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Capturing a customer is hard enough. Keeping that customer is even tougher.

For one thing, so many competitors crowd the marketplace that clients can quickly and easily find an alternative to you. For another, customers simply expect more. They demand fast solutions to their problems, great experiences, and plenty of personalization and perks. Finally, it doesn't take much to lose a customer. They don't even have to have a bad experience. Many customers leave because of perceived indifference on the part of salespeople.

The message is clear: Companies, like snow and ice management operations, must get very intentional about keeping customers engaged in using their service.

It used to be that if you offered a good product or service and just did a good job, that was enough to keep customers happy. But now, constant engagement is crucial for creating those forever transactions with customers.

Whether they realize it or not, customers crave more value from their relationship with those they do business with, and companies like yours must find ever more innovative ways to provide that value to your customers. Once you get clients emotionally invested they will stick with you and spread the word about you to other potential customers. This provides much greater ROI than your efforts to acquire new customers.

You have to work at making existing customers feel special. You absolutely cannot ever take them for granted. You can't show up just when you want them to buy something. And you absolutely cannot make them feel you're spending too much time and energy chasing prospects at the expense of servicing them.

One way companies build this extreme level of customer engagement is through an emerging function called “customer success.” The push for exceptional customer experiences is part of a shift toward the “membership economy,” a model based on customer-centric strategy using topics like subscription price, inclusiveness, and digital platforms that draw people in and win their loyalty. People expect to be engaged, and if they don't experience engagement with your organization, they will find it somewhere else.

This is where the customer-success function comes in. Not to be confused with customer service, which mostly handles complaints when the customer has a problem. Customer success managers (CSMs) foster engagement by being the consumer's BFF insider to the brand.

Customer success goes beyond traditional sales, marketing, and customer support functions. Customer success is one of the hottest B2B trends, and teams are being created to manage the customer life cycle and drive sales, renewals, upselling, and advocacy.

Customer success departments were first established by Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). But now, innovative companies of all kinds are adopting customer-success services to build deeper relationships. Brands like Dun & Bradstreet and Visa have thriving customer-success departments. This field is even generating new side industries.

If you want to engage with your customers and build a deeper level of loyalty, customer success may be a smart solution. Here’s how a customer-success specialist could do for your brand's engagement capabilities.

Focus on the experience, and not just retention

While retention is probably the most important metric these organizations track, good CSMs don't focus on renewal alone.

Trying to win a customer back after they've dropped your company is very hard. It's much easier to make sure that they make your offering a habit in the days, weeks, and months after they sign up. By the time you get to renewal season, especially in businesses with annual contracts, the customer has already decided whether they have made this product a habit and whether they're going to cancel or not.

Treat them like a friend

As with customer service, customer success starts with a phone call, but it's about more than fixing a problem. If your mom or a friend called you to ask for help, you'd go out of your way to do what you could for them. You'd use your smarts to find the answer to their problem, even if it wasn't in your manual. You'd be honest about whether they should or shouldn't upgrade. You'd share insider tips and tricks to get the most out of the services they're paying for. This is what you should do in customer success. And you don't just wait for the call to come in. Instead, you might make an outbound call to see how your customer is doing.

A CSM is ultimately judged on customer engagement, which is a leading indicator of retention, which leads to revenue and profitability. Additional metrics beyond engagement and retention might include a customer's likelihood to make a referral, actual referrals made, and willingness to serve as a reference. All of these metrics tie to lifetime customer value (LCV).

Generate profits, build relationships

Customer success is proactive and a profit center. From the moment of the initial transaction, customer success managers are reaching out to customers to ensure that they are getting value from the products and services they are already paying for. In contrast, customer service is about solving problems when customers complain. It is a cost center, and the goal of most customer-service teams is to resolve complaints as quickly as possible. It's reactive, as reps wait for calls and then respond. While both services are important, customer success focuses on connecting with customers

Companies recognize long-term engagement is the way to build deeper customer loyalty, and this is why you will see more and more customer success departments begin springing up. Keep in touch with customers and help them get the most from your service and expertise. Overall, giving the BFF treatment shows you care and makes them feel confident about sticking with you for good.

Robbie Kellman Baxter is the founder of Peninsula Strategies LLC, a consulting firm based in Menlo Park, Calif., that helps companies excel in the membership economy.