Corporations coming out of the woodwork to address any crisis often seem disingenuous and opportunistic. Yet this doesn’t seem to have tempered the enthusiasm of any marketers when it comes to blasting out emails about their response to COVID 19… If you’re a startup founder, you are likely thinking you would still like to have customers when this is all over - but you might also be hesitant to pile on to a deluge of messaging about your company’s unique and truly touching response to these uncertain times.
So what’s an appropriate strategy for Customer Success in a pandemic? What are some genuinely helpful, non-skeevy things a startup can do to mitigate churn and build customer loyalty in a crisis?
From a business perspective “Customer Success” is valuable because it is more cost effective to keep customers from churning or make repeat sales than it is to reach and acquire brand new customers. Renewals are higher quality revenue than new subscriptions. In order to sustain renewals, your customers need to be using your products successfully. If your customers are facing new challenges because of Coronavirus, helping them to be successful in spite of those new challenges in the immediate term will go a long way toward their long term success with your product.
Adjusting to a new work/life balance
Social distancing guidelines have forced your customers to make major adjustments to their work/life balance. Many workers are remote for the first time while distancing guidelines are in place, and some will be juggling their professional work with responsibilities in the home like caring for a dependent.
While professionals adjust to their new routines, being able to schedule calls outside of traditional support hours can be a huge source of relief. When scheduling times to meet clients, now is the time to proactively suggest that you can be available to take a call earlier in the morning, later in the day, or even over the weekend. The 9-6 model is less relevant when much of the workforce is working from home and wearing multiple hats throughout the day.
Increased financial pressure
Businesses are being hit hard by Coronavirus. Even if your customers haven’t been affected directly, their customers, or their customers’ customers may have been. Even VC backed companies focused more on growth than revenues need to conserve burn right now as funds have signalled that they expect portfolio companies to make dramatic adjustments in order to weather the storm.
If you can avoid forcing customers to renew financial commitments, or pay their full fees during crisis times, it can go a long way to ensuring that when things have recovered, they’ll still be a subscriber for many years to come. Don’t put customers in a position where they’re weighing the costs of your product today against their long term survival as a company.
Move renewal dates back. Have customers pay later, or in smaller amortized installments. Provide generous discounts. The more accommodating you can afford to be in a crisis, the more loyalty can expect from customers when it subsides.
If your customers cannot afford to renew their contracts at normal rates due to unprecedented global circumstances, you’ll not only be missing out on 100 percent of the revenue from the upcoming payment, but on all future payments once they churn. It’s better to collect a significantly reduced payment, guaranteeing you’ll collect some money while keeping open the possibility for long term recurring revenue when the world stabilizes.
Higher stress levels
For some customers, this will be the most psychologically taxing period of their lives. There’s an abundance of memes poking fun at post-corona social niceties like the new universal email sign off of “Stay safe!” But being human, vulnerable, and empathetic in your interactions can go a long way to keeping channels of communication open in times of widespread duress.
If you have calls with customers on your calendar, start them off by asking how they’re doing, and offer up your own experiences of how you’re coping with the pandemic. Acknowledging how you’ve been professionally and personally affected by the pandemic can disarm customers who might be feeling overburdened due to cutbacks, or on edge from uncertainty. It lets them know you’re facing the same challenges and reinforces that you are working together.
As a vendor that they count on, you’re in a position to ease stress levels by being proactive, responsive and providing thorough customer service and support. Give answers to questions that are direct and prompt. Don’t become another source of stress or uncertainty by leaving your customers waiting to get support for their issues.
As long as you’re being helpful and accountable, you can get away with being more direct with your customers. Instead of dodging questions about timelines for new features - manage customers’ expectations by being radically transparent about internal priorities and where their request fits in within them. It’s better to tell a customer they won’t be getting the feature they’ve been asking for than it is to leave them hanging, becoming yet another source of uncertainty and frustration in the process.
The flip side is that this is also a really terrible time to commit to anything that there’s even an outside chance you may not be able to provide. Being reliable will get you a long way with your customers when the world is operating within the confines of relative normalcy, but it’s an absolute requirement when facing down a pandemic induced recession. If your customers have reason to believe that you can’t or won’t deliver on your promises to them, you’re quickly going to end up on the chopping block when they look for areas to conserve burn.
A Changing Business Climate
Although you can’t predict the future, you can share with your customers what you’re doing to rise to new challenges as they arise. Investing in the success of your customers means breaking down the traditional vendor / customer relationship and becoming an ally. Both you and your customers are trying to keep afloat through a pandemic - so why not share strategies and techniques?
Maybe you have thought leaders in your company that have ideas about how the business landscape will change... Why not make them available to your customers in a q&a or webinar panel? Perhaps you’ve gone through the SBA loan process. Share your experiences of applying to help your customers who might need support navigating it.
Other insights you can share with your customers: What is the general attitude in your industry? What internal measures are you taking to stay profitable if we end up in an economic depression? Even if they aren’t strictly related to your customers’ objectives or domains, sharing these kinds of insights gives your customers confidence that you’re taking steps to adjust to a rapidly changing world and that they count on you to continue to support them through it all.
The last thing any brand wants to be associated with is using this pandemic to maneuver into an advantageous business position. Being proactive about keeping your business and your customers afloat can be a nebulous path to navigate, but making a sincere investment in the success of your customers right now is the right thing to do. You may even end up mitigating churn and protecting your long term profitability in the process.
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This article is intended for informational purposes only, and doesn't constitute tax, accounting, or legal advice. Everyone's situation is different! For advice in light of your unique circumstances, consult a tax advisor, accountant, or lawyer.