How to transition customers to a low touch engagement

  • 2 August 2022
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I’m seeing more and more organizations put the importance on digital led segmentation as they go into the end of the year. It is important to focus on digital led strategy to plan for durable growth over the next few years. The question I’m seeing get raised is “How do we transition customers into a digital led/digital first program?”

 

This question is one I faced last  year as we were building out our segmentation. The hard part was I couldn’t find many resources on how to do this. However, I did have some great conversations with people at organizations who had to make changes to customer engagement models (high touch to mid touch, changing CSMs). We took some of these best practices and applied them to our approach.

 

Determining when to transition customers

There are three ways we identified when customers should move engagement models:

  1. Evaluate their current engagement - Look back at the data you have. Which customers meet the criteria for the new engagement model you are moving them to? The first phase of customers to move are the ones that are already engaging at the rate of the new engagement model.  For example, if your new engagement model says you won’t have standing meetings, find the customers who are not having recurring meetings. Move these customers first.
  2. Stakeholder/Resource Change - When the stakeholder at your customer changes, this is a great time to reset expectations of what your engagement model will look like for them. Additionally, if you are seeing turnover in CSM on your side, this is also a great time to make the change. Position the new engagement model as a benefit to the customer.  Example: “To provide stability to you and your team, we have a team of experts to support you moving forward.”
  3. Renewal Event - When you are going into renewal conversations, set the expectation about what engagement will look like moving forward. This will allow for a conversation around how they will be able to access resources in the coming year.

Sometimes you don’t have time to make it through all of these steps to move customers. You might have to move quicker. If you do, consider what the customer needs and how to ensure success for them and you as you move through these changes. 

 

How to transition customers

When we were moving customers through this transition, we approached the process in a few steps:

  1. Identify the customers to move. 
  2. Break them into phases.
  3. Create an email to notify the customer of the change. Important: Include a resource packet detailing what resources they now have available to them.
  4. Offer to meet with any customer who has questions 

Most importantly, be prepared to iterate. To me, this is why doing this in phases is important. You will learn what resonates, what needs to change, and where you might need to evaluate new criteria.

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Have you gone or are going through this process? What are some considerations you are making? What learnings would you share with those who need to make an engagement change?


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Thanks for sharing @lane_h 
Looking forward to more of these posts to learn what your digital engagement model looks like, for example.

We are going through planning our transition for our digital segment now. Expecting we’ll learn from each transition group as we go and we plan to create an FAQ to hopefully help with the final transitions. If anyone else has done this, would appreciate hearing how customers reacted to this messaging as part of the renewal conversation and what challenges were faced. 

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I know several organizations are going through this transition right now. I’ll see if we can get a few to comment here.

#3 is key and how you communicate it is critical. Internally we may see it as a shift to a totally different, new model from the traditional one to one model. The customer may not and it’s important not to set off alarms that they are getting “less” moving to a cheaper/lower value model, or worse, getting a downgrade. (Yes, I have all of this relayed to customers.) 

How you define the model internally and what language you use will signal to your team what’s happening and they will adopt the terminology and communicate that approach. If you see it as a cheap way to dump low-value customers and force them to pony up to get “real” service your customers will get that message and your team will see your scale program as low value, entry level, just that bunch of emails approach. You will hamper your own success. Make it a company wide initiative and include all sectors. Your entire team needs to participate on some level with scale initiatives. Everyone needs to have a stake in its success. 

Find ways to automate wherever possible across all sectors, be super flexible and roll customers in an out of your scale book of business as it makes sense to do so. Example: a seven figure ARR customer who rarely engaged with the CSM, was super successful, joined the reference program and had a strong team of supporters moved to the tech touch sector. (With additional regular reviews and engagements outside the defined scope of that sectors model.) A customer who twenty k ARR, had a poor deployment experience and a struggling team that was not leading to strong adoption was assigned to the Enterprise CSM team. With plans to move them back when/if the time came it made sense. This flexibility will allow you to scale beyond simple ARR designations. 

 

We are going through planning our transition for our digital segment now. Expecting we’ll learn from each transition group as we go and we plan to create an FAQ to hopefully help with the final transitions. If anyone else has done this, would appreciate hearing how customers reacted to this messaging as part of the renewal conversation and what challenges were faced. 

This is our concern. Not the customers. Customers care about results. Do not turn it into a concern by communicating they get less than, are moving to a cheaper experience or losing anything. Be super flexible and use other factors besides ARR when you move them. The customer with an endless stream of problems and escalations and a five thousand ARR? Don’t move them! 

I used the team approach and when we shifted customers we let them know that a team is now available an included the names and photos of the team members, not necessarily mentioning the former CSM at all if they had very limited relationships. (Let your CSM team drive this. They know who they have a relationship with.) The problem is that we think it’s a big deal and the customer will go nuts. That’s rarely the case and more often then not it went really well and the customer experience IMPROVED. The team approach was better suited to meet their needs. 

@brian.okeeffe  thank you. I guess I should’ve given more details around our pre-work.  I’ve been working to develop the digital model for several months now which includes building the infrastructure (i.e.creating the ability for our customers to self-serve, automating comms powered by adoption data, launching office hours, launching a monthly webinar program that involves members of our CSM team) and communicating to the 1-1 CSMs along the way how we will message this transition. Additionally we’ve worked with sales to change the language that as part of the partnership our customers work with the customer success team so we have flexibility there.

