People on the front lines understand that customer success can be rewarding, particularly when you work closely with your customers and they experience real, measurable success and impress their boss and the company.
However, as many of us are familiar with, this can sometimes have an unintended effect that this same success results in a new job or promotion for that employee. Undoubtedly this is great for the customer but a successful person leaving your account can be dangerous territory.
Why is it such a problem?
When your main point of contact leaves they often take a lot of intellectual property and context with them.
You’re also gambling on what will happen next – will someone take over the responsibility of your product as part of a wider role? Will a new employee be hired (which takes time)? Will this be an opportunity for naysayers in the organisation to step in and try to move away from your service?
Put simply, point of contact attrition raises the propensity for churn, can affect retention and directly impacts customer success team productivity.
Here’s my advice on how to prepare for and deal with this scenario
1) Look at the data
It’s not always simple to measure this indirectly but employee attrition in companies varies from role to role and across industries. For example, our teams here at HubSpot work with marketers and marketing folk move jobs a lot…a lot. In fact over the course of a year it’s almost guaranteed that at least one person will leave from each of our customers marketing teams. For this reason we’ve gotten good at managing it.
On the other hand if you have a product that offers management information systems or business intelligence for example, your customers are probably more senior, invested in the company and attrition is often lower but not always the case.
Differences in the data across your target markets will help identify how much you should be investing in re-onboarding when or if your points of contact leave. If it’s not a significant problem then I would invest in longer term success projects but if it’s higher you may want to keep reading.
2) Get the decision makers bought in from day one
I think this is the most crucial point and one that took a while for me to learn. From the get go you should build decision maker communications into your onboarding and customer success process.
It’s not necessary that they get into the specifics of the project but the customer success manager, the main point of contact and the decision maker should all agree on overall project direction, goals and timelines at day 0. More than I care to remember I’ve had a customer say their priorities are one thing and their boss says something completely different. Discuss it, agree on it and document for future reference.
Typically in the sales process, a senior member, sponsor or business owner has been involved for obvious financial reasons. When the account moves into implementation it’s important not to forget these people. Decision makers, in most cases will be less likely to leave and more effective at keeping things on track and aligning newer people when someone leaves.
If your point of contact now leaves the decision maker can be brought back in and they will hopefully understand what’s needed to keep the momentum going and continue the success.
3) Document progress as you go
Customer success is largely project management and any good project needs to be clearly documented. If your star customer does happen to leave, the project history becomes essential context for whoever takes over and can accelerate the onboarding.
This might sound like a lot of work but the easiest way to achieve it is by simply investing in some good project management tools. I like Basecamp or Asana personally but there’s so many out there its really just preference. Also, related to the last point, project management tools do allow you to passively include decision makers in the process for high level overviews.
4) Automate some of the process
If you have strong, successful relationship with a point of contact in your customers company, it’s likely that you’ve built a lot of trust and communication “short hand”. When a new POC replaces them, onboarding has to reset and that trust and short hand needs to be built up again. The problem with this is it takes a lot of time and resources that you have gotten used to committing to other areas or customers.
The solution here is to encourage good self-service habits from day one and if possible automate some of the education process. If your product or service has a low touch automated onboarding process already then you may be able to tweak it and personalize it for new contacts starting with existing customers.
If your onboarding process is high touch it’s more complicated. It’s likely that the onboarding is geared towards brand new customers with zero to very little history and technical debt with your product. The thing you want to avoid is ending up demoing and reselling your product again or doing a tour of their current set up. This is a huge time suck and something sales people are much better suited to.
I would recommend creating some sort of customer success nurturing program that sends daily / weekly (depending on the product) emails with clear resources, tasks and objectives in them. At HubSpot we work with our customer marketing team to use our own marketing automation tool to do this. If you don’t have resources like this I would work on creating a bank of canned or template emails that you can schedule from Gmail (with something like Boomerang or Sidekick) to get the same effect.
These programs can act as a self-service crash course and will allow your new point of contact to absorb information at a reasonable pace and formulate questions and priorities so you can have a valuable meeting that stays away from demos and walkthroughs.
Of course there are many more strategies you could employ here but these are some more generally applicable ideas. Depending on the roles and industries in your customer base you might have to think about this problem a lot or very little. Either way at some point your customer will move roles/jobs so make sure you have a strategy to continue customer success when it happens.