Customer Success: A Holistic Approach to Connecting with our Customers
As Customer Success continues to find its way into the corporate mainstream, PRISMA has placed itself at the vanguard of this growing movement. In our latest blog post, I delve deep into what it takes to strike the right balance between serving your customers’ and your company’s needs.
Among the many lessons I’ve learnt during my time as a Customer Success representative at PRISMA is that everything starts and ends with the customer.
While commercial imperatives must always be kept in mind, the purpose of Customer Success as a business methodology cannot simply be to achieve short-term revenue boosts, but rather to accelerate and sustain long-term growth by building a bridge between your company and its customers.
For any company looking to adopt such a strategy, the challenge is in creating a vibrant and energised customer base that’s prepared to enthusiastically advocate for your products and services — and that can only happen when the relationship between you and your customers is based more on their success than your own.
The clue is in the name: enhance the success of your customers and they are likely to repay you with their long-lasting trust.
Raising the bar
Since joining PRISMA around two years ago, I’ve been part of a team responsible for building a new Customer Success programme that is in line with our forward-thinking, agile working methods, as well as staying loyal to one of our four cultural pillars: being a customer-centric organisation. Originally outsourced to an external IT customer care provider, this aspect of our business has been the focus of a wholesale shift in how we treat – and benefit from – our customer relationships.
Part of our requirement was to broaden the parameters of what one might describe as “the acceptable call of duty” – that is, the standard level of engagement we would bring to customer interactions and the procedures for how to deal with customer complaints, requests and queries.
No longer would it be sufficient to respond to a customer who’s flagged that something on our platform isn’t working by checking the platform logs, seeing that they appear to be operating correctly, and duly closing the case. Instead, we now treat our customers’ problems as our own. How can we help them if the root cause is at their end? What can we tell them from our own experience that’ll help ensure they don’t encounter the same issue again? Deeper and more pro-active engagement is more likely to lead to an outcome that will strengthen our relationship and, ultimately, leave them feeling we are on their side.
We also started using specific ticketing tools that make it simpler for customers to track their own tickets, enhancing their ability to communicate with us in an efficient manner. These tools have been augmented by a fine-tuning of our customer onboarding programme that takes a more active approach to welcoming users onto the platform. Crucial to this has been our new customer training methods, which are designed to provide them with a better understanding of the ways our platform can be used through tutorial videos and other assets. But, in keeping with our aim to build enduring relationships with our customers, rather than outsourcing this to generalist training companies we taught our own team members – including myself – how to train customers themselves.
Other examples include our shipper events and our regular visits to customers, both of which now form a key part of our Customer Success programme, offering a chance for us to meet our customers face to face. Having in-house PRISMA team members as their central point of contact – rather than faceless external providers – provides them with a direct line to the person who is not only able to solve their problems but, through a fostering a familiarity between them and their representative, will also help ensure they share the values of the company. We tend to divide these duties up by language skills, so being the only German native in the Customer Success team I take care of our German customers, while others look after customers who share their native tongue.
A choice not a task
The most important character trait required for Customer Success representatives is without doubt empathy and an attendant instinct to approach every customer interaction as a choice, rather than a task. Of course, knowledge of our platform and its complexities is critical too, but without empathy, and regardless of your expertise, it’s incredibly difficult to make a customer feel confident, appreciated and understood.
What’s more, empathy can help customers who may not share our specific industry expertise achieve their desired outcome when something goes wrong. By acting as a mediator able to cut through the industry jargon and convey the precise nature of the problem, customers will be reassured that you’ll do everything in your power to help. In contrast with the old fashioned tendency for customer care departments to remain distant and detached, good interpersonal relationships can be a highly effective coolant at stressful times when there may often be a financial (or at the very least reputational) impact at stake.
A great example of this is a meeting I had with a customer during a training session at a trade fair last year. We’d bumped into each other and were exchanging a few words, during which he raised a concern about certain workflows in his company. I suggested talking to him about our Shipper API that could help automate a lot of their analytics and reduce effort in the bidding process. Instead of seeing it as a sales pitch intended to increase my personal sales figures, he saw it as a sincere proposal for improving their workflow and as a result was far more amenable to my suggestion.
Connections breed conversions
Thanks in part to user feedback that has helped guide our product roadmap, we’re now at a point in the company’s developmental arc where we are offering additional paid-for services on top of our core products. As a consequence, part of our role in Customer Success is not only to keep our customers happy with our existing products, but to offer these additional services as solutions that will help them achieve success, make their work simpler and more efficient, and are worth investing in. And if they trust that we have their best interests at heart, it makes this task a whole lot easier.
This was demonstrated to me at the recent E-World trade fair in Essen, Germany, where I got to talk with several of our customers about our new services. It occurred to me that it was more like meeting friends than clients, and I sensed that they were happy for me to suggest some of the services they may be interested in because they trusted me – trusted that I know their use cases and trusted that I wouldn’t try to sell them something for the sake of it.
The outcomes of an effective Customer Success programme can be hard to measure, being largely qualitative in nature. But there remain a number of quantifiable metrics that we can point to as evidence of its value. One such metric is our customer satisfaction score, which is based on customer feedback on our service when we’ve closed a ticket. For this we average an overall satisfaction of rating of more than 90%, and a happiness rating that sometimes peaks at 98%. Compared with the scores recorded when our customer care was handled by an outside service provider, this is a huge improvement.
Another, albeit less measurable, example is that whenever a customer asks to speak to someone at our company about a specific issue – such a invoicing or product management - in almost every case we’re able to allocate them someone who will be extremely well versed in the relevant subject. We believe this is testament to the fact that we’ve created a join-up system of communication that ensures every base is covered.
Onwards and upwards
So where do we go from here? The simple answer is that as PRISMA continues to grow, and, as we pursue new ways of creating connections with our customers that help them on their journey, our Customer Success programme will grow with it. With more PRISMA services coming online all the time, the hiring trend of the last couple of years is certainly not going to slow down, and with greater resources we’ll be able to enhance our ability to communicate with our customers.
The base load – tickets, customer calls, etc – will always be our priority, but having more hands on deck will also allow us to give more attention to subsidiary opportunities, such as customer events.
As we go forwards, we’re confident that our Customer Success programme will be an invaluable asset to the growth and prosperity of both PRISMA and our customers.
Explore PRISMA´s activities
At PRISMA we believe that innovation is essential to creating a fair and transparent market. In 2012 we began our journey, focused on reshaping the gas industry by reducing its complexity and making gas capacity trading simpler and fairer by putting people’s needs first.
And that’s what we’re doing.