Become the thing your customers can’t live without | Brexfast in Bed

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Following macro shifts in the economy and a radically new work environment, customer expectations and buying behaviors have changed over the past several months. The transformation has caused many leaders to shift their priorities from growth, innovation, and customer acquisition to an investment in customer relationships and retention in cost-effective ways. 

To explore the strategy and tactics driving this shift, Brex COO Roli Saxena and Zendesk VP of Startups Kristen Durham sat down to discuss customer retention, and how the slowing of sales will impact companies’ relationships with existing customers. The following are ten takeaways from the session:

1. Stop selling. Support customers instead. 

Customer support teams are seeing a spike in demand as customers reach out for help with either rapid growth or dwindling sales. While the public is inundated with messaging, it is critical that you stand out as an advocate for your customers rather than an advocate for your company. As a response to customer feedback during COVID, Brex teams repositioned their marketing and sales collateral and shifted their narratives from sales to support in order to accommodate their customers’ most pressing needs. These minor modifications yielded major results. CSAT scores remained high, and NPS scores and positive feedback reflected that customers valued the adapted communications.

2. Integrate a customer focus into the company culture.

While the shift from selling to support comes from the CEO, this new priority should permeate the entire company. Now is also a good time to build brand and product awareness through training to ensure every member of the company understands the importance of a customer focus. Brex has a public Slack channel called “NPS Dashboard” that offers a clear picture of how customers feel about Brex products. A focus on customer satisfaction should be ingrained in everything employees do, and that focus will, in turn, result in positive NPS feedback. 

3. Address customer needs, and deliver real value.

This is your time to step up and solve your customers’ real problems. During the COVID outbreak, Brex recognized that its customers valued two things: cost-saving measures and advice for navigating the landscape. In response, the company quickly realigned its product offering to meet those needs. Observing a shift in spending patterns, Brex created a new set of rewards for remote work, partnered with Radius Bank and Womply to help customers access SBA loans, and collaborated with AWS to deliver $100k of AWS Activate credit to eligible customers. 

Understanding that its customers would experience many of the same challenges it was facing, Zendesk created bundles for its customers, based on workforce management and training, to prioritize people’s time and help them be more productive. The company began monitoring customer movement and ticket volume at an account level, and proactively reached out to provide technical support like product recommendations and management tools to overburdened customers. As the era of gift baskets and wine-and-dines ends, companies need to deliver real value to their existing customers and work quickly to get tools into their users’ hands to navigate the environment. 

4. Make buying as easy as possible for customers. 

As companies shift their focus away from selling, ‘freemium’ has become the business model of choice. To make buying as easy as possible, extend the length of free trials, offer free upgrades, and be creative in spotlighting your products and generating use, even if it comes at the expense of revenue. As potential customers tighten their purse strings, offering them a chance to try your product is a great way to reassure them that it’s worth the investment. Zendesk provided a free six month trial, enabled service-led and service-assisted buying, and extended programs to many COVID response companies to deliver value to them when they needed it. 

5. Chat to the rescue.

With economic uncertainty causing more urgency, patience for wait times has plummeted. Customers are seeking immediate and convenient solutions to their questions, and foregoing traditional channels like email and phone in favor of rapid response vehicles like chat and direct message apps. As one of the cheapest channels to serve due to its multitasking capabilities, chat is a cost-effective option. Consider adding live channels that optimize response times, and tools like A.I. and chatbots to manage volume and relieve agent pressure. And always ensure the channels you implement are fully staffed and responsive. If you are unavailable or inaccessible to customers, it will be difficult to convince them that you’re truly invested in the relationship. Although it might cost more upfront to optimize these channels, doing so will send an important message in the long run. 

6. Invest in a robust help center and explore self-service options.

In the past few months, help center traffic has risen by 70%. In an effort to add value to its customers and build inexpensive problem-solving measures, Brex has made its help center more robust and accessible to customers. Consider implementing self-service tools to empower customers to troubleshoot common issues. Helping customers quickly solve their own problems creates happy customers and reduces manual work for agents. 

