Ask An Expert: Meghan Telkamp on Successfully Transitioning Customers from High-Touch to Low-Touch Support

transitioning from high-touch to low-touch

As companies scale and customer success teams shift, treating every customer to the highest level of support, often isn’t possible anymore. But, how do you transition from the “white glove” support they’re familiar with, to low-touch support without customers getting upset, or even canceling?

Meghan Telkamp, who recently completed this process, is here to give us the expert advice on how to transition customers and mitigate churn.

meghan telkamp

Name: Meghan Telkamp

Position: Director, Customer Success

What’s Your Background? As the Director of Customer Success at a Real Estate Tech company, I bring a wealth of experience in driving customer satisfaction and business growth through effective strategy and innovative solutions.

Fun fact about yourself? I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and started my company’s first employee resource group for LGBTQ+ employees and allies.

First things first, can you help us understand what high-touch and low-touch means, and why an organization might want (or need) to transition customers from high to low?

I think of low touch Customer Success as being more reactive to customer needs, whereas high touch is more proactive with outreach. So in a high touch model, we are constantly monitoring every aspect of the account and trying to anticipate where they might need support. But, with low touch we kind of sit back and let the client come to us and let us know when they need help.

There are two main reasons that an organization might want to transition how they’re interacting with customers:

  • There may be times when a company is in high growth mode and they’re looking to scale without adding a bunch of headcount. Obviously providing every customer with high-touch support takes a lot of time and so if we want to add customers, but not hire a ton of people to support them, moving some accounts to low touch support can be helpful.
  • Unfortunately, the more common reason in this economic landscape is that many companies are looking to expand the reach of a smaller CS team through a potential Reduction in Force (RIF). So transitioning from a high touch support model will allow CS teams to provide the right level of support to clients while also controlling operational costs.

How do you identify customers that are ideal for a shift in support, and which ones should be kept white glove?

In our case, we realized that while we had many accounts that were generating significantly less revenue than others, we were treating those clients exactly the same as our top paying clients. It wasn’t possible to continue providing the same level of service to every single one of our clients, so we had to pivot and figure out how we were going to provide the right level of service for each kind of client.

So the first thing that we did was determine different tiers of service going forward–  (platinum, gold and silver in our case), and then decide what each level support each tier should receive. So platinum customers may receive monthly check-ins, gold would receive quarterly check-ins, and then silver would get inbound service only. Then from there we pulled a report of all our current customers and segmented them out to decide who would be getting the lesser or low-touch service.

We shared that list with the assigned sales reps and the CSMs of those accounts and asked them to highlight any accounts that might be upset with the change. This was our first pass at that initial list to see which accounts would be at risk of cancellation or lower satisfaction if we lowered their support. Sales reps in particular have a really tight relationship with our clients and so they have a pretty good pulse on how a client is going to react – So their input was really helpful, especially because there was no way I could have had that level of context for thousands of accounts on my own. Then from there we could decide who should stay at a higher tier in order to minimize the churn risk.

Sales reps in particular have a really tight relationship with our clients and so they have a pretty good pulse on how a client is going to react – So their input was really helpful

Now that first pass was mainly revenue based with input from sales and CS, so the next step was to think about other aspects of accounts that might make us want to keep them at a higher level of service. A few items to take into consideration are:

  • Clients with a large influence in the market, even if they aren’t the highest revenue generating, 
  • Accounts that are pretty small, but have really large growth potential. In our case, we would consider if we had tried to sell more into that account recently, or if we had recently added them as a new logo
  • Accounts that we valued that may be “at-risk” due to a recent event. It may be worth upscaling those accounts for increased retention
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What if the answer is “everyone should be high service”?

We’ve definitely run into the issue where everyone, or just far too many customers, need to be high service. One thing we did was limit the tier swaps for the sales directors– For example, have your team identify the accounts that they want to move to a higher tier but cap the number at something reasonable (we chose 5). Then, the sales team can decide which customers they want to spend their 5 tier swaps on to move around. Limiting the moves they can make ensures that we’re not moving everyone to high service, only those accounts that will really benefit from it.

For example, if there are any accounts that are in a higher tier that likely won’t appreciate the extra support or phone calls, then maybe we should swap them out for another account that would benefit from that. It’s really just a process of playing around with it and trying to make this right for every account.

How would you suggest transitioning customers, and what’s an example of a messaging strategy around it?

You want to consider how drastic the change is going to be for your clients, especially if they’re going to be losing something that they really value. Messaging should be a lot more thoughtful and hands-on, because the last thing you want to do is shoot out a mass email that’s going to result in a wave of cancellations. 

I’d recommend highlighting the accounts that will be receiving a lower touch experience and then have that message delivered by their CSM or the sales rep, whoever has the closer relationship with the client, and do this on a Zoom call or in person. Just be honest and transparent about what is changing for that client and how it will affect them, but also listen to that client’s feedback and concerns and be open to finding a solution that works for both parties.

Just be honest and transparent about what is changing for that client and how it will affect them, but also listen to that client's feedback and concerns and be open to finding a solution that works for both parties.

It’s also subject to change too, so you have to be able to pivot with whatever you learn through this. Always come back to what the trade off is of making this decision and consider if what they’re asking for is something that you can afford operationally to still offer to this client.

What’s a good metric for success here - Should any churn be baked into a change like this?

Obviously the biggest risk with this kind of change is that a client is going to be immediately upset and cancel, so I do think one of the biggest measures of success here is going to be how much churn comes as a result. But, I think even if you do have a few clients cancel, this can still be a success long term if you focus on the other benefits that come as a result of better allocating customer success time and controlling costs.

If you want to measure success based on the other benefits, you can calculate how much a monthly call with a client is costing you– and if that call doesn’t need to happen anymore, or not as frequently, you can begin to understand the resources you are saving with this change.

I would also recommend making this a revenue generating exercise. Working with the product team to understand if there are other features or enhancements or even services that you could bake into each tier going forward could make this a great revenue generating experience that results in net lift to the customer base.

Any other thoughts to add?

My biggest takeaway from this process is that there is always going to be somebody who’s upset with this type of change, whether it’s a client or an internal stakeholder. The best way to combat this is just to be very transparent about why we’re making the change and, and what the trade-off is. 

I was very open with the people on my team about what we considered and why we ultimately made the choice we did, and I think that transparency went a long way with people. So if I were to do this all over again, I would communicate even more than I did, because I think that’s really the key to making this process work.

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