The What, Why, Who & How of Customer Clairvoyance

We’re delighted to host a guest post by Rachel English, Co-Founder & VP, Customer Success at Frontleaf.

All too often, the job of retaining customers in a Software-as-a-Service business feels like a series of shots in the dark. Too many Customer Success teams are essentially operating blindfolded, with:

  • Little to no knowledge of how customers are actually using their product and whether or not they are gaining value from it,
  • Data about how customers are interacting with their company sparse and spread between multiple systems, and
  • Only a very vague comprehension of how those moments that make up the customer journey impact the customer’s likelihood to churn, renew, or buy more.

But there is no need to stay in the dark anymore. You can illuminate your Customer Success operation by gaining “customer clairvoyance”. Don’t worry, you don’t need to venture into the paranormal, or develop your ESP. The term “clairvoyance” comes from the French words meaning “clear or lighted vision”. And you can begin to apply it to your customers by adopting a mindset and taking a few straightforward steps. Let’s take a moment to briefly define what “customer clairvoyance” actually is, why it matters, who is involved, and how it can be achieved.

What: Proactivity

It’s time to stop operating in firefighting mode, and instead start anticipating which customers are at risk of churning, which are sailing along smoothly, and which might be ready to buy more. To develop your ability to look forward with this lense, start by looking backward. Gather as much historic customer data as you can, including product usage, results metrics, profile attributes, support tickets, survey responses, and any revenue-related outcomes. (Read more here about defining business objectives and outcomes.) Look through the data – either yourself, or with the help of a statistical analysis expert or tool – to find which indicators tend to lead to the outcomes that matter to your business. Seek answers to questions like:

Does a decrease in the frequency of a certain action in the application in the 90 days before renewal usually mean the customer will churn?

  • Do customers with a high number of positive support ticket ratings renew at a higher than normal rate?
  • Is the customer’s salesperson, implementation timeline, or results in the first 60 days correlated to a greater or lesser than usual likelihood to churn?

Use the answers to these and countless similar questions to focus on customer accounts whose recent or current behaviors or attributes could indicate risk or opportunity.

And just as you would prefer to anticipate rather than be surprised by your customers’ behaviors, your customers will appreciate when you are proactive with information about your application or services. Whenever possible, notify your users of a problem they might experience in your application (planned outage, known bug, etc.) rather than waiting for them to report it. But be sure you can lean on quality usage data to zero in on the affected users, so you don’t have to bother or worry those to whom the message doesn’t apply.

Why: Value Creation

Unless your customers are accomplishing what they need to by utilizing your application, they aren’t likely to stick around. Always keep front of mind that the primary purpose of customer clairvoyance is ensuring that your customers are gaining the value promised by your product so that they continue to represent value to your business. The first step toward that goal is getting crystal clear on what your customers are hoping to achieve, and how they, and you, can measure whether or not they are doing so. Consider creating a Customer Value Statement (such as the one described here), and regularly assess whether generating that value is at the center of your Customer Success operation and all of its activities.

Who: Segmentation & Evangelization

The most important “who” in customer clairvoyance is obviously your customers. But it’s not just a matter of taking them as a whole. You need to carefully develop customer segments, so that you can ensure that you’re sending the right messages to the right customers at the right times and for the right reasons. To do that, make sure that all of your customer data is well aggregated, and that your analysis is leveraging an appropriate balance of statistical methodology and experienced intuition. Take the findings from the questions you asked above, and turn them into precise criteria that define the customers most in need of your attention. Then use those criteria to create dynamic groups, and take action as soon as a customer enters a group.

There is also another “who” in customer clairvoyance, and that is your colleagues. No matter how well planned and executed your efforts to anticipate and respond to customer risks and opportunities might be, your program will fall flat, either in reality or perception or both, if it is not understood and supported throughout your company. Make an effort to evangelize, with every department and employee, what “success” really means for your customers, how your operation helps them achieve it, and how each of your colleagues can be a part of that initiative.

How: Creation & Iteration

While it’s commendable in and of itself to get very clear on which customers are likely to churn and why, you can’t move the needle on retention until you know what to do about it. Ultimately, there are two basic types of programmatic approaches: those that prevent the underlying causes of churn from occurring in the first place, and those that attempt to rectify them once they do. You need to create and systematize both types of programs. And you need to ensure that the interactions that are a part of those programs are recorded and become part of your customer data. Why? So that you can measure the effectiveness of your programs. Just like you need to know whether failing to attend training tends to lead to a customer leaving, you need to know whether outreach aimed at enticing a customer to take training actually brings them to class, and whether changing the path of that parameter caused the customer to renew. If a program is not making a measurable difference, consider how it could be adjusted or whether it should be stopped. And even if it is having the desired impact, regularly evaluate each running program to ensure that it is maintaining effectiveness and not having any undesired consequences or conflicting with other programs.

But… When?

Now that we’ve briefly described the what, why, who and how of customer clairvoyance, let’s take a moment to ask: When? I’d say there’s no time like now. Of course, shifting fully to this new mode won’t happen overnight – it’s a process that has to be planned, executed, and continually iterated. But you can make start making changes today that will help collect the critical data, ask the insightful questions, frame your team’s approach, and ultimately generate value for your customers and for your business.

Noa is Iridize's Head of Content. With a background in digital strategy planning and database management, Noa translates Iridize's vision, stories and data into words. Digital learning and user experience are a particular passion of hers.