July 7, 2019

The Critical Client Services Function

Scaling your business requires having strong cross-organizational functions including, sales, marketing, finance, product development and client services.  The client service function is often over-looked by early stage companies for several reasons.  These include assuming that your product can be used by anyone without significant training…it can’t. Or, early-stage companies lack resources  to properly staff this function and choose to focus on sales or marketing. Also, many entrepreneurs do not properly account for the resistance to change that many customer organizations experience.  Therefore, their products are never fully implemented and sometimes abandoned.

Client Services is an essential function in all B2B and almost all D2C organizations.  Its fundamental role is to make sure that hard-earned customers are actually happy and successful with your product.  In a SaaS world, client services is responsible for one of the most critical factors that determine your ultimate valuation…churn or attrition rate.  Companies that have higher customer attrition get significantly lower multiples upon exit than companies with lower attrition for obvious reasons.

Plus, client services can be effectively used to both increase your sales win rate and shorten your sales cycle.  Introducing your prospective customer to your client services team during the sales process helps them to get over their fears of what will happen after the contract is signed (the number one cause of the dreaded “no decision”). Client Services personnel can be used to help the prospect understand precisely what will happen during implementation and, if used properly, can help build quality SOW’s for the proposal and contract processes to make sure there are no surprises for you or for your customers.  And a strong and effective client services organization can both collect customer feedback for market research purposes as well as run your Customer Advisory Board, which can be a hugely effective vehicle to better understand your strategic direction and how the market perceives you as a vendor.

Yet, most young companies will ramp up the sales organization and try to turn on the lead generation spigot without thinking through how to best service customers should they be fortunate enough to get them.  Early-stage companies can then experience a shocking attrition rate.  This may finally lead to an attempt at properly investing in a quality client services function, but often this is too late as they are without quality reference accounts and have trashed their reputation in the market.

If you want to pursue the Client Services position, here are some things to consider for the job description:

  • Get involved in the sales process and meet customers prior to contact signing to help them understand who will be taking care of them and what will happen after contract.
  • Prepare all SOWs for the proposal and contract process
  • Keep customer implementations on track even if the customer is dragging their feet and resisting (happens all the time)
  • Manage the customer politics… you will have issues during implementation
  • Anticipate and manage the glitches that will certainly surface during implementations
  • Handle user training
  • Build implementation and training guides if they don’t exist
  • Write and maintain all promotional materials for post-sale on-boarding of users
  • Help customers with changes in workflow due to the new product
  • Suggest ways to make the product and the customer workflow better based on experience with prior customers.
  • Answer customer service calls
  • Write monthly client newsletter
  • Write and publish client case studies
  • Conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys and report to management on issues and results
  • Collect input on common product development requests from customers
  • Produce quarterly customer service webinar on tips and hints for improved use of the product
  • Implement the Customer Advisory Board and run semi-annual meetings (web)
  • Handle all renewals and be paid for the renewals (smaller commission than new sales).  These people are responsible for your attrition rate

These things will take work off of the CEO’s plate, increase your win rate, lower your attrition and improve your overall valuation.

There are a number of key metrics for client services personnel to focus on.  These are:

  • Successful implementations (the dreaded buy, but not implement problem)
  • Attrition rate
  • Average speed of implementation process (often required to get reference sites for other sales)
  • Number of case study or reference customers
  • Net promoter score or other customer satisfaction metrics
  • Add-on business (often client services personnel are responsible for add-on sales.  Even if not, add-on sales can’t be made by sales people if customers are not happy and functioning properly

Probably more, but this is a start.  This is an essential function in all B2B companies and needs to be staffed with a full-time and experienced person.  This is not a lightweight job.  This person should be on the management team.  If you do not take this function seriously, you will have high customer attrition, never be able to scale and deteriorate your company valuation.

The question for young companies is often, what do I invest in first…marketing, sales or client services.  The answer is that you need to invest in all three simultaneously.  Marketing generates the opportunities.  Sales sells them.  Client services implements them.  If you miss any piece, you will likely run into trouble with scaling your business.  Balance is required even if you have limited resources. And, it is unrealistic to believe that your sales people will manage customer success…not gonna happen.

So, don’t forget about the importance of client services in your organization.  It is easily overlooked in the grand scheme of things and, particularly when resources are tight.  But it is essential to your overall success.