The Three Golden Rules Of A Customer-Centric Subscription Business

You Mon Tsang is the CEO and Founder of ChurnZero.

Customers’ expectations are changing. Not in terms of how much they expect, because customer expectations have always been high—but in terms of what they expect. The defining measure of a great customer experience used to be a business’s ability to be there for its customers. Availability was enough to win loyalty.

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Today, many customers expect ever-increasing value. They expect your business to predict and proactively fulfill their needs. They expect you to go beyond surface-level service to pursue outcome-driven relationships. Today’s customers recognize the competition in the subscription market and look for renewal-worthy experiences built upon enduring returns.

To deliver on their expectations takes true customer-centricity and a strong customer success team who can do far more than “be there” for your customers. They’ll need to be an anticipatory force, experts in delivering value and the conduit for your customer’s voice throughout the organization.

To get there, consider these three rules.

1. Prioritize results, not likeability.

Happiness is fleeting. A satisfied customer is often only satisfied in the moment: for instance, with a resolved support ticket. Your ability to get along with customers and promptly respond to their requests are not unimportant traits. But they don’t tell the story of whether a customer will renew.

It’s not about enjoying an interaction; it’s about receiving value from your product or service. As a founder of a customer success platform, I find that the fulfillment of a successful, long-term customer is almost always anchored to quantifiable business value. Achieving customer goals instills credibility in you as a vendor. This proof of integrity makes it easier for a customer to forgive your missteps and go to bat for you in the face of budget cuts, company acquisitions or new leadership.

To help your customer success teams prioritize customer results, consider adding variable pay to their compensation package, such as a variable based on retention. When a considerable percentage of your managers’ target earnings is variable, they will likely perform to achieve it.

2. Set a baseline of service and scale it.

When it comes to building customer trust, consistent service beats random acts of greatness. A customer success team needs a systematic way to grow the business that doesn’t rest on the shoulders of a few standout individuals.

Customer success teams can learn from those who came before them. They can borrow scaling techniques from more established departments—like sales and marketing—who have also faced the fundamental question of how to scale service without comprising excellence.

The answer lies within four main areas: technology, training, enablement and operations. Early-stage departments should think about developing best practices in each domain and codify them as they grow.

Consider creating a customer success operations role to focus on that standardization, especially as your team becomes larger. This role will specialize in creating, documenting and refining data, processes, systems, resource allocation and strategic initiatives so your entire team can deliver as well as your standouts. The discipline and structure of an operations role also promotes consistency. In turn, this can raise accountability, transparency and trust: the backbone of every high-performing team.

3. Make customer data your guide and glue.

All companies want—or should want—to know their customers better. However, many rely on different sources of truth for different teams, which can create an us-versus-them mentality, reduce productivity, fracture the customer experience and deplete trust.

To bridge perception gaps and bring people together, give your customer success team the tools to unify and democratize customer information across the organization. Share every NPS score and comment in real time; talk about the big renewals and bad churns; interview customers during all-hands meetings; and inspire collaboration by being generous with internal recognition for wins and support for losses.

Customer data accessibility also helps you get better at predicting the road ahead. Pay attention to qualitative data (CSM sentiment, perceived satisfaction, engagement depth) and quantitative data (product usage, support history, service utilization). Then, expand that view by aggregating data to identify trends and patterns for a more comprehensive look at churn risk and service expansion across your customer base.

Customer-centricity is the heart of your business.

Humans are wired to connect with each other. This is why employees who get to speak directly with customers, or hear their stories, feel an innate desire to help them.

Conversely, when employees don’t know or talk about their customers, troubles arise. Customer information gets lost. Teams lose sight of what customers care about. The culture shifts quickly and quietly away from customer-centricity.

You can overcome this by aligning your organization around customer success. When you do, your customers’ experiences and needs can naturally radiate out. You’ll feel their presence and hear their voices in every discussion. You can say goodbye to guessing what your customers want or what they’d say if they were in the room. You’ll already know.

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