Customer Success Team Maturity: A COVID-19 Playbook for Every ScaleUp Stage

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The current pandemic has brought new business to a standstill and "retention is the new growth". Nearly all leaders are focused on churn and protecting their customer base, with 26% of companies reporting higher churn rates in March1. Customer Success teams with clear playbooks are key to financial success, as indicated by surveys showing that even in the midst of layoffs 85% of companies plan to grow or keep their CSM teams2

Insight has been actively speaking with companies about how to decrease churn risk and maintain (if not improve) retention. Insight is lucky to have Gainsight, the leader in Customer Success software, as one of our portfolio investments. We recently hosted a webinar with Nick Mehta, Gainsight’s CEO, to share the below playbooks and have an open dialogue around how to mobilize CS teams during this time. 

The goal of these playbooks is to establish a company-wide view of risk and financial exposure and provide a guide to proactive interventions. We have grouped the Customer Success playbooks by organizational maturity as well as by Customer Success pillars such as reporting and analysis, retention and outreach, and concessions. The playbooks below are not inclusive of all activities but highlight main activities for each stage of organizational maturity. 

maturity

Beginner

For beginner or early stage CS organizations, it is critical that basic infrastructure and processes are in place. This includes creating account tiers and health scores. These will help organize and categorize customers according to the biggest impact to your business as well as assign appropriate SLAs. You should also set up “red account” meetings to regularly review at risk, or red, accounts with cross-functional stakeholders (Product, Sales, CS, Leadership, Finance) and devise a detailed action plan to try to retain those customers. 

Once the basics are in place, it’s time to add in a COVID-19 playbook. First, we recommend creating a process to quickly assess the projected impact of COVID-19 on your customer base using a combination of subjective and objective data points such as industry vertical and ARR. For example, customers in the travel vertical are significantly impacted by COVID-19 and should be classified as high churn risk. For these types of customers there may be nothing you can do to prevent their churn. However, industries such as cyber-security are benefitting from COVID-19, and you should absolutely focus on retaining these customers. After categorizing your customer base by industry, ARR, and risk, you should create a list of the top 20 at-risk accounts and monitor these weekly.

During these times, no renewal is guaranteed so don’t wait to reach out to customers. CS teams should reach out to every in-year renewal. CS plays a critical role in helping customers get through the crisis by listening to how customers are impacted and what short-term needs they have.

It is critical for CS teams to keep a detailed list of each customer’s needs for management to track, review, and provide feedback or approval. Emerging product themes should be shared with Product leaders so that the roadmap can be re-aligned towards features that will drive retention.

Intermediate

At this stage, ScaleUp companies have more resources available to them and have built out basic processes. Companies can now adjust and amplify current processes. 
Again, the first step is to assess the impact of COVID-19 on your customer base. However, as you presumably have a larger base and potentially more sophisticated data, you should also add in sales potential to ensure you’re considering whitespace in the market. Then, you can think of categorizing customers into those that have been negatively impacted vs. those that are neutral or likely to recover ahead of the economy.  Finally, a list of all top-risk accounts should be created and monitored. 

In Gainsight, this is simple to do by creating a COVID impact score which is calculated based upon the categories laid out above. CSMs can use the overall health score and the COVID impact score to monitor customers and help prioritize their time according to highest risk. 

Organizations can also use Gainsight to build out COVID dashboards so that everyone can see necessary information in an easy to digest manner. These reports are critical for leadership to dynamically follow the impact week by week. Dashboards could include items such as ARR impact by renewal date, ARR by vertical, and upcoming at-risk renewals. 

Another strategy to deploy is tech-touch for long tail customers. Utilizing tech-touch via email and in your application helps maximize the bandwidth and coverage of the CS team. CSMs can spend their time on the most critical accounts while tech-touch reaches the entire customer base in a more cost and time effective manner. 

Finally, we recommend standing up a concession committee with CS leadership as well as other key functions like Finance, Legal, Sales, Product, etc. The Sales and CS teams should never commit to concessions on their own as this will make it difficult for you to have full visibility into your financial risk. Rather, concession requests should be collected and reviewed weekly or a set number of times per week with the committee. Offering free training or services is another way to further adoption of your product with at-risk customers.

Advanced

In the advanced stage, the CS playbook focuses on enhancing current CS processes and adding data and analytics. Companies at this stage in their CS evolution are looking at supplemental data to enhance their customer impact assessments. For example, one leader that we spoke to is collecting data about whether customers are still hiring using the assumption that those hiring are in a financially secure place. There are several other data points that you can weave into your COVID impact score. 

We also recommend adding CS leadership to the Sales pipeline calls (if not already done) so that Sales and CS can stay in sync and ensure they are coordinated with regards to contacting the base. 

Several companies are also facilitating user groups to bring together customers in the same industry. These user groups allow customers to share how they are doing in today’s climate and also lead to discussions around how your company’s product is supporting customers meet their needs. 

Lastly, something that applied to all phases of CS evolution is strong alignment among your company’s leadership: the CEO, CFO and Chief Customer Officer or Chief Revenue Officer need to be collaborating on a regular basis. Impact assessments must be ongoing given the rapidly changing environment and to stay on top of market and customer changes, companies need to refine and review your assessments frequently with input from the C-suite. Creating a process to group concessions by customer category will also enable you to find additional insights which can funnel back into your assessment.
Insight’s Customer Success center of excellence can support ScaleUp company efforts as you focus on retention. Companies need to fight for every dollar. Retention is oxygen.

Likewise, Gainsight has the best industry knowledge about CS and the technology to empower CS organizations. CS is never been more critical than in an economic downturn. Want to learn more about Gainsight? Contact Gainsight at www.gainsight.com


Sources:

(1)    Insight survey in April, 2020 of 126 SaaS companies to assess COVID-19 impact
(2)    Gainsight survey in April, 2020 of 41 respondents across late-stage cloud companies and publicly traded SaaS companies to assess churn and retention impact

  • Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight

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  • Nalanie Nath, Senior Director, Sales COE

    Nalanie Nath, Vice President, Sales COE

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