Balancing High and Low Touch: Scaling Your Customer Engagement Strategy

The August 2021 FLOURISH Executive Roundtable brought together CS Leaders to discuss balancing high and low touch when scaling your customer engagement strategy. The lively discussion provided an excellent opportunity to learn from other CS leaders, share best practices, and learn new techniques for scaling your customer success program. Here are some of the key insights and takeaways from this great event.

Customers’ Perception of CS Improved with Enhanced Low-Touch Model

The conventional wisdom that low-touch delivers a poor experience or disappoints customers is continuing to be debunked. Increasingly, CS leaders have found that a well-developed low-touch program provides benefits to customers large and small. Key insights from our participants include:

· Customers don’t always want high-touch! Many customers prefer to have quick, easy access to the information they seek to solve their problems on their schedule.

· Effective low-touch programs go beyond just emails. A cornerstone of these programs is providing customers the proper tools and content to access the information they need, on-demand, in the format they want.

· Improving self-service capabilities for customers reduced demands on success and support staff. This freed up staff to provide hands-on services only when truly needed. As a result, customers reported they received quicker responses and improved service.

What became clear from this conversation (and previous roundtable discussions) is the growing shift from the perspective that low-touch was of limited value and provided poor customer engagement, towards a view that a well-developed low-touch program is a cornerstone of delivering value and delighting customers. Further, there was substantial evidence that CS leaders can provide tremendous benefits to their customers and organizations by maturing their low-touch capabilities and resources.

Customer Segmentation and Parallel Engagement Models

Several CS leaders report that they are currently operating under multiple customer engagement models but are looking to standardize customer engagement.

· Several vendors grew their organizations through mergers and acquisitions. However, acquired companies operated under different engagement models when they were acquired. This presented challenges for CS organizational structure, staffing, and delivery of services.

· Some leading organizations are moving beyond traditional high, medium, and low-touch segmentation models. Instead, they segment customers and differentiate their services based on the complexity of customers’ needs and not merely looking at the size of customers’ purchases.

The roundtable discussions revealed two important issues as it relates to customer segmentation and engagement. First, it became clear that having multiple operating models (such as multiple high-touch models and multiple low-touch models for different customers) is resource-intensive and challenging to deliver consistent, high-quality customer success services. When possible, CS leaders need to focus time and resources on aligning CS operations and reducing the number of engagement models. This is especially important during mergers and acquisitions when integrating existing customer success organizations.

Second, CS organizations could benefit by looking beyond traditional value-based customer segmentation models instead of complexity and needs-based segmentation. By looking closer at what actions and resources are required to make each type of customer successful, regardless of size, presents tremendous opportunities to increase the impact of your customer success program.

Move towards Experimentation

CS leaders reported becoming more sophisticated in how they approach introducing changes to their operations:

· CS Leaders are approaching changes as “experiments” and testing what works and what doesn’t.

· Changes are introduced to subsets of customers. Data is tracked and impact evaluated before rolling out changes to all customers.

What was interesting about this discussion is that CS leaders that took an “experimentation” approach seemed to have an easier time managing expectations (internally and with customers) and gaining support for their efforts. In addition, obtaining evidence for initiatives while managing expectations seemed to reduce resistance to changes and new approaches.

Move from “Low touch” to “Digital Engagement.”

The term “low touch” appears to be falling out of vogue.

· The term “low touch” is reported to have a negative connotation by customers, sales, and even the CS teams.

· The term “digital engagement” is positively received and has become the norm.

Several CS leaders reported that changing the terminology they used regarding their approaches seemed to improve the perception of their efforts to build a digital (low-touch) program and reduced concerns from other stakeholders about potential negative customer impacts. Since managing communications and stakeholder concerns is a significant aspect of a CS Leader’s job, adopting terminology like “digital engagement” can make the CS Leader’s job easier.

Evolution of Playbooks and “Engagement”

The prescriptive nature of playbooks is increasingly questioned, and instead, the focus is on the quality of interactions.

· CS leaders report that traditional playbooks are very explicit in focusing on the number of touches and emails that need to be made with customers, with little focus on the value and impact of these touches.

· Instead, many CS leaders report that what truly matters is the quality of the conversations between customers and vendor staff. Reducing the number of touches by replacing them with high-impact conversations is delivering improved results.

· Several organizations are rethinking what the term “engagement” means. Frequently, CSMs felt that “engagement” was synonymous with sending emails. However, leading organizations are expanding this to look at all engagement methods, including communities, self-service transactions, in-app guidance, and more.

The insight from this discussion is that CS Leaders (and CS automation vendors) need to re-examine the traditional approach to CS Playbooks that has long been embraced in the industry. Instead of focusing on activities and automation, organizations need to focus on the quality and impact of each customer interaction. Fewer, higher-impact customer conversations may deliver more benefits than more, less-impactful engagements. Sometimes less truly is more!

Culture Change Remains a Major Challenge

There is widespread agreement that changing culture and behavior is a significant challenge for CS leaders, and the importance of driving culture is more important than ever!

· Leaders report challenges getting CSMs to be more proactive. Leaders focus tremendous time and effort on driving the right culture and behaviors, yet they are still not achieving their desired results.

· Culture and behavior change efforts are required for driving proactive engagement between CSMs and customers.

· Internal culture change is also a significant challenge. CS Leaders are focused on driving effective collaboration with CS, service, product, and professional services.

What remains clear is that driving culture and behavior change is a key aspect of CS leaders’ jobs. Creating and delivering high-impact customer success programs introduces a shift in how organizations do businesses and interact with customers. This requires tremendous effort to drive change, manage expectations, align operations, and measure results.

What is also clear is that few organizations have the internal skills, experience, and resources to manage change effectively. As a result, managing change remains one of the biggest Achilles’ heel for organizations, and CS leaders ignore or underestimate the effort required here at their peril.

Creative Incentives to Increase Customer Adoption

Several CS leaders shared creative actions that are having a positive impact on customer adoption and success.

· CS leaders are looking at how to incentivize and reward customer adoption.

· One area that has proven very beneficial is providing clients with credits for free training courses when they achieve certain adoption milestones.

· Rewarding customers by eliminating training fees for achieving adoption levels provide both financial incentives for the customer organizations and professional development incentives for the individual staff members attending the training courses.

It is encouraging to see that organizations are increasingly aware of the need and challenge of driving user adoption and taking bold actions to increase adoption. At its core, this is one of the most significant needs of customer success. Remember, customer success was invented because many organizations struggle to drive technology adoption and achieve desired results on their own. By taking new and creative actions that increase adoption, CS leaders can better deliver the outcomes that customers and their executives require.

These are just some of the insights from the latest FLOURISH Executive Roundtable. The roundtables provide high-quality conversations, great sharing of insights and experiences, increased professional networking opportunities, and a community of supportive peers. We hope to see you at a future FLOURISH roundtable!

Zoomin