Mar 31, 2020

Read Time 7 min

7 Key Takeaways from ‘Fortifying Customer Relationships During COVID-19’ Webinar


Fortifying Your Customer Relationships During & After COVID19

During this time of economic instability, it’s critical that Customer Success teams protect and provide business continuity to their customers. We held a panel discussion with Customer Success leaders and our customers to share advice from the trenches as they navigate this period of unprecedented uncertainty. Our panelists included:

  • Ashley Willhalm, Director of Customer Experience at PipelineDeals
  • Kris Morrison, VP of Customer Success at Interact Software
  • Jeremy Jeffers, VP of Customer Success at Untappd

To open, we asked the panel about the first steps in their response strategy.

Jeremy Jeffers from Untapped, an app that allows users to socially share and explore the world of beer with others, shared that as a global company, their internal communications surrounding affected areas was crucial. As Untappd’s Customer Success team conducted outreach and learned more about their customers’ evolving situations, they took key actions, including:

  • Tagging accounts in affected areas with temporary ‘Do Not Call’ flags in Salesforce
  • Monitoring key customer events—like login activity which signified a company may still be open for business—and geolocation trends in ChurnZero. Seeing large product usage decreases in certain regions or states was a strong indicator that their customer might be shut down.
  • Adding a call-to-action in their email signatures inviting customers to take a quick, four-question survey about how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19. The survey asked if their business was still open, if they had plans to close it, what’s the best way to be contacted at this time, and if they had any additional comments. This allowed customers to passively give direct feedback and Untappd to collect the needed information for customer segmentation.
  • Setting up proactive alerts in ChurnZero to flag inactive businesses as they start to reopen over the next few months.

Takeaway #1:
Don’t be afraid to ask customers how they’ve been impacted by this crisis—whether it’s directly via phone or passively via a survey. Use product usage data as a leading indicator of a customer in crisis and create a specific customer segmentation strategy based on their impact level. Customers who were highly active and engaged prior to COVID-19 may now be experiencing something completely different.

How do you balance customer communications during a crisis? Customer Success Managers don’t want to contribute to email fatigue, but they also don’t want to be silent.

As Ashley Willhalm of PipelineDeals explained, it starts with your internal communications. With fear rampant, boosting morale is so important right now. You not only want to be there for your customers, but you also want to make sure you send the right message—leading with value and emphasizing your support. Ashely said they’ve made updates to their billing page so that if a customer requests a cancellation, they can show them they have new alternative options. Their Customer Success team is reevaluating and updating account usage triggers in ChurnZero to reflect the shift in customer behavior.

Adding to this, Jeremy said that his team also reevaluated their automated Plays in ChurnZero for renewals and onboarding to pause sending triggered messages like “We noticed you haven’t started your account yet,” which could come across as tone-deaf to a struggling customer.

Jeremy’s team is heavily reliant on auto-renewals with 18,000 customers managed across nine Customer Success Managers. Because of this, they made the decision to waive renewals out a few months. Untappd’s Customer Success Managers directly called their customers to relay the good news that they moved their renewal date and proactively extended their service. Reaching out to customers via phone helped motivate their team by hearing customers’ sense of relief and gratitude. This reinforced the feeling that their team was making a positive impact and rallied them behind their core mission of putting their customers first.   

Takeaway #2: Customer Success needs to be proactive and think of new, unique ways to get ahead of customer contraction and churn. Remember to reevaluate and update product automations that have customer touchpoints (like in-app notifications and email) to ensure they don’t come across as insensitive during times of crises.

It’s been hard to contact customers by phone since offices are closed. Email is now the only option. How can you make sure your customer communications aren’t deleted or lost?

Ashley recommended pausing automated messages, thereby contributing less to the email onslaught, to bring the messages being directly sent from Customer Success Managers front and center. She added that there’s nothing wrong with using email as the main channel for communication. If you’ve built a solid relationship with your customer, they’ll prioritize messages from you. Ashley also suggested that sending a personal message or offer from your CEO can go a long way with the customer.

Takeaway #3: Lean into email and in-app notifications to communicate with customers when their phone becomes inaccessible. Elevate a communication by sending it from a member of your executive leadership team with a personal message or offer.

How do you reinforce your value as businesses begin to get back on their feet?

Jeremy advised that you never want to encourage a full disconnect or break from your product. To avoid contract pauses, they’ve gotten creative with how they add value in other ways, such as helping with their customers’ social engagement strategy and promoting virtual happy hours. In communities across the country, there’s been a big push to support local businesses by ordering take-out or delivery. And, since Untappd’s customer base is primarily comprised of local restaurants and bars, Untappd championed this cause in a unique and thoughtful way. In the span of 48 hours, they launched a new product called Greg Avola’s List (named after their co-founder) which shows the local venues in your area that are offering take-out, curbside pickup, and gift cards for food and beer purchases. It’s a new avenue for their customers to stay engaged and connected to their local community.

