"...the height of sophistication is simplicity"

- Clare Booth Luce, from her novel, "Stuffed Shirts"

If you've followed me for any time, you know I'm a student of models–simple, elegant ways of solving and explaining complex problems in business and everyday life.

The best operating executives use frameworks to simplify, build, and communicate their operating plans with their teams, peers, and boards.

This week I ran across a framework for customer success by Pawan Deshpande that both new leaders and veteran customer success pros can learn from.

Deshpande's model (see image below) is called SaaS Critical Care and breaks customer-facing interactions into four distinct categories:

Customer success 2xs: Inbound vs. outbound, customer vs. company-triggered.
Credit: Pawan Deshpande

The framework separates inbound and outbound interactions, as well as customer-initiated versus vendor-initaited touch points.

I especially like how Deshpande illustrates each category with an example from the healthcare industry.

  • Support - Inbound and customer-initiated. Requests for help or issue resolution. Most of the time, these are not "life-threatening" issues. An urgent care clinic for day-to-day issues.
  • Onboarding - New customers onboarding the product, setting the customer up for success. Pawan compares this to the neonatal unit of a hospital.
  • Business Reviews - Proactive, preventive maintenance—the customer success equivalent of an annual physical.
  • Critical Care - Triggered by risk signals such as changes in product usage, key stakeholder turnover, mergers and acquisitions, etc. Acute issue resolution—the customer emergency room.

In his program, Deshpande's company, Curata, sent customers into Critical Care when they detected risks in one or more of the following areas:

  • Customer Sentiment - customer shares negative feelings or reactions through surveys or directly to a company representative.
  • Product-based Issues - a significant change in results, usage, or addition or removal of users. Detected by monitoring product usage data.
  • Customer Changes - stakeholder or champion changes, new use cases, or M&A activity are great examples. Detected by key stakeholder changes and active discussions with the customer.

Here are the specific triggers Curata uses for Critical Care:

Critical Care Triggers span satisfaction, product, and customer change-based triggers.
Critical Care Triggers

Each of these risk triggers is accompanied by specific playbooks. Playbooks include instructions, processes, best practices, content resources, and responsibilities for solving customer issues in a repeatable way.

Tracking Critical Care interventions provides valuable data to use in honing programs and planning for resources.

Not only can we determine volume and effectiveness of our interventions, this framework is useful for visualizing the overall health of the customer base:

  • What percent of customers are in steady state, a.k.a. "Business Review?"
  • What percent of customers are in "Critical Care?"
  • What are the most common customer risks we face?
  • What interventions are we using to mitigate each type of risk?
  • Which interventions work and which are a waste of time?
  • After intervention, which customers renew and which ones still cancel?

The answers to these questions provide valuable insights for executive and board-level reporting.

It appears to me as if the Critical Care model at Curata was designed around high-touch customer success. But I believe it can also apply to low-touch, "long-tail" customers. The key difference is that detecting triggers and reacting to them must be automated via email sequences, in-app nudges, or the product itself.

Deshpande's model can also be extended beyond risk mitigation to drive growth initiatives.

That is, we can use triggers to identify customers who are ready to advocate for us or buy additional products. Perhaps, promoting customers out of "Business Review" into a category called "Critical Growth," where they would receive tailored growth interventions.

The key to a comprehensive customer success program is situational awareness and coordinated response.

As customer success leaders, we need to know the disposition of each customer and the specific health and risk categories they fall into.

Armed with this information, we can act in targeted and efficient ways to keep customers on a path toward success... and renewal.

My friend Dave Jackson once said:

There are only two types of people in the world—those who put things into categories and those who don't.

I can tell, like me, Deshpande is in the former group.

I'd encourage you to read the full article for more insights: SaaS Critical Care: How to 2x Renewal Rates.

(And stay tuned to the Gain Grow Retain podcast where we'll soon have Pawan on to discuss his approach in more dpeth.)