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Is Customer Success resistant to COVID-19?

17 JuneBy Gemma Butler

The answer is, IT SHOULD BE... 

We operate in a world where customers have more choices. Software sales is no longer all about closing the deal and taking the money, The move to SaaS means ease of movement and risk of churn, tech firms need to look after customers, nurture them and make sure they continue to glean value time and again from the product.


So, as we live with the coronavirus pandemic, new business becomes more difficult for sales to close in 2020 compared to 2019. protecting recurring revenue is absolutely critical for survival.


At NinetyThousandHours we have been speaking to over 100 VPs and Heads of Customer Success within Technology and SaaS companies over the last month.

Although the vast majority of Customer Success leaders I spoke to agreed the COVID-19 strategy needs to be to get close to existing customers and to proactively demonstrate value, not all companies are following this route. I have encountered many people who have been furloughed, had contracts cut, or who are facing redundancy. Which perhaps isn’t a surprise, but given how important it is to protect RR, perhaps it should be?






1. Measure the right things and collate the data into a health score so you get a steer on whether an account is likely to churn

2. Empathy should be used in customer conversations to support them through uncertain and fearful times. They will remember how you handled this once we have returned to some normality

3. Customer Success should be leading the way with remote communication. Use this expertise to get really close to your customers in a digital way. 

4. Support your customers where you can, offer payment holidays, reduce licenses or offer free upgrades

5. COVID has not only changed how we communicate with customers but also with colleagues. CS works best when different departments come together to achieve a common goal (reduce churn and increase value). So utilise tools available to bring people together

6. Understand how the customer is being affected by Covid and how their customer are fairing. How has their central strategy changed and how can you help them to deliver it?

7. Don’t let your CS teams burn out. Good leadership and support is what is needed during times of crisis



The answer is linked to how Customer Success sits within the business. Here I discovered two clear differences;

1. Businesses where Customer Success is integral to the business plan. Where the lions share of the revenue responsibility sits with customer success teams have not been furloughed.

2. In businesses where Customer Success does not carry a quota, although there is an acceptance that a CS strategy is needed. The team sits slightly separately, an elaborate helpdesk, or, at best expensive customer onboarding and reactive response to customer problems. This is perhaps a sweeping generalisation but it was a frustration I heard time and again from CS leaders who were facing an internal battle over the structure of CS within the business.

Perhaps another factor affecting how robust CS is in unprecedented COVID-19 times is that as discipline it is relatively immature. It hasn’t seen any kind of recession before, no customer success team has ever worked through a recession. This means there is a lack of experience from leadership down.

The industry sector is an important factor. Whether companies are now protecting and investing in their CS teams also largely depends on the market that their customers operate in. Some companies with customers in health, food retail, logistics and education have experienced growth in demand. Whereas with sectors such as travel, new sales have suffered as we feel the economic pain from lockdown. 


The debate isn't really about Customer Success being resistant to COVID-19, but once again, the current situation highlights other issues within businesses, it exacerbates problems and speeds them up. Customer Success shouldn't simply be a department or a separate cost centre but should be a mindset and be the life blood of your business. 

So... if Customer Success is not resistant to COVID-19 in your business perhaps it should be?



NinetyThousandHours specialises in the recruitment of Customer Success and Sales talent for SaaS and Technology firms globally




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