsoft, the Dallas Cowboys and financial institutions such as Regions, Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks but there is one. All of these companies have had the embarrassing misfortune to let their domain name lapse. In the case of Marketo, not only was this unfortunate, it also had serious consequences for their large user base who found themselves unable to access their services on which they rely. Given the extremely high value that every organisation places on their brand equity (Marketo was just acquired for close to $2 billion), the consequences of these high-profile gaffes last far longer than it takes to remember to renew their domains with the relevant registries.
In each of these examples, it is highly likely that smaller individual issues occurred that eventually led to a much bigger problem. Where does the fault ultimately lie? How proactive should both parties (suppliers and customers) have been to stop these smaller issues occurring in the first place? Likely, existing processes were already in place to help avoid this exact situation from occurring, such as:
However, despite these types of measures being in place, the “soft underbelly” of these processes made it possible for things to go wrong and eventually – they did – and chaos ensues. This can be for a variety of reasons; some of which are highly predictable; such as:
Remember, no matter how good any process is that tracks key customer metrics and health, there is one vital component that is critical to its overall success; does it apply common-sense? Just taking a “ticking the boxes” approach (e.g. looking at usage statistics in isolation, sending out regular product announcements, automated alerting when specific events occur, etc.) will never be enough. Sometimes, just picking up the phone and having a direct conversation can yield fantastic results. Just think what a call would have meant to someone at Marketo, Foursquare.com or Microsoft to let them know that their internet domains were about to expire.
If as a CSM you are concerned that your customer is not getting value - and ultimately heading for downgrade/churn – you need to be creative in your approach, move away from the “tick box” mentality and be resilient to keep going until you see more positive results or at the very least, ensure that key stakeholders in your business are aware so they can forecast accurately and do everything in their power to assist you in your efforts.
In my experience, here are some creative techniques that I have seen leveraged to help build customer value that yield results:
I’m off to check when the domain on CustomerSuccessManager.com expires or chances are, you will never get a chance to read this blog anyway!