Coronavirus will change what ‘customer success’ means for business - value and purpose now essential

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez April 3, 2020
Much attention has been paid to the importance of ‘customer success’ in recent years. But as with the financial crisis, Coronavirus again changes what that means.

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Coronavirus will change how companies find success with customers in the future. In short, it’s no longer all about growth and chasing revenues - people, value and purpose will be at the core.

We at diginomica have long stated that customer success should be central to any good, modern business strategy. What started out as a term coined amongst the Software-as-a-Service vendors soon spread to other industries, bringing with it a growing realisation that if taken seriously will change everything about the way you operate. 

My colleague Phil Wainewright has written extensively on this and goes into detail about how the focus shifted from customer experience and reducing friction at the point of transaction, towards a continued relationship with the customer - one where you engage, monitor and improve. 

But much like the financial crisis in 2008 prompted a change in what ‘customer success’ meant (read Brian Sommer’s piece on this), I believe that Coronavirus will once again fundamentally change purchasing decisions for buyers across most industries, impacting the nature of what ‘customer success’ means. 

How? I think using frictionless digital tools and providing a good service/product won’t cut it for a lot of people when carrying out a future purchasing assessment. I would argue that value, purpose and people will be front and centre for a lot of people making decisions down the line. 

I’m sure many businesses would argue that this is already true for them today, but I think that that’s probably optimistic for the majority. Also, even if it is true for some, prioritising value, purpose and people - placing them at the centre of your strategy - once again changes how you operate. It all of a sudden means that growth and $revenues aren’t the absolute goal. 

We were beginning to see this already at the government level in some countries, where the likes of New Zealand are looking at things such as ‘wellbeing’ as measures of performance, not just GDP. 

Being put to the test

This is a real reckoning moment for customer success. The way companies have responded to COVID-19, not just in terms of continuation of providing services to customers, but also how they treat their employees, has prompted a huge response from the public. 

The way Coronavirus has turned the economy on its head has forced people to reassess the companies they transact with - you only have to browse social media sites to see people compiling lists of ‘bad businesses’ that haven’t responded in a way that they deem ethical or right. 

You are always going to have the school of thought that money wins every time and that should be the focus, but I think that companies that prioritise $ ahead of these principles of ‘value’, ‘purpose’ and ‘people’ are shortsighted. In fact, if anything, Coronavirus has proven to us that $ *doesn’t* always win and it is the companies that have prioritised the above that are getting the support from buyers now. 

You only have to look at the situation on the ground where I can now only feasibly get a regular supply of food and supplies from local and independent supermarkets, not the national chains. The independent stores have been able to respond quickly, in a coordinated way, and have benefited from local sourcing and community contacts. Whilst I usually shop at a chain, once this is over I’m going to remember who really pulled through once this is all over.

But this isn’t just a consumer example. It equally applies to the B2B world. Business buyers will be looking closely at how their enterprise suppliers are responding to COVID-19. Are they being flexible with renewals? Are they relaxing subscriptions and taking a long term view that they want to see their customers through this? Has there been support and guidance throughout? Or have they taken a double down, reserve cash and cut costs approach? 

Those things will matter on the other side of this and will impact future purchasing decisions. If you haven’t been investing in your people and your purpose up until this point, the impact of Coronavirus will make that very clear in the immediate future. 

My take

We talk a lot about ‘digital strategy’ or ‘digital transformation’ in these blogs. We often focus on the tooling and the outcomes, which made sense in a pre-Coronavirus world. However, as we come to terms with our new abnormal, it’s important to recognise that it’s not just tools and outcomes that should sit at the core of these strategies. Those are still important, sure. But we are going through a collective experience that will shape and shift our expectations, which have changed. I would argue that buyers across all industries are now thinking about whether they are dealing with an organisation that has purpose, has supported its people, has been agile and flexible, and can be seen to be understanding our changing needs in what will be a very difficult time for many.

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