From First Date to Forever: Building a Lasting Relationship with Clients
One of the essential elements to achieving success in customer success work is understanding the different phases in the lifecycle. Today’s article will treat the whole cycle, but if you are interested in any of the steps more and would like me to devote a separate article to it and discuss it in more detail, please write in the comments.
All clear? Then buckle up, and let’s get started!
The four phases
First thing first, I have broken Customer Lifetime down into four phases. You may have more or less of these in your teams; it is quite individual and depends on your business. The Customer Success team in a company knows best what the customer lifecycle and pathway looks like (about which below).
The first phase, and also the most important, is the introduction of the customer to the company or the more familiar term Onboarding. This is the first (unless the CS team is involved in pre-sales processes) contact with the customer. This phase will differ significantly between the low and high-touch models, so the customer gets to know your product or service without going into too much detail in this phase. Tailoring the solution to the customer’s needs and learning is fundamental here. It is essential to provide clear and comprehensive materials and resources to learn about the product and offer support, whether through a dedicated person, a support forum or indirect contact with the CS team.
This is also the phase where we will have the most contact with the client and develop the basis for further work. This is why, for me, this is the most critical phase because its success can determine whether the customer stays with us for the long term and becomes our promoter or whether we fail to enthuse them. They look among the solutions of the competition.
I am guided in dealing with clients in this phase by a quote from one of my favourite books by Mr Andrzej Sapkowski:
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
This phase should also see the creation of a customer success plan and the metrics with which we will measure the results achieved.
The next phase is Engagement. The point at which the customer actively uses your service or product. This is an excellent time to check which functionalities the customer is using and try to increase their engagement. Checking metrics such as weekly and monthly active users will be helpful in this phase. It’s also a good idea to collect the customer’s experience after onboarding, e.g. via NPS or CSAT, to understand what went well and what needs to be worked on.
The third phase is the expansion phase. A lot will depend on your solution. Still, at this point, the customer is already familiar with the current product and the CS team, whether through quarterly meetings (QBRs) or other tools, should understand different needs and areas where our product or another solution from our product portfolio could help the customer. So this is an excellent opportunity for any cross or up-sell activity. This is a sensitive topic as to whether a CS should be doing this, but they should, and must, as they best understand the customer’s needs and places for further development.
The last is the retention phase. In this phase, the customer is most at risk of leaving, so the customer success team should focus on maintaining high satisfaction and engagement. Periodic meetings and demonstrating product changes should be the cornerstones. Also, please refer to your success plan and update it as you progress and reach milestones.
Different companies adopt more or fewer phases; I recommend an article by Hubspot on their approach to tracking the customer lifecycle.
Metrics, journeys, plan
I’ve already listed several metrics that will allow you to measure and communicate the value of your CS team. Still, one I’d like to discuss separately is Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). You may also come across the term Lifetime Value (LTV), but it is the same metric.
The statistic is elementary and represents how much money a customer will leave with a company over a lifetime. It is one of the best metrics to show the value of a company’s Customer Success team. While it is a so-called Lagging metric (more on that in a future article), the success team should aim to increase it.
There are several ways to calculate it. One of the simplest is:
CLV = average profit per customer * average customer life expectancy.
In the case of the CS team, we have either no or limited ability to influence the price of a product or service; we have much say in how long a customer stays with us.
I recommend a post on Amplitude’s blog, where you can read more.
The second metric I won’t elaborate on for you today, which should also be relevant, is CAC or Customer Acquisition Cost. I recommend to you Donna Weber’s excellent book “Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions”, which deals with onboarding and how, when done correctly, it affects CAC.
The Customer Success Plan and the Customer Journey are the last things I want to draw your attention to. These should be two of your essential working tools, especially at the beginning of your relationship with a client. I have written more about these in previous articles (check here), and if you would like me to go into more depth, please let me know in the comments.
The Final Word
Understanding the different phases of a client’s life is critical to ensuring client satisfaction and retention, and knowing what stage of the customer’s journey with your business allows you to tailor your communication and approach to their needs which will translate into a longer relationship with you. What does the customer lifecycle look like for you? Does it differ from the one I have described? Let me know in the comments!