The only constant is change: ensuring team continuity through transitions

Anna Tukachinskaya wrote this on Oct 12

Do you remember the time when the measure of success was how long you’ve worked for the same company (and in the same or similar position)? Looks like it’s not the case anymore.

People have become increasingly mobile - they do their best work for their employer for 3 – 5 years, and then move on, whether it’s to a new company, location, or a completely different profession. To back up my statement, here are some fun statistics: Bureau of Labor Statistics  reports that in 2016 for the 25 to 34 age group average tenure is less than 3 years, and the next age group, 35 to 44, spends less than 5 years in the same workplace.

Let’s face it: even if your organization is the most awesome place to work on the planet, people will still come and go. As a team lead or an owner of the company it’s your responsibility to be ready for it and make sure it does not interfere with the success of your business. And, given that the success of any company depends on the relationships with their clients, it basically means you need to make sure that the relationships employees have built with your company’s customers will carry on without interruption, even as the team goes through changes. Establishing team continuity will save you time (that you’d otherwise spend on piecing together various customer-related information), money (because every day spent on catching up instead of talking to the customer is a missed opportunity for an upsell or referral), and, eventually, it will save your company’s face in front of the customer.

So, next time you sit down with a potential customer, be ready to answer a question along the lines of, “So you say I’ll get my own dedicated customer success rep – what happens when they leave your company? Do I have to start all over again building a relationship with the new one?”

Here are several things you can do to ensure team continuity that we found work really well.

1. Promote the culture of collaboration inside your company

We’ve already written about how silos can be destructive for business - but it’s so crucial that it’s worth repeating! Make sure you encourage your teams to collaborate with each other. Too often a disconnect happens when a customer is passed on from one team to another, say sales to account management, and vital pieces of information about a customer get lost. This may be because these teams see each other as rivals, or are jealous of each others’ bonus structures, or due to the teams’ different processes and tracking structures, or, even more simply, just a lack of communication between departments because people assume that other teams know or have access to the same information. In any case, make sure all departments that interact with customers play well together, because in the end their goal is the same - making customers’ experiences with your company memorable and all sorts of wonderful; not to build little empires and go to war with each other. :)
Bonus tip (and cheap plug?): if you need help with aligning cross-functional teams like marketing, sales and customer success, we put together a free toolkit to help you identify your strengths and areas that need improvement.

2. Build your customer journey map

world-1264062_1280.jpg

If you haven’t done so yet, create a customer journey map to keep tabs on each customer’s progress and success and to manage the experience they have at different stages of interacting with your company. Need a place to start? I highly recommend this article in HBR on what to keep in mind when working on one. Mapping your customer’s journey will help you and your team keep the focus on your customer, and make sure everybody works towards the same goals when shaping your customer’s experience with your company. Such alignment makes it easier to pick up where a teammate left and carry the relationship with the customer in the right direction for the business.

3. Put a clear process in place for when an employee goes on vacation or leaves the company 

blog_with_text.png

While of course your company (and your department) has its own specifics, everything boils down to being organized and staying on the same page with your team long before the lightning (aka vacation or resignation) strikes. If all relevant customer paperwork (like contracts and invoices) is in place, interactions your rep had with the customer are accessible, and there are clear goals and deadlines for all pending tasks it will be a thousand times easier for the person who takes over this client to jump right in and do their best work as soon as possible. For a manager, planning in advance and staying on top of your team’s projects helps make vacation times and all sorts of transitions less stressful.   

Think through the transition of an account from one employee to another: provide the new account handler with copies of contracts and agreements outlining their service terms, make sure they know where the customer is in their customer journey, update them on the history of this client’s relationship with your company and any special requests / peculiarities they need to be aware of. And, if you have the opportunity, ask the teammate who is leaving to fill out a spreadsheet with all the customers they work with, level of urgency, and possibly notes about main contacts that might help the new rep build rapport with the customer (like “their CFO loves Broadway shows” or, if you were to fill out a spreadsheet about us here at Synap, “their whole team is obsessed with donuts”).

4. Make it all about the customer

Even though it’s your teammate that is leaving, it’s just as stressful for the customers who are used to dealing with this particular person. Your customer sees them as their trusted consultant and partner, and is most likely worried that the new rep will not be as competent, won’t understand their company and their unique needs, or will turn out to be an unpleasant person.

An often overlooked yet very powerful element of the transition is having the old account rep introduce the new one to the customer (or, if it’s a sudden transition, have the head of the department or even the CEO make this introduction) so that the client feels valued and prioritized even in the time of change. This also helps the customer feel that their new rep has been “validated” by their old and trusted one, so they will be more comfortable working with and trusting the new person.

5. Give your team the right tools to stay on the same page 

success or bust.jpg

Success or Bust cartoon

There is an abundance of great software out there to help your employees stay organized and productive when working with customers. There is no solution here that fits everyone, and you’ll choose your tools depending on the specifics of your business or industry.

It’s easy to fall into a “one size fits all” trap though, so please make it a point that every team has a tool that suits the stage of the customer journey they are in charge of. For example, a lot of sales-driven CRM solutions are great for tracking the sales funnel but disregard what happens to the customer after that initial contract is signed. Make sure your customer support team has a powerful help desk tool in place to help address customer issues fast. For your Customer Success and Account Management folks, check out tools like Synap – a collaborative CRM that helps account managers and customer success professionals build their own custom account plan and have access to all customer-related email correspondence across their team, making it easy to stand in for a colleague who’s away on vacation, or pick up an “inherited” account and quickly catch up on the history of a relationship and make the customer experience seamless.

Above all, as a team lead or the head of the entire organization, make sure you build a team that will come together and make any transition easy for the customer. If your team is great, goals are defined and aligned throughout your organization, and you have tools to do your best work, team continuity will be a fun challenge, not an insurmountable obstacle.

How do you and your colleagues ensure team continuity? This list is just the beginning of the discussion - we’d love to hear your story and learn about your know-hows. Drop me a line at anna@getsynap.com, and let’s extend this list together!Great_Account_Managers_are_Super_Heroes.jpegblog_without_text.png