We all know the struggle of trying to get an unengaged customer to speak, and ideally work, with us as Customer Success resources. For as long as CS has existed, there have been customers who don’t believe they’ll find value in these types of conversations. And in recent years, as SaaS companies have matured their CS teams, the expectations for what a CSM can and should provide to a customer has diminished, with sprawling sister organizations encompassing support, onboarding, customer engineering, education, and everything in between. A CSM can struggle finding their voice and proving their worth to the companies they’re tasked with supporting.
But from that struggle comes clarity. The conversations we have with our customers need to “pack a punch”, and need to provide clear and actionable value long-term in order to have our relationships grow. And not just in the context of a yearly Executive Business Review (EBR), but in your regular cadence of chats. Value is a habit, not simply delivered in a single instance.
Back your words with data
Nothing speaks louder than clear, concise results in the form of data. As a vendor, you’re tasked with providing value, and data is integral in that pursuit. So why not come prepared with some interesting results to your customer meetings?
Sure, turning the first half of each customer call into a “fun fact happy hour” via a flood of data-enriched slides is overkill. But the challenge of preparing yourself with interesting findings, areas for your customers to improve or find additional value, is hugely valuable both for your customer along their journey, and you in educating yourself in how they’re using your tool. It’s the classic adage of “scientia potentia est” – “knowledge is power” – at work.
Before your customer meetings, get into the practice of reviewing your customers usage data, the basics of their contract and how they’re consuming that contract, and build an interesting story that illuminates your users. And when it’s EBR season, you can look back at these findings and build a truly spectacular narrative, based on your customer’s development.
Base your words in your customer’s challenges
Your customers bought your product/service for a reason: to solve a problem (or collection of problems). There’s a high likelihood that there are common themes amongst these problems when staring at your book of business from “30,000 feet”. But each customer’s pain points and challenges are slightly different in flavor, and should be respected as such. Basing your conversations in these challenges will immediately amplify their impact and volume.
This opens up a much larger discussion around strategic success planning, which we won’t discuss today, but it’s a crucial component of a healthy customer relationship and should provide the basis for these customer challenge-based conversations. Consistently revisiting progress towards addressing pain points, as monotonous as it may seem at first, is a habit worth forming so the customer sees that you’re empathizing with their struggles. It also provides a regular opportunity for your contacts to alert you to a change in priority; these can happen regularly based on the ebbs and flows of their business and the market, so staying apprised is crucial to driving success for them as users of your product.
Understand and appreciate your tool’s ecosystem
A generalization of the previous point is the need to understand the ecosystem in which your tool resides. But it goes further than simply understanding the problem space – it necessitates appreciating your competitors, both direct and indirect.
If your customer is trying to address a major workflow pain point that your tool may not satisfy (to their standards), you need to keep an “ear to the ground” for their consideration of your competitors who may address that functionality more directly. Even if the competitor is not a direct threat and is instead tangential to your tool’s use cases, it’s not often a good thing that your users need to look elsewhere for solutions. The less sticky you are, the more at risk of churn your account will become.
We all understand that we’re not engineers or product managers, and can’t make feature functionality appear out of thin air. However, what we can do is track progress of feature enhancement requests and report back to the customer regularly, so at the very least they appreciate that their feedback and needs were heard and appreciated by their vendor. And if you hear similar feedback from multiple accounts in your portfolio, you may also be able to share how others have addressed this problem.
Make your customers feel heard
A common thread amongst the above points, and a core tenant of Customer Success, is making your customer feel heard. It’s basic relationship-building: who would want to heavily invest into a business relationship, or at least continue in it passively, if they feel that their concerns, their problems, their input goes unnoticed?
If you haven’t experienced a churned account based purely on this frustration point, consider yourself fortunate. It happens more frequently than one would assume, and is particularly painful given how avoidable it is. Their usage data and adoption are high; their business and user base are growing; they have a history of strong renewals; and it all falls apart because a feature enhancement request they made several times over the course of the relationship went unaddressed, both via the product and CS engagement. This is not an abnormal occurrence.
This is one of the biggest reasons I love working with early stage companies as vendors – I know my input has a much higher likelihood of being appreciated, and ideally incorporated into the product. Sure the product is less robust and more fluid than a stalwart tool, but there’s enormous value in feeling that one is heard and appreciated as a customer, something we can’t forget regardless of company maturity.
Author: Josh Levin