You are right. This is our concern and not our customers which is what I’m working through currently. We are definitely building a team approach and over the past few months when internal stakeholders say things like “well, when the digital tier basically loses service...” I am very adamant about explaining how the customer will still receive the benefits of customers success from the team rather than 1-1. Broadly our messaging is that we are changing our customer success model to allow more access for customers to self-serve saving customers valuable time. Those internal fears are being alleviated as they see evidence of the infrastructure and how we can use Gainsight to automate comms and track customer health (we implemented Gainsight in December). Last month we soft launched our tools to begin allowing customers to self-serve and we are getting positive feedback.

We are making this transition in 4 phases and allowing ourselves to remain flexible (i.e.not moving  escalated customers). We’ll also hold messaging to those who are coming up in renewal in Q2 so we can share how they will work with the Customer Success team as we have those renewal conversations.

One of the questions I’m receiving is how we plan to message the change as part of the renewal conversation specifically, even for a healthy customer. I have done this before at another company with healthy customers who are aware of accessing their resources, it wasn’t a problem for the most part. With that said, there was some pushback from those who didn’t want to let go of their 1-1 CSM relationship.

In terms of messaging the transition (working with the greater CSM team vs. a 1-1 CSM) during the renewal conversation: How did you work to manage any concerns from account managers or renewal reps having this conversation? Were there lessons learned as you worked to transition these customers within the renewal phase.

Hi Jen! The biggest problem every single time and almost all resistance came from or were generated by internal partners, often the sales team. (Were moving you to dial up! You will get a bunch of emails from now on. We are downgrading you to a many to one system. We can’t afford to give you direct service so we created a cost effective solution that we are moving you to. Every single one of those are quotes to customers I heard!) Customers rarely had any concerns, especially smaller customers who had little, if any direct engagement with the CSM. This is the trickiest part and the lessons learned were:

  1. Work with your internal partners first on the change and present it very carefully. “This list of customers will move to Team X (in my example it was the Community Success team) which consists of [introduce a team member or team members. Do not be afraid to put human faces/names to the team for fear that people will direct customers or issues to them. It’s ok if they do and the correction takes place then. re: Thanks for getting [customer Y] to our team. One of us will take care of it. To engage the team [insert engagement model.] Do not expect adoption of the group engagement model to be universal or immediate internally when shifting from the one to one model. It will happen over time. Live with it and be gracious, helpful and thankful when partners engage you or your team. Souring it with annoyance, or admonishment for not following procedure will hurt your attempt at change. 
  2. Map out the engagement model in a document and share, share, share, share, share it over and over and over. Example: We took care of [customer Z] who you sent to us, thank you! I want to make sure you know how to engage us when you see [my example: Community Success] assigned VS a specific name. [Share link to engagement model.] Rinse, repeat. 
  3. Offer to have your [my example: Community Success] team members join the renewal meetings or other customer meetings to demo exactly how the new engagement model works. Let the team partners learn from them. Often “we don’t have the time” prevents this. Infamous last words. Make the time. It does not have to be a giant time sucker, few will take you up on it, but an occasional direct engagement that allows your tech touch team to actually talk and meet a customer. That’s a great thing! 

Be positive. Be prepared to heard cats. Be prepared for internal partners to “forget” about the new model but be relentless in warmly, and with style and grace (and a giant hammer, but do not tell anyone I told you that) to be introducing/reinforcing and reintroducing the model. Eventually it will become the old model everyone is familiar with, but it will take time. 

Hi Jen! The biggest problem every single time and almost all resistance came from or were generated by internal partners, often the sales team. (Were moving you to dial up! You will get a bunch of emails from now on. We are downgrading you to a many to one system. We can’t afford to give you direct service so we created a cost effective solution that we are moving you to. Every single one of those are quotes to customers I heard!) Customers rarely had any concerns, especially smaller customers who had little, if any direct engagement with the CSM. This is the trickiest part and the lessons learned were:

  1. Work with your internal partners first on the change and present it very carefully. “This list of customers will move to Team X (in my example it was the Community Success team) which consists of [introduce a team member or team members. Do not be afraid to put human faces/names to the team for fear that people will direct customers or issues to them. It’s ok if they do and the correction takes place then. re: Thanks for getting [customer Y] to our team. One of us will take care of it. To engage the team [insert engagement model.] Do not expect adoption of the group engagement model to be universal or immediate internally when shifting from the one to one model. It will happen over time. Live with it and be gracious, helpful and thankful when partners engage you or your team. Souring it with annoyance, or admonishment for not following procedure will hurt your attempt at change. 
  2. Map out the engagement model in a document and share, share, share, share, share it over and over and over. Example: We took care of [customer Z] who you sent to us, thank you! I want to make sure you know how to engage us when you see [my example: Community Success] assigned VS a specific name. [Share link to engagement model.] Rinse, repeat. 
  3. Offer to have your [my example: Community Success] team members join the renewal meetings or other customer meetings to demo exactly how the new engagement model works. Let the team partners learn from them. Often “we don’t have the time” prevents this. Infamous last words. Make the time. It does not have to be a giant time sucker, few will take you up on it, but an occasional direct engagement that allows your tech touch team to actually talk and meet a customer. That’s a great thing! 

Be positive. Be prepared to heard cats. Be prepared for internal partners to “forget” about the new model but be relentless in warmly, and with style and grace (and a giant hammer, but do not tell anyone I told you that) to be introducing/reinforcing and reintroducing the model. Eventually it will become the old model everyone is familiar with, but it will take time. 

I left off how the change is introduced and communicated internally is key. “A rich, responsive, interactive team will be available with your new team of Customer Success Mangers.” If it is conceived and treated like a cheap way to deal with customers who have little value, that will leak out to the customers and undermine the initiative. Many just repeat what they heard verbatim and who can blame them?

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