Customer Retention - Roles of Operations, Support, and C-Suite
To improve client retention, you need a corporate effort. Here are some actionable items to reduce client churn.
Client retention is all about building, and maintaining the client's trust. Mistakes will happen, problems will arise, and if you have built trust with the client, they will afford you the time and opportunity to remedy them.
If companies would place the same emphasis on the customer experience, as they do on client acquisition, they would see unparalleled growth and profitability. In part five of our series on How to Improve Customer Retention, we will examine the roles that the Operations Department, the Customer Support Department, and the C-Suite need to play to be part of the solution.
In the first part of our series, we discussed the impact that churn has on your company’s growth (Customer Churn – The Struggle is Real). In part two, we shared why every department has a role to play in client retention (The Client Retention Lifecycle - The Role of Each Department). We, then, began breaking down the strategies that need to be adopted by the Marketing Department (Client Retention - The Marketing Department's Role) and for the Product Development Team and Sales Department (Customer Retention: Roles of the Product Development Team and Sales Department).
The Operations Department is the lifeblood of any organization. For B2B SaaS companies, it is the department that thinks, plans and optimizes workflows, technologies, and efficiencies across the organization. For manufacturing facilities, it is responsible for getting the product produced and delivered to the customer on a timely basis.
Onboarding Clients – The Operations Department is often charged with onboarding new customers and making sure that they know how to use and optimize their newly acquired product. For some industries, there is also the need to transfer the client’s data, configure reports, or adjust the product to fit the new customer’s intended use.
The initial interaction, between the customer and the Operations Department, will lay the groundwork for how the engagement will go between the parties. If it gets off to a rocky start, it will rarely recover.
This means that the onboarding team needs to effectively interface with the customer. In a previous section, we discussed how the transfer from the Sales Department to the Operations Department should take place (Customer Retention: Roles of the Product Development Team and Sales Department).
Formalize the onboarding process, that utilizes templates and checklists, to ensure that each aspect is taken care of and optimized. Have a regular cadence of meetings with the client to keep them informed and obtain feedback on the steps already taken.
Maintain, Measure, and Improve – The Operations Department needs to provide oversight and ensure that each department is fulfilling its role to prevent churn. There needs to be the attitude that everything is measured for effectiveness and that processes are constantly being optimized to improve results.
All performance data should be shared with the Operations group to allow them the ability to monitor and address areas that are failing short.
Customer Support Department
It is understood that the Customer Service Department has an instrumental role in ensuring customer retention. They are often the last line of defense before a client gets frustrated and leaves. They have the responsibility for:
How well they do these tasks can be quantified by customer satisfaction surveys, upsells, and client renewals. The ROI of a customer experience is profound for retaining customers but can also be instrumental for acquiring new ones. In a 2019 study, Qualtrics found that 90% of prospects said they would trust companies with a high customer experience score, and 64% said that would be paramount in their decision to buy (Qualtrics).
If you implement the following strategies for your Customer Support Team, you will not only have world-class support but your churn rate will be dramatically reduced.
Hire the Right People – Companies need to place the same hiring emphasis and seek the same caliber of talent they already do, for client acquisition positions. These are key employees, and your hires should be seasoned professionals. This is absolutely one of the most vital positions and should not be entrusted to just anyone. An exceptional representative will be worth many times their salary. Pay attention to their personality type and demeanor, as they need to always project a calm composed attitude. They need to be able to be respectful and courteous, even when they are dealing with the most frustrated or unhappy client.
Train them – For your Customer Support Team to be effective, they have to know every aspect of your product. You cannot afford to have them get on-the-job training. They will be peppered with questions, and asked “what if” scenarios they need to be prepared to answer.
It is not enough to just train them on how the product functions. They need to understand how to fix it when it breaks, and how to optimize it. Have your Product Development Team help develop a rigorous training program. Require the support team to attend regular training updates each time there is a product update.
Each week, have them share the questions and problems that they were confronted with and how they solved them.
Create Support Materials – Provide your support team with one-page guidance documents that address 80% of the questions or issues that normally arise. Establish written guidelines that they can use without having to check in or wonder if they are operating in an appropriate manner.
Empower Your People – Nothing is more frustrating to your Customer Support team, and the client, when both know how a problem should be resolved, but the support staff lacks the authority to grant it in a timely manner. Create guidelines and rules of the road that will help guide your support team. Then, grant them the appropriate authority to make decisions and resolve issues without having to jump through hoops.
Internal Performance Reviews – Provide transparent reviews, not to point blame, but to reinforce the right behavior and to offer alternative solutions and actions when an encounter did not result in the desired outcome.
Reward Good Behavior – When a Customer Support Person goes the extra mile, or resolves a problem that could have resulted in client churn, reward them. Make it a meaningful monetary bonus; the size you would pay if a salesperson landed a major client. This will send a message to all support staff, that you value them and will have more going that extra mile.
