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Recover, Rescue, or Farewell?

In the previous article on Leveraging your Champions I described how to detect, nurture and leverage your customer Champions to increase adoption, expansion, and ARR across the entire customer portfolio. Not everyone can or will be a Champion, and many customers become Cruisers; customers who are comfortable enough where they are to come back year after year to renew. However, at the other end of your spectrum, you have customers who are lagging behind the general expectations, hold the highest churn risk, and warrant a closer look. In this age of customer experience, NPS and other satisfaction measures we want to help all of them, but in reality, some are time sinks and money drains that are not worth the effort. 

Over the years I developed three strategies for Laggards, called Rescue, Recover, and Farewell, based on whether the effort to change is mainly on ourselves, shared, or on the customer. 

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In my experience, there are typically less than five issues that are “mission-critical.” The best way out of such a crisis is a realistic plan. General platitudes and unsubstantiated assurances will cost you the last bits of trust you may have left in the account. Since executives are involved, concise and honest updates are essential. As part of a customer journey, I like to outline a communication plan and set expectations early. This plan includes a chapter on communication across internal teams to develop a game plan for working with the customer.

Success story: I had an over-zealous customer who was drowning in details. In the prototype phase, all of the available data was enticing to them, but in production, this focus on every little detail resulted in slow response times and frustrations across the user base. I restored harmony by working with the customer to take only the required details into consideration. The business value was not diminished, the users could actually find what they wanted, and the executives saw how we captured the expected value. To avoid deja-vu, I updated our knowledge base to help our team and our partners to avoid similar issues in the future.


When the sales team worked with the customer to define the business goals and timeline, the customer may have been overly optimistic about what they could achieve. If lower goals or a longer time-to-value still create a positive return on investment, adjusted expectations may be all this customer needs. If I experience more than a few of these, especially if they are coming from the same rep, I work with Sales to refine the account qualification process. Success stories and details on how customers are effectively using a solution can help realign sales reps with reality.

Success Story: One of our customers strongly believed that any project planned for over a year was likely to fail. Our team had planned out a very optimistic, multi-year transformation and we were losing traction with the customer. After conferring with internal project managers, we restructured the project to include multiple, shorter phases. The customer’s team relaxed, and early successes helped them regain confidence. We ended up rolling out the entire stack and had multiple extensions along the way – a win-win.


“You can lead a horse to the water, but …” is a fitting catchphrase for these customers. The key to their success or failure is clearly in their own hands. Maybe the customer lost executive sponsorship for your solution, maybe their champion is not influential enough, or maybe their tools or processes are not at the required level. They may be experiencing a bad solution fit because their vision is not aligned with your actual product scope or they are in a different market and operating by a different business model. If a customer genuinely falls into this category, any resources should be spent on them with caution. If they stay, ok, if they move, wish them well.

Note: These customers are different from the innovators who challenge you to do new things and you have an agreed-upon joint roadmap to a new and hopefully brighter future. “Crossing the Chasm,” one of my favorite books, is full of great strategies on how to expand into adjacent markets in a controlled and managed fashion. 

Success Story:In my interview with Lauren Costella, the VP of CS at Medrio, she described how she and her peers assess the solution fit and risk of new leads that “break the mold” and define a mitigation strategy ranging from mandatory services as part of the deal, to accepting churn without a dedicated rescue.

Leverage your Champions

Books describing business champions routinely top the New York Times Best Sellers list because we are curious to learn how some executives excel. I use the same competitive spirit within my customer portfolio to increase adoption, business value achievement and net revenue by identifying champions and pointing other customers to their achievements.

Success Story: One of my customers was “cruising along.” Good adoption, good executive sponsorship and a solid relationship. They had the potential to go from good to great, but they were hesitant to embark on an effort with (in their minds) questionable ROI.

I put them in touch with one of our champions and they witnessed first-hand what was achievable. They added premium capabilities and made our solution a reference architecture for the entire enterprise. The account value for us more than tripled over 2 years, all because of one introduction.

