Customer Success Boston April Meeting Notes and Video

On April 29th, the Boston-area Customer Success community gathered at the offices of Crimson Hexagon. On the agenda was a discussion with Dana Miller, SVP Client Services at Crimson Hexagon, and Barry Daitch, Global Leader of Customer Success at Autodesk, on how they have steered their respective organizations to deliver results in environments in which “customers” aren’t always the same as buyers or even influencers and where many factors impact customer retention.

Because Autodesk and Crimson Hexagon serve very different markets and customers, and both deal with highly complex environments, their methods of achieving customer success varied. The discussion offered an interesting range of ideas across the following key areas:

  • Standardizing operations
  • Managing customer relationships
  • Hiring CSMs

Standardizing operations

  • At Autodesk, very large accounts with many users and many different products require standardized processes for nurturing, monitoring and growing customer relationships. A “Client Engagement Plan” developed by the CSM focuses on deepening relationships and delivering value while an Account Manager’s “Account Plan” sets growth goals and milestones, and an “Adoption Plan” defines opportunities for product cross-selling and usage. [view video clip]
  • At Crimson Hexagon, the company’s rapid growth and combination of large and small accounts has necessitated the development of “playbooks,” or standard processes for addressing frequently recurring customer situations, as a way to drive faster ramp-up and more consistency among CSMs. Additionally, because the company’s diverse customer base thwarts a “one size fits all” understanding of and approach to customers, the organization takes a disciplined approach to identifying drivers and mitigants of churn. [view video clip]

Managing customer relationships

  • For Autodesk, ensuring the health of their complicated customer relationships requires a combination of disciplined expectation-setting and risk-mitigation. The organization’s “governance model” defines the responsibilities of the Autodesk team and those of the customer team, as well as scopes and reinforces the boundaries of Customer Success and Professional Services. [view video clip] Because even satisfied customer relationships are threatened by the departure of key customer personnel, Autodesk also strives to strategically build bridges throughout the customer organization and to identify and capture customer success stories that can be used to highlight value delivered. [view video clip: 0:00-2:10, 5:50-]
  • Crimson Hexagon’s offering—delivering insights for brands on their social media presence—leads them into customer relationships with marketing agencies that can lose accounts and in-demand social media leaders [view video clip, 2:10-5:50]. As a result, they spend more time and effort on finding ways to identify churn risk outside of application usage, which isn’t strongly correlated to non-renewal [view video clip: 0:00-3:15], and are planning to invest in resources for building and leveraging customer advocates [view video clip: 1:21-].

Hiring CSMs

  • At Autodesk, CSMs play the role of a business consultant to customers—advising them on best practices and opportunities for efficiency gains. As a result, Daitch places significant weight on candidates’ industry knowledge to ensure they will be credible with demanding customers. [view video clip: 0:00-4:48]
  • At Crimson Hexagon, application complexity, lack of clearly established ways to quantify the value of social media monitoring and rapid growth all drive an emphasis on customer-centricity (the ability to see things from the customer’s perspective) and project management capabilities among candidates. [view video clip: 4:49-]

Taken together, Barry Daitch’s and Dana Miller’s discussion [access all the clips] offered disparate but valuable examples that organizations could apply to their own CS teams as well as be part of a blueprint for the questions to ask and issues to address.

Five Strategies to Adapt Bank Branches to The New Normal

There is a wealth of evidence that consumers are using online and mobile channels as the primary channels for their everyday banking needs:

  • Having reached critical mass in online banking penetration, the largest U.S. banks continue to report strong growth in active mobile banking customers (Chase +23% y/y to 17.2 million; Bank of America up 17% to 15.5 million; and Wells Fargo +22% to 13.1 million)
  • Regional bank customers are also growing their usage of non-branch channels.  45% of PNC customers use non-branch channels for a majority of banking transactions.  Fifth Third reports that ATM and mobile channels’ share of deposit volume rose from 12% to 31% over the past two years. KeyBank claims that online and mobile transactions are growing by 9% annually, while branch transactions are declining by 3%.

The rise of self-service channels for everyday banking transactions is leading banks to re-assess their investment in their branch networks.  For example, banks are changing traditional assumptions as to what constitutes optimal branch density within markets.  In a recent presentation, KeyBank claimed that branch density is now less relevant as long as a bank can pair branches with a good mobile offering. In addition, in a low-revenue-growth environment, banks are under pressure to cut costs in order to meet earnings expectations. As a result of these factors, banks are cutting branch numbers.

