Customer health: How do you measure relationships with your customers?

Customer health is important. For the customers and for the business. When the relationship is going well, everyone wins. Hugs all around. Or fist or elbow bumps at least. But how do you really know? How do you measure customer health?

Well, first of all, you’ll need to keep a finger on the pulse. (I will try to keep my doctor puns under control here, but trust me, it’s difficult.) And like any good doctor talks with their patients, customer-centric businesses talk with their customers!

"It's just so imperative for us to listen and understand the state of the relationship."

What’s the definition of customer health?

Let’s start with the basics. Before we can treat any symptoms we have to understand our health goals.

“At the simplest level, customer health is just trying to understand the state of your relationship,” said Braden Johnstone, senior vice president of customer success at Voxpopme on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.”

And customer health and how it’s measured and looked at changes over time. Braden said that 20 years ago it was very different.

“Interactions with customers used to be pretty transactional,” he said. “Proposal, commissioning to execution. And then maybe at the end there would be some feedback.”

Some of that feedback and having a sales pipeline are all indicators for customer health.

Today, with subscription-models, for example, the life cycle of a customer relationship is different. Let’s say a customer signs up for a 12-month plan.

“A lot can happen in that time,” Braden said. “It’s just imperative for us to listen and understand the state of the relationship.”

For us, it was important that customer health is something we can measure and we can measure it in real time.

Customer health is about that connectivity between you and your customers. Keep in mind that the landscape can change. New trends emerge and some behaviors stick around. All of them can impact the customer health.

Read next: How to spot and use new trends with consumer insights

“If you really want to understand customer health all those factors are very important,” Braden said.

How you measure customer health needs to be unique to your specific business as well. A subscription software business might have different measurements than a professional services firm or a physical store. But no matter what, make sure you are measuring it.

Speed matters

“For us, it was important that customer health is something we can measure and we can measure it in real time,” Braden said.

For that to work, it must be easy for customers to provide updates on how they feel about the relationship. Brands need to make it easy, which isn’t always the case. One way that I recently ran across that didn’t make it easy for me to share my feelings was this sideways survey:

customer health - sideways survey


Another survey I was ready to take on my iPhone read: “Please visit this page on a desktop to take our survey” Ugh. I’m sick to my stomach because of experiences like that.

Just like the doctor usually wants your pulse reading in the moment, so should companies. In this article we talked about how a Westin hotel uses text messages to get feedback during the experience. That’s helpful because companies can turn a potentially negative experience into a good one.

If the customer health check can’t happen during the interaction, it can certainly happen right after. For example, when I call American Airlines you just stay on the line after the agent hangs up and give feedback right then to the automated system.

Another way to get instant feedback is by following this process:

  • Customer engagement happens
  • Brand sends a video survey link to quickly get insights from the customer about the experience
  • Response gets analyzed in real time.

Read next: How a European grocery chain uses this method

While speed matters and we should be looking at customer health on an on-going basis, also look at trends over time.

“Everything is so fast moving but also realize that the change we are trying to achieve can’t always be done in a short amount of time,” Braden said.

Measurements of customer health

For software companies, user activity is one way to measure the strength of a relationship. After all, if customers aren’t using the platform how can it be a good relationship?

“We measure that usage against a perceived plan or desired outcome,” Braden said. “We always know where we would expect them to be – based on their lifecycle.”

Many people’s actions happen on “autopilot” as Melina Palmer, a behavioral economics experts, shared on an episode of “Reel Talk.” With that in mind it’s good to actually see how consumers are behaving. In the world of software, that comes in the form of usage.

It’s an indicator, Braden explained, of how the relationship is going. Makes sense. I spend my days in a variety of software platforms:

  • WordPress
  • Anchor
  • Canva
  • Slack
  • Etc.

For the most part my usage does indicate that my heart skips a beat when I use these brands to create content experiences. I love them! they make my life easier.

“And when people aren’t engaging the way you thought they would what’s the reason for that?” Braden said.

Support tickets

In addition to usage, support requests might be an indicator of what’s going on and what customers are struggling with.

But, not all support tickets are a sign of declining customer health! For example, I recently opened a ticket with Switcher Studio – the platform we use to produce “Reel Talk.” I kept losing audio while screen sharing. Switcher quickly told me that Chrome was using too much bandwidth and caused the issue. Using Firefox for the screen share took care of the problem. Them responding quickly and with good information certainly helped us continue to have a positive relationship.

Read next: Responsiveness in customer service matters, so why are some brands struggling?

Net Promoter Score

As part of your overall customer health measurement consider looking at the Net Promoter Score or other customer success measurements similar to it.

“It can be a challenge to get market researchers to participate in market research so I really appreciate when people do,” Braden said.

How about subjective assessments?

Interactions between customers and team members also are important indicators. How do those conversations go? What are customers sharing?

Read next: How to follow the design thinking process to be more relevant to customers

“That gives us an indication of customer health as well,” Braden said. “So we have to be listening there as well.”

What does a good customer relationship look like?

“While it’s metric driven, it’s also people driven,” Braden said.

Great customers also often promote the products they use across business units. People don’t recommend products they don’t like! It’s a two-way street. As I mentioned in my recruiting research participants article, some brand fans will just interact with the brand because they love the brand.

How do you scale customer health metrics?

It comes down to having that balanced view while considering all the different sources of insights.

 "The work does start once you've identified a problem."

Understanding customer health does start with active listening. How can you ever understand the customer if you aren’t hearing them? That includes all these different channels:

  • Behaviors
  • Video responses
  • Support requests
  • Communications
  • Customer experience scores

And don’t just listen but respond. When somebody shares their delight with your brand, thank them. When somebody has a problem, address it.

“Until you start talking to a customer and really start understanding what the barriers are it’s really hard actioning or solutioning anything,” Braden said. “That falls to the team and we try to make it as repeatable as possible.”

The mix of data and relationships

Nick Graham, global head of insights and analytics at Mondelez International, on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” said that there’s just so much customer data out there now. Use it but remember that it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

“What frustrates me is when we think that’s the be-all,” Nick said. “Great, but then how do I make that meaningful and actionable for the business?”

"More data can actually slow you down. It's more stuff to comb through."

“It’s really about how you turn it back into meaning,” Nick said. “And that’s where we can lose sight of the bid that is not so trendy anymore. And that is understanding people. You have to understand what is the human motivation behind all of it.”

Follow up

Keep an eye on what kinds of issues customers report and determine what is a one-off and what is a wider issue – which can be hard if your data is dispersed.

Read next: Why you need centralized data to help your brand be more customer-centric

Once you have this information, start building playbooks that help teams address common types of issues directly in the moment.

“We try to make it as repeatable as possible,” Braden said. “Issues are also massive opportunities for us. Opportunities for us to help our customers overcome challenges within their own business while utilizing our tool.”

Internally, teams have to agree on what problems they are trying to solve for customers. That starts with:

  • Understanding the customer problems. (Find out more by asking).
  • Getting internal alignment.
  • Moving forward in an effective and efficient manner

“Everything we do is designed to help our customers reach their goals,” added Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk.”. “Not our goals. Their goals.”

Read next: Building teams that work to understand your customers better

What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?