Here is my process for establishing a baseline, defining playbooks and identifying champions.


When I define a customer journey, I generally have a good idea what the typical customer should achieve, when, and how. It contains key milestones and dates like:

  • Day 5: First login
  • Day 10: Configuration complete
  • Day 90: Executive Business Review (EBR) 1 – 75% of target business value achieved
  • Day 270: EBR 2 – 100% of business value achieved

As you think about your own customer journey and timing, these tips can help you avoid common pitfalls:

a) Confirm the dates and goals with your high-touch and low-touch customers directly. You don’t need a fantasy league version of the best possible circumstances, but a realistic set of expectations. For tech-touch customers, provide a recommendation that sets some expectations, and encourage your customers to reach out to you if they are falling behind.

b) Over time you may find that you need to set different goals and timelines for various segments, customer sizes, and product configurations.

c) Run your program in “silent mode” for a period of time and validate your assumptions against your actual customer base. If customers aren’t following the timeline closely, it is an indication that you may need to adjust.

d) Don’t assume your customers are on track. Ideally, implement in-app telemetry that is linked to these milestones. Nothing is worse for a struggling new customer than an “Congratulations e-mail” from your marketing automation system when they are frustrated with getting even simple steps completed.


Once the baseline is established, three types of customer typically surface. I call them Champions, Cruisers, and Laggards.


Champions: At the top are my dream customers: they exceed all expectations, accelerate their onboarding, use all the bells and whistles AND surpass their business value targets. These are my champions and deserve dedicated attention:

a) Celebrate their achievements as publicly as possible: press releases, keynote speaker engagements, webinars, reference calls, innovation awards. For those who cannot be named publicly, have an internal celebration to acknowledge the sponsor and other core members.

b) Synthesize their unique “essence”: Did they have a higher-level executive sponsor, are they integrated with a specific software package, or did they have a dedicated project manager? This knowledge is priceless for developing lead qualification criteria, sales plays, best practices, and success playbooks.

c) Define a reference model for other customers and users to follow. Whoever is not in your top layer may want to get there, and now your team can guide them together to win the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

d) Invite them to your customer council. They already pushed the boundaries of your solution and were ready for more. Their proposals drive innovation, and they are motivated to adopt the new capabilities. They support the marketing of these enhancements as vocal advocates.

Cruisers: Hopefully the majority of your customers achieve the business value they expected within a typical timeframe. Cruisers are customers on a stable course, and they are perfect targets to connect with a Champion to drive even stronger performance.

a) Assess if the customer is able to achieve more. Maybe they have done all they can with their resources.

b) Focus primarily on maximizing the customer’s value, and explore subscription increases or new products as a secondary objective. Maximizing customer value fends off churn better than anything else.

Laggards: The third band of customers lags behind general expectations and holds the highest churn risk. How to rescue customers in distress is a separate discussion and worth its own future blog post.


With these playbooks in hand, I stack-rank customers along the baseline. This enables you to consider the customer’s actual status. Combined with the other segmentation of your customers, along with their business value definitions, you have the tools in place to pair like-minded customers along the same reference model.

. . . . .

Once I adopted this three-step process with my customers and had it up and running for a few quarters, I was able to embellish the customer journey and playbooks with the knowledge I gained.

CSPI Excellence Blog – Genshin Maruta @ Abeja

Today’s blog post features Genshin Maruta, the Head of Customer Success for Abeja in Japan. With the help of Hiroko Otsu at Success-Lab Japan, who extended the 2018 survey to Japan, he was able to measure his performance and achieved one of the highest CSPI benchmark scores and Net Revenue Retention rates. Congratulations to Gen and his team!

2018 CSPI™ Benchmark Survey

Over 100 companies participated in the global 2018 CSPI Benchmark Survey and established a reference baseline for operational performance measured by Net Revenue Retention (NRR). It also established the high correlation between high NRR and high scores in the CSPI framework, proving the relevance of the framework as an operational guide for Customer Success leaders.