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How To Operationalize Customer Lifecycles at Scale

As you think about scaling up your CS operations, you need to bring customer lifecycles into the discussion.
Ben Winn
June 14, 2022

What happens after a customer buys your platform? Hopefully, they start using it, right?

… then what? 

It’s not enough to know what your product can do for customers. You need to know what your customers are actually doing with your product at any given moment, both from a human motivation perspective and from the incentives you’ve set up throughout the product or onboarding process. 

In short, you need to understand your customer lifecycle. 

But when you have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of unique customers, this is easier said than done. In this mini-guide, we’re explaining why lifecycles are still valuable at scale and how to operationalize them within your business.

The forgotten benefits of customer lifecycle documentation

Understanding your customer more is an obvious benefit of documenting customer lifecycles. But when it comes to scaling up your CS operation, here are the benefits that make all the effort worth it:

Service delivery consistency: A documented life cycle means your team can deliver a more consistent experience to all customers. Further, CSMs will be able to track customers through each step in the journey more easily, offering proactive support across their book of business.

Service customization as needed: While a consistent service delivery base is valuable, not every customer is the same. Nor is every CSM. A documented life cycle not only empowers consistency, it allows CSMs to customize as needed depending on individual needs, knowing they can always get right back on the plan once the detour is done.

Spotting growth opportunities: A mapped out customer lifecycle means your CSM team can start to identify trends. For instance, they can pay attention to small peculiarities that exist in the best customers vs. the least valuable and use that information to proactively identify upsell opportunities.

Institutional knowledge documentation: People shuffle around, get promoted, and leave organizations. A properly documented life cycle means you have all the information in one place and institutional knowledge is preserved.

Empower accurate segmentation: Not all customers will fit into one lifecycle. When you have the first documented though, you will more easily notice divergences that can lead to segmentation along use cases, contract value, and more. In the end, you can identify different service levels for each segment that makes things more efficient for CSMs.

Make metrics more impactful: It’s not just understanding your metrics but putting them in context of a lifecycle journey—that means you can track a metric to a potential next action and preempt problems or proactively offer solutions.

Different approaches to customer lifecycles at scale

When you have a lot of unique customers, how are you supposed to make one (or a small handful) of customer lifecycle journeys that apply across the board?

Assuming you’ve already got customer segments as needed, here are a few approaches you can take to designing a consistent life cycle that’s flexible enough for customers to have their own journey.

1. The big moments approach

What it is: Identifying life cycles based on key moments a customer may experience with your platform.

How it helps with operationalizing customer lifecycles: Once you’ve identified the big moments that lead to success, you can begin to set up triggers or workbacks to indicate when a customer is likely to hit that moment (or at risk of not hitting it). Over time, the CSM team will be able to proactively help customers or develop DIY resources to encourage customers along the way to big moments of value.

Examples

  • First use of the platform.
  • First time customizing or configuring a dashboard.
  • Use of a feature internally known as the strongest or most impactful.

2. The chronology approach

What it is: Planning platform use in a time-boxed way.

How it helps with operationalizing customer lifecycles: CSMs need to keep pace with sales. If customers are taking too long to hit key moments, it can throw off the whole process. Time-boxing customers will help CSMs plan out training, be proactive in reach outs, and ensure that the CS team stays aligned to the whole company sales motion.

Examples

  • Expected timeline for onboarding.
  • How long someone has to be inactive before being flagged as an at-risk account.
  • Expected time per day (or week) you want the customer in your platform

3. The positive behaviors approach

What it is: Identifying the behaviors you want your customers to make because it suits your growth goals or leverages your best-developed features, particularly with a focus toward the value levers in your pricing model.

How it helps with operationalizing customer lifecycles: Product teams can only do so much in a given span of time. That means some features will naturally be more fleshed out than others. Building a life cycle that plays to your strengths will guide CSMs toward the features least likely to generate support tickets and most likely to increase customer satisfaction (and thus, hopefully, renewal and expansion).

Examples

  • Whichever features have been around the longest and are the most fleshed out.
  • Whichever problems or use cases your platform is best suited for.
  • The features that, when scaled up, also increase your average contract expansion (ACE).

Tips and tricks for customer lifecycle support

Documenting customer lifecycles is a great first step, but documenting alone won’t encourage adoption or help guide customers toward success. Here are some tips that can help:

Set expectations: During the pre-sales and sales process, show the life cycle you hope the customer will follow. This leads to tacit agreement of the plan and removes any chance of negatively surprising the customer later.

Set flexible targets: All journeys are unique, even as you seek to standardize. By using flexible targets or ranges, rather than fixed trigger points, you allow CSMs to guide customers without rushing them toward a specific point.

Think about DIWY, not just DIY: It’s important to have education for customers, but DIY can only go so far. A lot of people need the motivation and cajoling of live interactions (virtual or in-person) to get things done. To accomplish this, think about certifications, group courses, or do-it-with-you (DIWY) walkthroughs.

Scale 1:1 interactions with process: As you do more 1:1 interactions with customers, think about the key problems you’re helping solve or questions you answered. Then turn those insights into more scalable resources such as a template, checklist, video explainer, product walkthrough, or other type of educational content.

Each business will have a unique approach to customer lifecycles. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take an operational approach to it within your organization. As you think about scaling up your CS operations, bring customer lifecycles into the discussion. Even if you already have life cycles in place, adjusting them as you go is a great way to keep things fresh and keep focusing on delivering customer value.

Better relationships. Less churn.

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