Navigating Rough Waters: Actions for CS During Uncertain Times

September 19, 2022

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Operations, Customer Success Strategy, Digital Customer Success

It would be an incredible understatement to say that the last couple of years have been a bit bumpy for, well, just about every person and every business. Yet, despite those rough patches, we started this year looking ahead to a bright future for Customer Success. Now that we’re nearly 75% of the way through, 2022 is proving to have its own set of challenges to throw at us all, with lots of ups and downs.

But we still firmly believe there is plenty that CS professionals can do to take back a little control, even as some speculate about a possible recession. Times of economic downturn can be scary. When uncertainty looms, there are a few leading practices that those of us in the Customer Success community can focus on to help keep everything on an even keel – for our business, our customers, and ourselves.

Be proactive! Be, be proactive!

Though it can be hard to be cheerful in tough times, one of the key things Customer Success leaders can do to help their teams is to hone in on our collective strengths. By emphasizing what we’re good at, we can boost our spirits and give ourselves a better sense of control in an out-of-control world. One of the greatest strengths of CS is our ability to be proactive about identifying our customers’ needs and guiding them down the path to finding that value. We’re amazing at this! Taking care of our customers is what we do best. Plus, being empathic and helping others just so happens to improve our own mental well-being too, so it’s really a win-win-win all around.

As my friend and colleague Sheik Ayube put it in his LinkedIn post (which inspired me to write this article), CS leaders must hold the line. Foster the health and growth of the customer base you currently have. Identify the root causes of churn for your customers and think up creative solutions. Examine their behaviors and expand your Digital Customer Success arsenal to assist with future modeling to prevent and predict revenue at risk. For example, TSIA’s research report on scaling Customer Success found that companies who developed and actively track automated customer health scores experience an expansion rate of 20.7%, have higher CSAT scores, and a four-point increase in NPS. Taking this proactive approach will help us solve problems before they even become problems. Now is the time to invest in the strategies that will help us not only survive these more challenging times but also thrive once the storm clouds clear.

Strengthen your ties to revenue growth

I know, I know. We’ve been advocating this for a while now. I probably sound like a broken record, but that doesn’t make it any less true! Customer Success organizations need to get cozy with revenue growth. You know that you’re driving high-value activity – the rest of your business should know it too. And yes, there are reasons why drawing a direct line to revenue impact can be tricky for Customer Success leaders. Things like figuring out the best CSM compensation model to match your goals and getting Sales to work with you can be intimidating, but your teams are depending on you. You can do it!

According to TSIA, we’ve gone from just 10% of CS organizations responsible for expansion as part of their charter in 2015 to 61% in 2022, and they expect that number to continue rising. Taking charge of expansion means owning direct revenue responsibilities like lead generation (all hail the CS Qualified Lead!), upsell, and cross-sell. Studies show that businesses benefit greatly when Customer Success gets involved with these activities. CS leaders who have formalized their lead generation programs have experienced incredible boosts to their expansion revenue. One TSIA member success story about a $25B+ technology company who leveraged CS to drive qualified leads to Sales reveals that they ended up with a 20-fold increase in the number of leads generated and a 275% rise in lead conversions. All of these qualified leads resulted in a 450% increase in expansion revenue within two years. Talk about tying CS efforts to revenue growth!

Try not to let the news get you down

Volatile markets, inflation driving up the costs of goods and services, an upcoming mid-term election season, record-breaking heat waves – the list goes on. We’re all just trying to keep our heads above water as it is. My last piece of advice for my colleagues in the Customer Success community is to try to balance out the bad with the good. It isn’t easy to wrap our heads around what the future will hold while we are still squarely in the wake of everything that’s happened since 2020. CS leaders can do a lot by promoting a culture of well-being and connection with their teams. Harvard Business Review talks about how managers can check in with their teams, model healthy behaviors, and offer workplace flexibility to help improve employees’ mental health.

Another study by Scientific American showed that instead of ignoring negative news completely or going the opposite direction and immersing yourself in it, there is a third option: “Rather than fully immersing in the negative or ignoring it, we can do our best to experience joy alongside everything else that is sad in the world.” So, even if we feel uncertain about our roles or impact or even the world at large, we can still benefit from cultivating activities that bring us happiness and joy too. It is, after all, what we are trying to do for our customers every day. We can’t forget about doing it for ourselves too.