7. Listen to your customers.

Your customers are still there, and it’s important that you understand their experiences and what they want to accomplish. Listening to customers and being available to them is critical to customer satisfaction. When customers reach out, make sure that the agent on the other side is equipped with solid product usage data and knows what will add value for them, rather than just driving a sale. Customers need quick help, and if you’re listening, you can offer them proactive solutions to their problems. Anticipating need, Zendesk segmented their customer base and reached out early to customers experiencing high ticket volumes to offer technical assistance or contract opportunities that could alleviate their burden. Customers appreciated that Zendesk reached out to them and came to the conversation knowing exactly how they could help.

8. Engage customers with empathy.

During times of crisis, customer retention relies on the ability of the company to behave with empathy. Meeting customers where they are is only effective if the conversation is based on understanding and respect. During the COVID outbreak, Brex brought its teams together and initiated conversations with employees about empathy, imagining they were the financial controller of the company, and prescribing solutions accordingly. What is the customer looking for? What do they need? What can we offer? Similarly, Zendesk initiated empathy-based protocols for cancellation processes. When a customer requested a cancellation, agents were expected to understand their problem and rightsize their subscription accordingly. Anticipating an increasing need, Zendesk also created a small team to focus exclusively on contract conversations with customers. Reducing the burden on sales reps to have those difficult and nuanced conversations with customers looking to modify memberships also allowed the company to address customers individually and in a timely manner.

9. Identify a North Star metric to drive the organization.

A North Star Metric (NSM) is the leading indicator of your business’s health, and the single predictor for whether customers will continue to grow with you. Your NSM should not be focused on revenue, as revenue is a lagging indicator, but instead should be a simple and measurable way to identify how you deliver value to your customers. For Zendesk, the NSM is the number of tickets created and solved in-trial. For Brex, it is the monthly payment volume. And for companies like Uber and Spotify, it is rides per week and hours listened, respectively. Once you’ve established your NSM, it becomes a critical element in rallying the company and driving leadership decisions. Although it might evolve over time as your business segments or serves different company profiles, frequently articulating and leading with the NSM will make your job easier over time.

10. Use customer success metrics to signal health, but rely on intimate relationships.

Metrics allow you to manage your business efficiently, identify where your customers need you, and determine where you can proactively reach out and help. Visible to everyone in the company, Brex’s NPS Slack channel allows employees to keep an eye on what customers are saying, leads teams to build products customers want and need, and provides leadership with a customer-focused roadmap for decision-making. Similarly, Zendesk created a customer health index which makes it easy for teams to look at a number and quickly identify whether a customer needs help. 

But the company cautions that overcomplicating a customer health score can be detrimental to long-term customer satisfaction. If a customer health metric becomes too complex and evolves to a more complicated number over time, it can become less actionable and ultimately lead agents to ignore the nuances of a customer’s needs. Metrics are most useful as indicators rather than an aggregate of a customer’s health. Zendesk recommends regularly revisiting the elements that make up your customer health score, focusing resources in the right places, and creating customer support and success processes that are robust enough to ensure agents understand customers at a granular, intimate level rather than as a metric. The right metric might indicate when a customer needs extra attention, but you should be offering specialized attention to every customer regardless of that indicator.

In the wake of crises, customer retention has emerged as the touchstone of a company’s health and success. As sales slow and every dollar needs to stretch further, it is critical to engage and retain existing customers in a meaningful and cost-effective way. To strengthen customer relationships and drive the organization, companies must shift their mindset from selling to support, and ingrain that mindset into the company culture. Delivering real value will build loyalty among existing customers, especially if needs are addressed proactively, and understanding the metrics that signal customer health will create long-term benefits to both you and the user. Customers have always been a high priority, but they’ve become the No. 1 priority post-COVID, and will likely remain so in the future. Customer focus is here to stay. 

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