  • Bank of America is expected to cut branches to below 5,000 by the end of 2014, compared to more than 5,700 in the second quarter of 2011.  It recently announced the sale of branch clusters in North Carolina and Michigan.
  • Over the past six months Citibank sold all of its branches in Texas, as it focuses its energies on a select number of large metro markets.
  • KeyBank has closed or sold 8% of its branches over the past two years, and plans to cut its network further, by about 2-3% per year.

However, banks remain strongly committed to their branch networks.  This is largely due to the fact that consumers continue to value the branch channel, even if usage has declined.  A recent ABA survey found that 21% of consumers named the branch as their preferred banking channel, up from 18% in 2013. In addition, banks recognize the benefits in encouraging customers to use multiple channels.  Wells Fargo found that customers using its stores as well as online and mobile channels have a 70% higher purchase rate than customers who only use online and mobile. With in this mind, the following are five branch strategies that banks should follow, with examples of banks that have already implemented these approaches:

  1. Deploy new branch formats.  Given lower traffic and transaction volumes in branches, banks should launch branch prototypes with smaller footprints, so that they can maintain their physical presence, but at a lower cost.
    • PNC has converted 200 of its branches to a smaller format, with 100 more to follow by the end of 2014.
  2. Launch flagship branches in selected markets.  With changing ideas around branch density, bank can consolidate multiple branches into a large flagship store.  These flagship stores act as a brand beacon for the bank in specific markets, as well as providing space for the bank to showcase new innovations
  3. Reconfigure branch staff.  As branch activity is switching from transaction processing to sales and advice, and branches switch to smaller format, bank can reduce the average number of staff per branch, but should also change the functional balance, with fewer tellers and more sales specialists.
    • In the 18 months to June 2014, Fifth Third cut 22% of its branch service staff, but increased sales staff by 6%.
    • Over the past year, PNC has grown its number of investment professionals in branches by 4%.
  4. Incorporate technology into branches. As consumers become more accustomed with using technology for their everyday financial needs, banks should showcase customer-facing technology in branches.  This can enhance the user experience and capture sales opportunities
    • Regions is installing two-way video to enable customers communicate directly with bankers via an ATM.
  5. Open branches outside of footprint.  As having a critical mass of branches in a market is no longer a prerequisite for success, banks can open branches beyond their traditional retail footprint, to target specific consumer or business clusters.
    • City National has established branches in New York City, Atlanta and Nashville, dedicated to targeting entertainment firms that are clustered within these markets.

CS Boston – July: The CFO as Customer Success Ally

Customer Success is gaining significant traction, but it is still the “new kid on the block” in the leadership ranks of most SaaS companies. And just like the new kid, CS leaders need to find an ally who can guide and support them in obtaining both an appropriate share of spending and a voice in strategic decision-making. At the recent inaugural session of the Boston chapter of the Customer Success Association, I led a discussion with a panel of two CFOs who, through their comments, made a strong case for the CFO as a prospective ally.

If these two CFOs were at all representative of their peer group, we learned that there are several reasons for CS leaders to be optimistic about developing a fruitful relationship with that member of the executive suite. Specifically, CFOs:

  • Understand the financial necessity of capturing renewals and maximizing CLV
  • Aren’t caught up in who-should-be-responsible-for-what; they just want to see the financial impact
  • Are interested in a strategic view of improving the long-term health of the business and customer relationships
  • Believe in data

For CS leaders to forge strategic relationships with CFOs, they need to take leverage the CFOs’ mindset and respond to their motivations. The case for investing in Customer Success needs to be made based on evidence that spending—on CSM software, on an onboarding program, on additional headcount—will provide a return above baseline in the form of improved retention and/or increased lifetime customer value. This evidence, according to the CFOs, can take the form of plausible outside benchmarks or (and better) can be derived from testing.

Importantly, in calling on CS leaders to create tests to make the investment case, they are not looking for elaborate experiments that could be blessed by a statistician. They simply want real-world evidence of efficacy. For example, to make the case for the impact of CSM software on renewals, select a test group and more closely monitor customer utilization for a month. To make the case for investment in a customer marketing program, send several newsletters to a test group and analyze the correlation between engagement and the likelihood of renewal. Moreover, the tests themselves are an opportunity to forge an alliance with the CFO: by working with the CFO on the test design, CS leaders can not only assure buy-in if the test proves successful, but can also gain credibility and earn trust.