Not Just for Startups: Test and Refine CS Strategy with an Incubation Model

June 4, 2020

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Strategy, Virtual Customer Success Management

Startup incubators are well-known programs that allow entrepreneurs to test out their new business ideas. They usually offer support like office space and mentors so the idea can be tried out and improved upon in a nurturing environment. Building or expanding a Customer Success organization can be surprisingly similar to developing a startup. The most successful CS programs are constantly tested and revised and tested again. The result is a streamlined and effective organization built to adapt to changing environments. Much like startup incubators, a Customer Success incubation model supports this process of continuous improvement, sharpening your CS organization to a fine edge.

Identifying and testing new CS strategies

A CS incubation model is a system to define, test, and iterate a new CS process with a portion of your customer base. If proven effective in incubation, you then roll the new process out to the rest of your team of Customer Success Managers and your entire customer base. This can be a powerful instrument in your CS tool bag, whether you already have an organization in place or are developing a plan from square one. You can utilize incubation to try a new communication strategy on an established segment of your customers or to test new aspects of your CS framework as you build out.

The steps for running an incubation are similar to TSIA’s advice on running an effective sales pilot. An incubation begins by defining your focus, scope, and goals. What phase of your customer journey map are you focusing on? Who are your target customers, how many of them will be part of the incubation, and what parameters do they meet? If you’ve already segmented your customers, which segment(s) will you include in your test? Finally, perhaps most importantly, what do you want to achieve with this new process?

An incubation model example: renewals

The next step is outlining your new process. We recently ran a renewals incubation program for an ESG client, so we’ll use that scenario as an example. The goal was to test a pre-renewal playbook and workflow for a group of customers whose contracts were coming up for renewal in December. Let’s say that the process you outline for this scenario includes sending renewal notification emails to those customers 90 days, 60 days, and 30 days ahead of contract expiration, and on the date of expiration itself.

To fill in that outline, you would determine the content and design of a template for each email (perhaps with a helping hand from your friends in the marketing department), and have your CSMs identify the proper point(s) of contact for these messages within each customer company. In this example, your goals are to increase communication with your customers ahead of the end of their subscription, boost renewals, and ensure your customers have a good experience.

An incubation model example: introducing CS to your customers

What if you have a fledgling new CS organization, or are introducing CS into a non-SaaS business? You can use the incubation model to roll out your new CS program to customers as well. In this case, your focus would be easing your customers into a new, more proactive dynamic with their CSM. The scope could be implementing an account plan developed specifically for your customers, and the incubation would begin by testing the process on a cross-section of your client base.

You would then outline a process that makes the most sense for your customers. Include things like templates for product training, procedures for collecting customer data, and step-by-step guidance for communication (high-touch customers would get a phone call while tech-touch customers receive an email, for example). Then, map out your follow-up actions for after onboarding like sending out a customer survey or having the CSM reach back out to check-in after 2 weeks. Your goal is to have a certain number of these customers settled in to the new CS program by a certain date.

Apply virtual CSM resources to your problem areas

Perhaps you have a renewal process already in place, but it’s spotty or less effective than you’d like. With an incubation model, you won’t disrupt your entire CSM team with an unproven new system. You keep your team doing what they do best and utilize an outside resource for the incubation. At ESG, our virtual CSMs perform this function for many of our customers. It can be helpful to have someone outside of your core team testing these new procedures so that you don’t split the focus of your entire group.

If you are in the early stages of developing your CS organization, incubations may take a slightly different shape. Maybe you’re still in the process of constructing your customer journey map or determining your performance benchmarks. Incubations can guide you to the best strategy to execute and get your CS organization off the ground much faster. You can get the ball rolling quickly with a vCSM focusing on one problem area, while you are free to tackle the big picture strategy.

Alternatively, if you are challenged with scaling your CS organization, an outside vCSM is the perfect asset to build, test, and measure your proposed expansion plans before they are rolled out to the rest of your team. The incubation model reduces the risk of upsetting the relationships between your CSMs and your customers.

Evolving with your customers…and the market

The last thing you want is for your CS strategy to become stagnant. Customers change. Their needs change. Your own product offering evolves. The market shifts and new demands put stress on your CS organization. So, you must always be on your toes when it comes to changing customer dynamics.

The incubation model keeps you one step ahead by enabling your team with flexibility to try new things without disrupting your current CS experience. It’s a way to continuously grow and evolve your CS offering, no matter where you land on the CS Maturity scale.