Three simple words to follow as a Customer Success leader during a crisis

March 11, 2020, was a warm and sunny day with a beautiful blue sky. I had just enjoyed a relaxed lunch at a sushi restaurant just north of San Francisco with my client.

As we devoured our sushi tacos, sashimi, and teriyaki we discussed our fears over the canceled events and conferences like Austin's annual South by Southwest festival and Coachella. While we were concerned, we didn’t even consider that in just a few days we would be forbidden to dine at any restaurant like this one and we would be confined to our homes for an indefinite period of time.

As I drove back to my hotel in San Francisco that day, I heard over the radio that the NBA put their season on hold due to a few Utah Jazz players testing positive for Covid-19. I was shocked. The other professional sports leagues quickly followed suit. My company had already mandated a work from home policy two days ago so I knew that things were getting serious but the extent of the crisis didn’t hit me as I was on the road visiting clients. I noticed the traffic back to San Francisco was much lighter then it’s ever been and there was an eerie emptiness on the streets. I cut my trip short, flew back to New Jersey the next day and have been camped inside my home ever since.

From that point on we saw a number of changes including the limiting of travel, banning large gatherings and only permitting essential services from operating in most large cities in the US. We also saw the crisis directly impacting our clients. While Covid-19 isn’t like anything we’ve seen before in Customer Success, we leveraged a tried and tested methodology to cope with the situation: 1. Listen to your clients 2. Execute and 3. Measure the results. It can be easy during these times to get wrapped up in elaborate plans. It’s best to keep things simple and move quickly. Your customers and your team are depending on you.


  1. Listen

When you are in a situation such as Covid-19, you really aren’t sure what the best course of action is. Having had the luxury of just meeting a number of clients face to face, I anticipated that they would be anxious and may even need immediate help. We started to do the following:

  • The Customer Success team began to reach out to our clients with a simple message of “how can we help?”. The goal was to hear how Covid-19 was affecting our client’s businesses and determine the type of assistance we could provide. Because we work with a number of industries, we saw many different responses from some businesses having reduced staff to others growing as they never had before. I then had my team pass on their client concerns and feedback to me and set up follow up meetings in some cases to better understand these concerns. It was important for our clients to know that we care about them and we want to help.  
  • We went beyond Customer Success and had other teams such as Sales, Product, and Finance also reach out to customers. We had the executive team connect with certain clients as well.
  • We looked at the conversations (tickets) in our own customer service platform, Kustomer, and reviewed the CSAT scores and feedback.
  • I listened to hours of recorded clients calls using Gong so I could hear the tone of our clients and pick out the larger trends. I also cut snippets from these calls that I could send to others in the organization so they could hear exactly what our clients needed.

It was very evident that our clients needed us to throw them a lifejacket in many cases and address contractual questions. Other clients needed a sherpa to guide them through how to manage their teams in this new work from home environment. As Kustomer is a customer service CRM platform, many of our clients have customer service agents that would now be working out of their homes for the first time. Some companies also needed to reduce the sizes of their teams which means they would need to do more with less. It was time to execute so we could help our clients and get through this crisis together.

  1. Execute

We have a saying at Kustomer: Don’t just talk about it, be about it. If you don’t execute, nothing happens. It sounds simple but in crunch time, you can’t seize up. You need people to step up. Our company immediately sprang into action to help our clients. We worked in a coordinated effort on a number of initiatives. Here are a few of them:

  • We offered clients on a lower product tier access to some of the premium features for a limited time. This included a special type of user license that could save our clients money as well as additional real-time reporting that would give our client champions more visibility into the teams that are working from home.
  • Our Product team sped up the development of key features that could help our clients stretch their resources. They then reviewed the most requested feature requests and surprised our clients by rolling out the feature with the most customer votes in a very short period of time. The Product team also spent more time on client issues and feature requests to try and address items that were causing unnecessary pain or could improve efficiencies.  
  • Our CS team met and collected various strategies that we were using to help our clients during this crisis. This included creating custom reports to give clients a clearer picture as to where their teams were spending their time and how productive their teams were, ways that they can automate certain tasks so they could do more with less and how to take advantage of some of the new products we were launching which could also increase efficiency. We incorporated these discussions into our client calls. We also had worked with the greater CX team and other departments to help each other where needed and to leverage each other’s expertise. It was all hands on deck.
  • We’re starting new initiatives like an online community. We want to provide an opportunity for our clients to help each other. We can no longer gather people face to face and an online community provides a great medium for our clients to leverage their combined wisdom.

It’s important to note that in many cases we were listening and executing at the same time. This isn’t a time to measure twice and cut once. You need to keep cutting as our clients need solutions when faced with something that the world has never seen before and iterate as needed.

  1. Measure

As this crisis is still unfolding it’s too early to determine how successful all of our initiatives are. We are continuing to collect client feedback across the various channels and surface those to the various departments and executive team. We have set up special client health monitoring for this crisis for the clients hit hardest at this time that goes beyond our normal client health process. We are also reviewing client calls with Gong to see if there has been feedback from our product enhancements and complementary product upgrades. We’ve made tremendous progress at this point and have a number of other initiatives we are working on. Whatever feedback and data we do get, we continue to improve what we’re currently doing so we can create a better customer experience.

Beyond the subjective feedback, we will look back on other metrics such as NPS, client retention and product adoption to determine our longer-lasting impact. For now, our most important task is ensuring that we connect with our clients and help them out in any way that we can.

I still think back to my trip out to San Francisco. On that return flight home, I knew that the world would never be the same. My heart goes out to all those that have been directly impacted by Covid-19 and to those that may have lost loved ones. We’re living in very strange times.

There are many things that we can’t control right now. I’m trying to focus on what I can control as a leader in my organization and as the representative of our clients. We can help our clients and it doesn’t need to be overly complex. Just listen, execute and measure your results. This isn’t an easy time for those of us in Customer Success but we can get through this and we can come out on the other side of this with even a stronger partnership with our customers. Hang in there and stay safe.

Chad Horenfeldt is the Director of Customer Success at Kustomer. He has 15+ years of experience building and developing Customer Success teams, including implementing Customer Success strategies resulting in exemplary customer satisfaction, retention and growth rates.

Chad’s reputation to drive and create outcome-focused programs drives long-lasting relationships based on trust and creating a culture that puts the customer at the center of everything that he does. He specializes in hiring the best people, leveraging technology to increase efficiency and above all is committed to fostering the Customer Success community. You can read more about his work in Customer Success on his Enlightened Customers blog.

May 6, 2020
Chad Horenfeldt