Customer engagement, along with customer success, is a term that’s frequency of use seems to be increasing with each passing day. But what do these terms actually mean and what are their respective purposes in an organization? Should every company have a customer engagement focus or are some more primed than others? Also, when do you know the timing is right to roll out or enhance your own plan?
Since we have been pondering these same questions in our own organization, we thought it best to seek the advice of an expert. We sat down with David Ellin, a customer engagement leader, in order to get his opinion on best practices. See below for the exchange.
- What does customer engagement actually mean and what is the difference between it and customer success?
- Customer Engagement typically refers to the “when” and “how” a company or brand chooses to engage with their customers – marketing, sales, support, operations, technology, Customer Advisory Boards, Business Reviews, etc. It is the operational part of managing customer relationships.
- Customer Success typically refers to the methodology by which a company drives actions to deliver their customer’s desired outcomes. This can include the development of Ideal Customer Profiles, playbooks, Onboarding & Implementation programs, Adoption programs, Retention programs, Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs, and more. Customer Success is likely the fastest growing discipline within the SaaS world and is expanding to product and services companies as well.
- What is the difference between Customer Success, Customer Support, and Account Management?
- Back in time, the title “Client Services” was typically a combination of sales (up-sell/cross-sell to existing customers), supporting customers by solving today’s problems, and looking forward to the future to remove potential obstacles with new products or services.
- Today, these have been broken into individual disciplines. Think of it using this sport analogy. 20 years ago, a major league pitcher would go as deep into a game as possible with the goal of throwing a complete game. Today, that’s virtually unheard of. Everyone is a specialist. There are starters (why typically pitch 5-7 innings), middle relievers (who pitch 2-3 innings), and closers (who may only pitch 1-2 innings). It’s the same in business.
- Customer Support is the tactical face of a business that is responsible for solving today’s problems – issue resolution, trouble tickets, etc.
- Account Management is the Sales arm focused on revenue growth through a combination of up-sells, cross-sells, and renewals.
- Customer Success is the strategic face of a business that is responsible for customers adopting the full use of the products purchased, making sure value is realized, and ensuring that a customer’s desired outcomes and expectations are met. In some companies, Customer Success may have responsibility for portions of revenue growth as well.
- Why does Customer Success Matter?
- In today’s world, the customer calls the shots. They vote with their dollars and won’t hesitate to move from company-to-company until they find everything they’re looking for. Additionally, with the changes that have been brought about by the COVID pandemic, companies are struggling to get time with their customers, build deep and trusting relationships, and carry-on business with growth in mind. Retention has never been more important.
- How does a company know if they are deficient with their engagement strategy and need to look at ways to enhance it?
- When a company is not meeting their customer retention/renewal goals or has lower than desired Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores, that’s typically an indication they’re deficient with their engagement strategy. Whatever they’re doing is not meeting the needs or expectations of their customers.
- This can mean they’re not doing the right things, or they’re not doing things the right way. For example, not having a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program may be an indication of not doing the right thing. They’re not collecting valuable customer satisfaction data that can help them improve their products, services, and customer relationships.
- Having a VoC program, collecting data, but not taking action on that data is an example of not doing things the right way. Many experts agree that asking for feedback and not taking action on it is actually worse than not asking for the feedback in the first place.
- How should a company go about creating an actual strategy, implementing one, and how much of an under-taking would this really be?
- This is a loaded question and the answer should be based on the size, maturity stage, and resources of a company. It can be done very simply, or in a complex manner. That said, I’ll outline some basic steps.
- First, a company should revisit their Mission, Vision, and Values. They should take a hard look at their culture and organizational structure to see if they’re all in alignment. In many cases, these items are at odds with one-another. Customer centricity is a practice by which companies align all of the above to put the customer at the center of their universe. Critical decisions are made with the impact to customers in mind, not just the impact to the company’s P&L.
- Second, a company should take time to understand what their customer wants – why they’re buying from them and what problems they’re trying to solve. In other words, their customer’s “Why?”.
- Third, a company should examine their current state and identify opportunities for improvement based on the resources they have available. If they do not have the following items, these can be extremely helpful in moving forward: Ideal Customer Profile, Customer Journey Map, Strategic Account Plan (for high-value customers), and a Voice of the Customer program, among others.
- Fourth, they should build processes that deliver great experiences at each touchpoint along the customer journey.
- Fifth, they should measure their results internally and through customer feedback, act upon customer feedback, rinse, and repeat.
- How much effort would be involved in the on-going maintenance of a customer engagement strategy?
- A good engagement program requires a company to be intentional about internal alignment on customer centricity as well as customer engagement. For example, if a company wants to create more executive engagement, implementing an Executive Sponsor program would be terrific but only if the executives are aligned, willing to participate, and devote the time and effort. I’ve seen these fail in organizations where the CEO wanted the program but the other executives weren’t on board.
- I typically recommend starting simple and adding layers as appropriate….crawl, walk, run. To build credibility with customers, it’s vital to have a high ‘Say-Do’ ratio. Say what you’re going to do, then do it.
- How could a company leverage someone with your expertise to help them build out or fix their current engagement strategy?
- My approach is to meet a company at their current state, understand what they’ve done, understand what they’re trying to accomplish, and then recommend an approach. I start with the end in mind and work backwards to develop a program that will meet their objectives. Once a program is underway, the company can choose to add layers to their program. This doesn’t always mean complexity, rather additional processes to fill out their program.
No matter your industry, product, service, or size, it’s never too late to start or enhance a “customer focused” engagement strategy. Those that are unable to accept this practice as “table stakes”, will be left far behind as we venture further into a new world where companies continue to struggle to get appropriate face time with their prospects and clients. The companies that understand the importance of customer engagement, and begin working on an appropriate plan, will continue to get more than their fair share of customer spend.
Beau Billington- the founder of the Free Agent, a consulting company immersed in the strategic-layer of the Gig Economy-
In cooperation with:
David Ellin- Is a “fanatical” customer success professional with 30+ years of experience focused on customer relationship management, account management, revenue growth, renewals, transformations, migrations, operations, P&L management, team building and leadership.