Rules of Engagement - Your Customer Service Representatives are your brand diplomats. Even the best need company expectations spelled out. Here are a few that will dramatically enhance customer retention:
Human-to-Human Connection - While using chatbots is a popular method of “expediting customer service,” many companies rely upon them way too much. Chatbots are fine for answering some basic questions but can create more anguish when trying to figure out what issue is being asked. Allow those in need of answers to decide when they need to speak to a representative, and give them a clear path to connect with a person.
Remove Friction – Everyone has their own preferences on how they want to interact with support. While some may like to chat with a real person, others prefer email or having a phone conversation. Companies seem to understand that removing friction in the sales process is important to achieving higher conversions but fail to understand that removing friction in support increases client retention. Allow people to interact with support in the method and manner they prefer.
Speed To Respond – There are few better ways to make an already frustrated user more upset than putting them on hold waiting for a customer support person. It communicates that their business is not important. Make the investment to have a fully-staffed support team, where wait times are the exception and not the rule.
First Touch Resolution - Properly train and empower your support team, so the client’s issues can be resolved with their first contact. Repeatedly having to come back, because the problem wasn’t fixed, or being passed off to the next “expert,” are quick ways to decrease customer satisfaction and increase churn. If you have to escalate the problem, make sure you collect the right data, and communicate it to the next level of support. Don’t make the customer have to repeat everything they just told the first tier of support.
Personalize – Always greet the client by name. Every customer should receive a personalized follow-up email offering the customer to contact them personally if they have further problems. When a customer thinks they have a personal contact, or even a friend in customer support, their perception of the company is greatly enhanced.
Be Proactive - The most helpful customer service isn’t about how you respond to issues, but rather, how you can anticipate your customers’ needs and where they might need help, before they even have a chance to tell you about them. Each quarter, send surveys asking for them to share their most pressing issues and concerns.
Send out a survey asking them to share their most pressing issues and concerns.
Conduct a town hall meeting to address how those issues of concern are being addressed
Provide customer feedback reports to each department
While each department has a role to play, arguably the C-Suite has the most important role in improving customer satisfaction and client retention. They need to establish the corporate mindset that the customer experience is the paramount concern of every individual in every department. It is not enough for the C-Suite to simply establish that as a goal. They must take demonstrable steps to see that this becomes a reality.
The role of the C-suite in improving customer retention and reducing churn is crucial for the success and growth of a business. The C-suite executives, including the CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, and CRO, must play a pivotal role in setting the strategic direction and goals of the company. Their obligation to create a customer-centric culture goes well beyond simply setting the tone. They need to implement the following initiatives to show that, within the organization, customer satisfaction is a top priority.
The importance of ensuring that customer retention is prioritized is not lost on many CEOs. Chief Executive Magazine reported, back in 2021, that 41% of the CEOs polled said that customer retention was going to be the primary focus of their efforts (Chief Executive Magazine).
A Seat at the Table – If a company is serious about making customer retention a primary focus of the organization, it needs to give the Customer Support Department (CSD) a seat at the table. Establish a C-Suite position for the CSD and give that person a commensurate title (e.g. Chief Customer Experience Officer, Vice-President Customer Support). This will send a strong message to all employees that customer retention is of equal importance as client acquisition.
Compensation Drives Behavior – Provide financial incentives and bonuses for ANY person in the organization who makes an outstanding contribution to improve the customer experience. This might be an exceptional webinar that the marketing department held. It could be for the salesperson who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to keeping connected with their clients. Reward the customer service representatives who get outstanding feedback from customer engagements. The way you compensate your employees will dictate their behavior. Make sure you are promoting an elevated customer experience culture.
Direct Engagements – In small and medium-sized businesses (certainly startups), the CEO will have significant engagement with customers and their concerns, simply because there is no one else. As an organization grows, traditionally the CEO, and the rest of the C-Suite, become more removed from the client experience, until a major problem might impact revenues. This was certainly the trend, as late as 2010, when two-thirds of all CEOS had no online engagement with customers at all (Weber Shandwick Study). Fast-forward to 2015, where the majority of CEOs are not actively engaging with their customers through the use of videos and social media (MyCustomer).
Having members of your C-Suite, particularly the CEO, engage directly with its customers establishes trust and credibility. There are dozens of examples of high-profile CEOs actively improving the brand's reputation, and fostering improved customer retention, by having an active personal involvement with their customers. From Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk, they are all finding their own methods of interfacing with customers.
Pick Your Channel – The opportunity for the CEO to interact with their customers, in a semi-controlled environment, are immense. Whether you are interacting through posts (X – formerly Twitter, BlueSky, or Threads) or live video format (Spaces, Reels, TikTok), the ability of the C-Suite to connect with their customers has never been greater.
If you are truly committed to reducing churn to below 7%, it is essential to instigate a corporate initiative. It is not enough for only a few individuals to be involved; every person in every department must actively participate. The key to success lies in following the elements we have highlighted throughout this series. By implementing these strategies, consistently and effectively, you will witness an unparalleled level of client retention.