From the Experts: How Customer Success Leaders are Adapting to COVID-19 and the New Normal

By May 14, 2020Blog

Every industry and person has had to adapt to the “new normal” amidst the OCVID-19 outbreak, including customer success teams. Customer success always focuses on helping users achieve as much as possible, but how can CSMs both handle their workload and support their accounts amidst uncertainty?

In our webinar, How Customer Success Leaders are Adapting to COVID-19 and the New Normal, we talked to three experts about how they’re navigating new waters. Nate Fiedler, Jen Samples Lazarus, and Phil O’Doherty all shared their perspective on topics such as:

  • How to care for and empower your customer success team
  • Where to adapt and pivot customer-centric playbooks with empathy
  • Ideas for your team to use this time wisely and strategically

Here’s what we learned:

We all benefit from treating the situation with flexibility and empathy

As teams adjust to working remotely, all of the panelists agreed that flexibility and empathy go a long way. Jen Samples Lazrus, Managing Director, North America at Oktopost, shared that her HR director has helped bridge teams. 

“We’re doing team workouts and team happy hours.” Aside from team bonding activities, her company is also being mindful of everything their coworkers are juggling. 

“We are definitely being more sensitive to family time and meeting times because we do have working parents who are also finding themselves homeschooling their children.” 

Nate Fiedler, Customer Retention Strategy Manager at Box, is also working to bring down traditional walls to connect more with those around him. “I think part of it comes from the sentiment that Jen just shared in that we are really all in this together. I don’t think that it could be put in a better term.”

“But specifically, this notion of removing the corporate mask. It’s funny; when you are growing up you have this idea of what it means to be professional and, I don’t know if other folks can relate to this, but I had these rigid constructs in my mind of being super buttoned-up, not talking a lot about my personal life, not showing a lot of emotion. Now that I’m an adult, and actually a professional, you realize it’s pretty hard to separate yourself and have this division of self of ‘this is who I am in the office space and going home.’ It’s difficult to reconcile those two sides.”

Nate added that “Obviously, we want to be sensitive to the professionalism that we have with our customers, but that’s commonplace. We have our customers who are showing their kiddos on camera too and this embrace of the new normal and breaking down those rigid constructs that prevented us from bringing our whole selves to work.”

Communication is vital during these times

Another key element for maintaining both internal and customer relationships is communication. Jen said, “regarding our clients, it’s communication. Just communication, communication, communication. I can’t say that enough. We have to be extra empathetic to our clients.”

Phil O’Doherty, Director of Customer Success Operations at HubSpot, is also being mindful of making sure everyone stays connected. “I think the first primary [practice we’ve enacted to maintain stability] is really, really consistent and transparent executive communications from our leadership.”

“Typically, we’re a pretty transparent company, and we share a lot. [Still], I think we’ve moved to a more regular version of that. [We have at least] weekly updates from our CEO [about] how he’s feeling about the economy, our business, our customers, and all the indicators he’s looking at.”

Phil also holds weekly “ask me anything” sessions with executive members. On a smaller team level, Hubspot is holding virtual coffees and “water coolers” where they ask everyone what they’re working on, and how they’re feeling. 

“Having leaders and managers just lead with a bit of vulnerability there to say, “I’m actually pretty stressed out. I’m finding it hard to focus and motivate.” I think letting your team know that “It’s okay to have a bad day” is important.

Organization and process can help with normalcy

While routines are changing and companies are having to adapt, the experts shared their strategies for helping their teams stay focused and motivated. 

Jen noted that she uses a philosophy called “control the controllable.” With this framework, you focus on the things in your life that you have a direct influence on, such as exercising or “emailing a certain number of clients today regardless of if you need to talk to them.”

“I have a checklist for our CS team. It’s completely optional. Some team members love to use it because it helps them get hyper-focused. We assign point values to different outcomes. It’s like they’re competing with themselves, and it’s a game, but they’re able to maintain stability because they know they’re controlling the controllables. They can’t control what’s happening, how long they’re going to be sheltered in place, but they’re still maintaining that consistency that it needs to make them feel stable.”

Nate and his team have also worked together to establish common strategies. “You’ve probably already done this to some extent, but I think some definite room for folks to solidify frameworks and how they’re approaching customers related to COVID-19. I don’t think that there is a one size fits all best approach, which is why we started to take a look at how we might think about our playbooks differently and how we engage with our customers.”

Check out this article on the best apps and tools for customer success teams to stay organized.

Aim to adapt to changing customer needs

Sometimes it helps to look at challenges as learning opportunities, and the webinar guests are taking this time to tailor their offerings. With more people working remotely than ever, Box has seen an uptick in users and companies that are relying on their service.

“Because of that, we’ve had to come up with creative solutions that really help folks get work done remotely and securely.” Nate shared. 

“We’re seeing some interesting things come out from our wheelhouse from not only collaboration with our sales teams but also with our professional service consulting team as well that are really dialed into supporting folks to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to support our customers in new and interesting ways.”

Even while teams may be physically separated, there’s much to be gained from cross-department alignment. Sharing what you’re seeing and hearing with other teams, such as product or sales, can help you spot opportunities. 

Phil from HubSpot is also using this time to assess their priorities and strategy. 

“We’re using COVID-19 and crisis as an opportunity as a business to make sure that we’re being thought leaders in a time like this. We have 70,000 customers with a lot of data about their sales and their marketing efforts and their customer support efforts. We’ve been trying to surface that data into the industry to help people to show up how it’s affecting different businesses. It’s a good way to position ourselves as a top leader in that area.”

Other ways that HubSpot is modifying their offering to better suit customer needs includes moving features to lower tiers to give small businesses more tools and getting rid of limits in areas that don’t immediately impact revenue. 

Shifting your strategy to add a human touch

While adding empathy and flexibility to your customer communications is one thing, knowing how to tactically change your day-to-day operations is another. Here’s how the experts are shifting their CS strategies to add a human touch. 

Jen noted that “we’re having to shift those playbooks and add a human touch to the analytics and the forecasting tools that we may have been using previously. I think that when we’re looking at how we interact with our customers, how we make them more stable, not only do our teams, we have to look at them as whole humans, but our teams need to look at our customers as a whole human too because we’re all in this because of relationships. That’s what we really want to maintain.”

Another tactic that Jen and her customer success team have enacted is adjusting renewal timelines. 

“We have a certain number of days in advance or months in advance that we would open up an opportunity in salesforce for the renewal and so the CSM can plan what the strategy is to either grow, retain, or maintain that client.”

“What we’ve done tactically is that we’ve expanded that window. We’re not necessarily reaching out to our customers outside of that window about the renewal, but we’re giving our CSMs more time to plan and prepare on what their strategy is.”

If your customer success team has had a steep learning curve around COVID-19—don’t worry, you’re not alone. There’s no way that the impact of the “new normal” can’t be felt to some extent in such a human-forward role. The general consensus is that to stay afloat and get ahead in these times, you have to be willing to adapt. Pay even closer attention to your customer’s needs, and adjust strategies and playbooks to best suit them right now. 

Want to hear more about how customer success teams are staying positive and making an impact on customers? Listen to the full webinar, How Customer Success Leaders are Adapting to COVID-19 and the New Normal here. 

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