What Customer Success Has Taught Me About Proximity



Proximity is an essential tool in measuring the customer experience. The right mix of proximity could move a company’s customers from satisfaction to loyalty. The lack of proximity or the wrong mix could be the canary in a coal mine of a company’s fall from grace in their industry. CS professionals will benefit greatly in the SaaS industry when applying common sense measures to significantly impact the customer experience by leveraging proximity.


In this post, we will define proximity as it relates to customer success, its importance, and how two best practices can unlock improved business relationships and outcomes for your company.

What Is Proximity?  

Dictionary.com defines proximity as nearness in place, time, order, occurrence, or relation; closeness. In the mid-’90s, during the origins of customer success, the concept of helping customers to achieve their definition of success through a company’s products and services by being close in both a physical and virtual sense had not yet matured, primarily because there were no digital platforms, as there are today. Yet proximity to the customer experience is critical to product vendors and service providers.

Why Is Proximity Important to Customer Success? 

In present-day corporate America, companies can feel a proximity bias toward vendors and service providers who are or are not in their orbit. Proximity bias has been described as an unconscious tendency where people in positions of power or leadership tend to favor those physically closer to them (Cooks-Campbell, Leadership & Management, 2024). I would argue that this type of bias extends to the vendor-customer relationship.

In 1990, United Airlines released a commercial that portrayed a sales manager who told his account team that they had lost one of their oldest customers. He said the customer, whom they had been with for 20 years, claimed not to know the sales manager’s company anymore. The sales manager said he and his team were to get back in front of their customers because they had relied more on technology (phones and fax machines) than face-to-face interaction. Today, product vendors and service providers have a portfolio of tools to connect and engage with their customers; however, they will require the right mix of engagement throughout their journey from awareness to consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy. Indeed, this journey will require purpose, planning, and performance.

Real Examples of Proximity

Place

Being geographically close to customers has its privileges. One of my largest customers was scheduled to renew 70% of their portfolio within 12 months, and even though we were in constant contact with them, face-to-face meetings would be crucial leading up to the renewal date. Many of the account team members were flying into town from faraway states. Coordinating schedules to get value from meetings was already challenging for both sides. I, however, resided only 90 minutes from the customer, and it was nothing for me to jump in my car and head to their offices for important follow-ups that required a quick physical response time when needed. Meeting face-to-face provided the regional presence that was needed to provide personal service.

Time & Occurance

As a customer success professional, I’ve seen my share of support cases, some involving outages. These cases can be damaging from a financial and reputation perspective and can get tricky when the incident happens in different time zones. My previous company had a Severity 1 notification system with follow-the-sun support, which informed me and support management of any outages the customer experienced. The standard response time was one hour. I would have such notifications sent to me via email and text so that I could connect with a support manager to get an engineer assigned immediately rather than receiving automated notifications that may not get a response until closer to the one-hour mark. I would then brief my account team on the incident and discuss the next steps to troubleshoot and resolve the issue. Within minutes, I would connect with the customer to assure them that we had the right people working on their behalf to address the outage. This type of proximity in time was the high-touch experience crucial to confirming to the customer that this issue was promptly addressed.

Order

Customers expect priority status regardless of what product or service they have purchased or licensed from you. Other companies are willing to pay a premium to get that priority service. When planning a customer’s upgrade to a more current release, migration to a different application, or even doing a hardware tech refresh, I would coordinate with support to make them a hot site. A hot site is the status given to a customer when planning the date and time of the above-mentioned events after hours or on the weekend. Should the customer experience a problem during the above-mentioned events, they could contact support and receive priority status to resolve their issue. It’s sort of like the FastPass at Disney! This type of proximity, in order, provides personal service and assures the customer that they are in good hands.

2 Best Practices to Improve Your Proximity and Have Better Relationships and Outcomes With Your Customers 

Below are two common sense, evidence-based applications that are working in the CS industry to build trust and credibility between vendors and their customers:

Physical Proximity

  • Onsite Visits: Make sure they are consistent, as agreed to by the customer, particularly if they are high-touch customers. Local or regional face-to-face meetings create stronger bonds, allow you to better understand a customer’s environment, and pick up on nonverbal cues that could otherwise be missed on virtual platforms. Ensure that every visit has an agenda and adds value to address specific needs communicated by the customer.
  • Local or Regional Events: Organize or participate in regional or local industry events and workshops. Your presence will demonstrate a commitment to your customer’s success within their community, and these events could also produce networking opportunities.

Relational Proximity

  • Communications: Consult with your customers to identify the meeting cadence that best suits them. Would they prefer communications by email, phone, video conference, or a combination of these options? Do they prefer weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly calls? You can use CRM tools to track all interactions and preferences relative to your customer’s priorities. Be aware of and sensitive to excess communications.
  • Proactive Engagements: Based on your customer’s industry, business profile, and historical engagements, anticipate their needs and reach out with potential improvements they could validate. Understand their pain points and provide success plans related to them. You can assess these needs utilizing customer success platforms that track usage, health scores, and other metrics.
  • Feedback: In addition to survey tools you may use, solicit feedback regularly from your customers to get a perspective on what they desire from you for continuous improvement and how well you are executing these improvement plans.

In Closing

Proximity is linked to customer success’s effectiveness by building and nurturing relationships. CS leaders should develop and project a clear sense of being near their customers through these personalized engagements.

References

Cooks-Campbell, A. (2024, March 12). Leadership & Management. Retrieved from BetterUp: https://www.betterup.com/blog/proximitybias#:~:text=Proximity%20bias%20is%20an%20unconscious,the%20expense%20of%2 0remote%20workers.

Cooks-Campbell, A. (2024). Proximity bias: definition. BetterUp.

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