Interact Software’s Kris Morrison also emphasized that you should provide unique insight or value to help customers through this difficult time besides just sending a standard COVID-19 email blast. For example, they tracked their customers’ employee intranet searches and found that search trends included COVID-19, but also other information like Human Resources and paychecks—queries that don’t normally rank in their top 10 results. Using this insight, they reached out to customers to suggest how to temporarily optimize their site and improve the employee experience.

Takeaway #4: If your product’s output isn’t as relevant during a crisis, you need to reposition and find new ways to provide ongoing value to your customer. Don’t just call your customers to “check-in” during this time; always make your communication purposeful and focused on customer benefits.  

For impacted customers who are in a pivotal phase and have not yet realized full value from your product, how can you maintain their momentum?

Kris shared how they’re adapting their standard implementation, which takes three to nine months, to provide value faster. Typically, their implementation is an in-depth process including onsite visits and a dedicated strategy team. But, since their customers are mainly focused on crisis communications now, they’ve adjusted their implementation to deprioritize non-essential features—enabling customers to go live and realize value quickly. For prospects, they’ve offered a basic framework that allows them to go live within two weeks so they can begin sending critical communications. They’ve also reevaluated their product strategy, putting less important items on hold, so they could launch a new feature two months early.

Takeaway #5: Expedite customer value attainment by prioritizing what’s most important to them right now—whether that means launching desired features early or speeding up implementation by only providing key functionality.

How do you keep your internal company-wide messaging clear and consistent?

To help stay connected while working remotely, Ashley shared that their leadership team has been scheduling one-on-one meetings with at least three people they wouldn’t normally interact with each week.

Jeremy added that the remote work transition has made their team more heavily reliant on Slack to replace casual in-person communication. The constant updates on their team channel created a lot of extra noise with questions and responses getting lost in the back-and-forth conversations. To combat the messaging influx, they broke their Customer Success Slack channel into smaller channels that mirror their office environment. Normally, their Customer Success Managers sit in pods of four desks which allows them to informally field questions amongst their pod before they escalate to management. Their management team monitors the smaller groups for common questions and answers them in the larger team channel, which they designated for official communications. The smaller channels boosted morale by creating a more intimate space that encouraged members to check in with one another. It was also less intimidating to ask questions in this setting compared to in a Slack channel with over 20 people.

Kris shared that they created an intranet section for CEO messages as its reassuring to hear from your company leader on a consistent basis. They also created two forums within their intranet. The first being a community site for their customers to talk amongst themselves, which generated conversations they had never even considered. The second was an internal forum to share positive customer feedback. In the midst of negativity, this allowed good news and messages to be shared across the entire company and raise morale.

All panelists said they’re conducting daily standups with their leadership team to stay connected as the crisis continues to evolve each day.  

Takeaway #6: With many companies forced to work fully remote, it’s important to find ways to connect with your team and individuals on a personal level. Try scheduling one-on-one’s with coworkers you don’t typically interact with, breaking down your mass communication channels like Slack into more intimate groups, or creating designated spaces to share positive new or executive leadership communications. As the news continues to evolve by the hour and day, leadership teams should consider daily standups.

How have you balanced showing generosity towards impacted customers with maintaining a profitable business? Some customers are preemptively canceling even though their renewal date isn’t for six or nine months. How can we keep them engaged?

Ashley said they’ve adapted their bootstrap program (originally designed for startups who don’t have any funding) for impacted customers. The program terms were that once a startup was deemed “profitable,” they’d start paying for their software subscription. But until then, qualifying startups can use their sales enablement application at no cost. They made the decision to offer the bootstrap program to impacted customers who may have otherwise canceled their subscription. The only condition is that the customer and Customer Success Manager have regular check-ins to monitor the customers’ health and progression. Offering a no-cost option was better than entirely losing a customer or trying to win them over months from now when their business begins to turn around.

Ashley added that they also offered their small- to medium-sized businesses a free upgrade to their top tier product plan through the end of September. Since extending the offer, they’ve had many customers reach out in gratitude. This upgrade also helped the Customer Success team stay in communication with their customers through this hard time.

Kris also shared that they’re working with impacted customers on payment flexibility options including net 60 terms and reconfiguring payment installments.

Takeaway #7: It’s better to air on the side of too generous than not generous enough if it doesn’t compromise your company’s health. Consider creative product terms or payment flexibility options to retain customers through challenging times.

No worries, if you missed the webinar, you can view it on-demand here

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