This article was originally published by Sales & Marketing Management.
Customer health dashboards are one of the critical keys to durable revenue growth. At its heart, a good dashboard can summarize tens or hundreds or even thousands of metrics on customer experience into one simple, impactful snapshot of sentiment and behavior. It can tell you which customers are likely to expand, retain, or churn. And it can give your business a glimpse into how it serves all customers worldwide.
Of course, creating an effective customer health score and supporting dashboard is not a one-time project. In the best case, your team will create a useful score to help you achieve your renewal goals and reduce churn. But like most simple solutions, it requires significant strategic planning behind the scenes. Be prepared to iterate on improvements quarterly as your company and customers change. Your reward will be the privilege of generating results that serve the company’s customer teams, go-to-market motion, and overall business growth.
To make the journey more efficient, here are the key steps to follow for success:
Step #1: Justify an Ongoing Program
You need sufficient resources to ensure your project is a success. To get resources, you need to justify the investment. An effective dashboard can pay for itself within a year by identifying and saving just a few accounts that would have churned.
To calculate the program’s impact, start simply with the value of accounts saved / cost of a customer 360 system (a system that provides a complete view of a customer’s past, present, and future behavior through multiple trackable touchpoints in conjunction with big data analysis.)
The two standard approaches to building a business case for long-term resources are:
Radical candor: Be honest in assessing your organization’s ability to define, measure, and report on customer health. Ask uncomfortable questions if you need to. This is a chance for frank introspection and conversation on what you know and don’t know.
Cost-benefit analysis: For initiatives above 5 figures, you may need to create a spreadsheet and do more research on expected costs and risks. For example, if your company has $5M ARR and your gross churn is at 15%, that’s $750K. If you say you want to reduce that by 5% ($250K) and that you can do it for less than $75K but need 2 work-hours per month at an average cost of $100/hour, your total expected annual cost would be the cost of the annual customer 360 subscription + $2400.
Step #2: Assemble the Team
Creating an effective customer health dashboard is a team sport and the season is perpetual. You’ll make a better dashboard if you include key stakeholders from other groups that can provide expertise like Product Management, Data Science, and groups like Sales that can use the data.
When you begin to build the team, you may feel like Nick Fury recruiting the Avengers.
You’ll talk to very different would-be heroes and explain to them why they will be instrumental in helping protect the company from evil threats like Churn. It takes time but is a required step: no one can do everything needed to build a reliable health score alone in an ongoing manner.
Step #3: Design the Dashboard
This is where many customer health score efforts start. It’s so exciting to design the dashboard. And most folks new to this kind of effort start with KPIs. It’s natural and understandable. Unfortunately, it’s not optimal. They miss three important steps that you can start before you even select a technology partner:
- Picking Dimensions – Data dimensions for customers include customer name, products purchased, contract start and end dates. The least interesting but most important parts of a dashboard aren’t the KPI–it’s the dimensions, without which you can’t even make a dashboard. Start with assessing the availability, completeness, and cleanliness of your dimension data as early as you can.
- Identify the Data Categories – Finally the fun part! Depending on the purpose of the dashboard, you can define the key concepts the dashboard should track to quantify the problem or opportunity. For example, if you want a dashboard to include adoption health, you’ll define KPIs that reflect weekly or monthly usage.
- Pick the Widgets and Key Performance Indicators – An effective customer health dashboard has many widgets that provide a comprehensive view. While the “customer health score” may be the shining star of the dashboard, it provides a quick indicator for a Customer Success Manager (CSM). Typical widgets include summary customer health scores and individual gauges indicating top facts that comprise the health score.
Step #4: Build and Test a Prototype
You need to see a dashboard in action to really understand if it is working. Looking at data in isolation doesn’t help you understand if a CSM will find it useful. It’s important to recognize the dashboard, each widget, and each data element (dimension or KPI) needs to be tested.
In this step, you define key use cases, and select a few CSMs to use the dashboard to identify and fix usability issues. Key use cases usually include a) preparing for a business review and b) identifying at-risk customers. It’s of critical importance that you do not skip this step. Nothing kills a data project faster than bad data that destroys user confidence.
Step #5: Have CSMs Use the Dashboard
Before you release the dashboard officially, have more CSMs actually use the dashboard for an extended period of time to find customers at risk, and prepare for check-ins or business reviews. Dashboard adoption relies on the CSMs using it and finding value. CSMs should understand the importance of this critical step.
Meet with individuals and groups to get feedback. What works? What’s easy to use? What’s confusing? When key concerns disappear and compliments become common, you can proceed to the final step.
Step #6: Release the Dashboard
A dashboard is a software product and when it’s ready to be used broadly within your organization, you should launch it officially. Users must be notified, trained, and supported. Adoption is key. Pay close attention to initial usage and gather feedback.
In short, your customer health dashboard is a critical perspective into the growth opportunities that define the business. In a world where expanding an existing account is a fraction of the cost of closing a new one, an accurate and precise customer health dashboard will pay dividends in a fraction of the time that other growth investments would take.
Your dashboard can provide CSMs evidence they can use immediately to help customers see value, identify customers at risk or customers ready for expansion and accurately predict renewals.
A good dashboard will take some time to plan, define, set up, launch and refine. But over the long term, it’s still among the easiest, most effective ways to build a business. Don’t cut corners. It’ll cost you eventually.