Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Julie Weill Persofsky, the Managing Director of Customer Success at Winning by Design.

The customer relationship has been fundamentally changed. Customer success is classically about helping your customers achieve the impact that your solution delivers to help them and their organization. This often means onboarding your customers as quickly and effectively as possible to achieve first value in a reasonable time frame — driving usage and positive impact on their business — to retain your customers and help them grow. And the ultimate goal of customer success is to build an authentic and long-lasting relationship with your customers. 

But the definition of this relationship and what the client expects from you has changed drastically — practically overnight. With many companies now shifting to working remotely, and some industries already seeing a significant financial impact, how can you continue to support your clients and build a collaborative relationship with them? 

Below is some guidance that we at Winning by Design believe will help you continue to support and build your client relationships, and maintain your existing customers while still driving a positive impact for their organizations.

Develop your strategy as a leadership team, with empathy for your customers

1. Anticipate your customers’ needs. Meet internally to discuss how your products and services can support your customers during this time, and anticipate how their business and personal needs might have changed.

2. Align internally and surround your customers to create a community feel. Virtual user groups, Slack channels, and group video calls will all foster a sense of community and support, and will help your clients be more effective.

Have a plan for contract change requests

3. Your customers might have their own customers who can’t pay them right now, or who might be canceling their contracts, especially if they service industries that are heavily impacted (such as sports, retail, restaurants, or the SMB segment). Together with your team, come up with a tiered offering to help customers continue to use your product/services, while still making it cost-effective for them. At this time, while new deal flow is slower than normal, retaining your current customers should be your top priority. There are lots of options for how you can support your customers through this period, including by offering:

  • A few months at no charge to stay with you, and potentially extend their contract term.
  • A free upgrade to your highest tier to get even more impact at no additional cost
  • Credits toward future months 
  • Deferred payment terms (i.e., move to monthly instead of annual payments)

Obsess about your current customers: they are your most important source of revenue right now. You need to communicate with them, but in the right way.

4. Your internal company org structure will likely need to adapt in order to provide back-up relationships and support for customers. Clearly defined and allocated key roles and responsibilities are always a good idea for managing your customers and new revenue, but are even more important now.

If someone who is managing a group of customers is unable to work for a few weeks, do you have someone who is able to pick up the baton immediately? Ensure that you have redundancies and backups in place to support your most strategic customers from their champion to decision makers. Make a specific plan for how to support each of these customer roles so that you don’t lose contact with them while your CSM or sales rep might be unable to complete their job. Train everyone in how to speak and connect with customers. Here’s a video with a framework on how to handle frustrated customers, and an example role play. Practice this with anyone who might be fielding customer calls at this time.

5. Schedule a time to meet with all of your customers immediately, starting with the largest, then those with the most potential, and then the remainder. Create a plan for how to redesign your customer journey now — with a new orchestration call to see how their goals/priorities might have shifted. Identify their current situation, pain, and desired impact/goals. Follow up with any critical events happening in their world right now, and any changes to their decision-making process.

Redesign your Customer Journey to work with a Distributed Team

6. Create the right environment for all your customer meetings (onboarding, training, executive business reviews, workshops) to be done remotely. Video is a must for all participants. If your client has multiple people together in one room for a call, encourage everyone to turn their cameras on individually. Ensure that your onboarding and training team members have the proper professional setups in their homes: video, speaker, whiteboard, and a video conferencing solution. If they don’t yet feel comfortable with your video conferencing, find the provider’s free training resources, and get your team quickly skilled up so their meetings can be productive. See here for a video series on how to set up your remote office: How to set up your remote and online work environment.

7. Onboard your customer with a joint impact plan, including key milestones, dates, and steps for both you and them to complete. Create smaller, more frequent milestones that you revisit on a regular basis.

8. Complement your training sessions with quizzes, role play, and on the job training/reviews and feedback.

9. If you typically entertain, consider sending a gift basket or coffee to arrive while you meet on a video call (but ask first for permission to send them something, as some people may not want to accept deliveries). Coffee meetings can still happen remotely — it’s now just more BYOC (bring your own coffee!).

Your current customers are the best source of new business, now and later

10. Mobilize your advocates to help create a pipeline. It’s critical to create a culture of advocacy among your customers and through referrals, references, webinars, case studies, and reviews.

11. Offer a free upgrade to your highest plan for the next few months to your existing customers; perhaps it can help them save some money and get even more impact from your solution. With this, you are also creating future pipeline for potential upsell opportunities later on down the road. Here are some ideas:

  • Tea for two and a webinar for you: Invite your customers to co-host a webinar with their colleagues (for expansion) or with other companies (new leads), and send them something to enjoy while you co-host an engaging webinar rooted in real situations and real impact. 
  • Don’t waste time with NPS. Ask them for referrals to help their network get the same benefits.

Think about ways to save costs

12. Do more with less. Leverage technology, process, and automation to nurture your customers while spending less. Now is the time to understand the key actions that customers take, and the impact they are looking to achieve, in order to stay and grow. Map that to a process that is repeatable, and then leverage technology to scale. Here are some ideas:

  • Leverage chatbots/AI to help triage your support cases to save your team time.
  • Reallocate resources from other areas of your business that aren’t fully utilized right now. An idea: SDRs or BDRs with less inbound can help manage customer onboarding, help customers understand how to get more from their existing program, and participate in community or support channels.
  • Host AMA (‘Ask Me Anything’) sessions with your customers, either on Slack or through video conferencing, to foster a sense of community and help your customers learn from and connect with each other. Especially now, people need human connection from others in similar situations.
  • Give your knowledge base a refresh with relevant help articles and videos.

Take care of your customer success people, and they take care of your customers 

Last but not least, realize that your customer success team members are taking on the hardest hit as they listen to the painful stories of layoffs and frustrated customers. So take good care of them. Train them on what scenarios they will probably encounter, and how to express empathy in an appropriate way. Do role plays based on the real scenarios that are happening with your customers, and let your CSMs practice listening, and empathy. 

Add a regular cadence with the team to check in — for example, a daily coffee for 15 minutes, face to face via video conference — to help your team stay positive, stay focused on what they can control, and talk through any customer issues they are struggling with at the moment. Make sure that they know they are not alone in this. Allow them to be vulnerable during this time, by being vulnerable yourself as a leader. These are scary times for all, so stay strong, but be real. 

During this time, more than ever before, customer success needs to be a company-wide initiative. Your current customers are your lifeline. Companies that retain their customers during this time will succeed.