I’m going to be blunt: it’s a tough time to be in client success. Client success is one of those jobs where you don’t hear many kudos when things are going well, but you’re the first to get a call when things go wrong. And that’s OK. It’s our job to be on the frontlines of client interactions, be they good or bad, and we typically have some pretty thick skin. But I’ve noticed lately that thick skin won’t be enough for us to excel in the area of client success in this “new normal.”
As we continue to operate during a global pandemic, I think we’ve all learned some things, but I don’t hear much about the ever-changing client success landscape and how we can apply our learnings to our future state. As a leader in this area, here are three ways I encourage other customer success leaders and teams to adapt and elevate their client success game.
Listen. Really listen.
I’m a firm believer that no one excels in client success without great listening skills. But what once was a good skill to have is now a necessity. And I’m not talking about quick check-ins to learn about pain points. No, I’m talking about in-depth conversations with your clients to ensure you know exactly what makes them tick and what their future needs may be. Learn about their industry and their pain points before they even know them. This is key.
During the pandemic, my client success team has done extraordinarily well to ensure our clients are satisfied, but we can always do better. A pandemic brought about issues we never even realized could exist, and because of that, we were forced to look at things through a different lens. We learned about new areas our clients turned to that we never considered before. Which is exactly what happens when a supply chain is dry or an industry is closed down. You get mega-creative to survive and thrive. We now know to have these contingency planning conversations with our clients on an on-going basis, and we listen far more than we talk. Give insight, provide value, but realize your job is to listen, understand, support and then make the magic happen. And you need to do all of this with authenticity.
Being empathetic and authentic are key to having real and meaningful conversations, especially now when there are so many variables in our world that have people showing up to work fearful for their health and wellbeing. It’s a difficult time and we need to ensure we acknowledge that. Don’t lead with “How are you?” if you don’t care to hear the answer.
Don’t rely on “happy by default.”
I read an interesting post recently on LinkedIn from someone who said that companies are afraid to speak to their clients right now so they aren’t. They assume they’re “happy by default” simply because they haven’t heard from them otherwise. Man, that’s dangerous.
First – re-read my paragraphs above on listening. You can’t listen if you don’t start a conversation, and every client, from the smallest to the largest, should be included in your client success listening strategy. Assuming that “no news is good news” is a bad place to be in.
Think about your own life. How often do you shake off a bad experience at a restaurant or store and just let it go? I’m not one to call the manager often, so I tend to shake things off more often than not. But after a while, it impacts how I feel about that business. If I have several negative interactions at the same place, I may stop shopping there altogether. In the B2B industry, it works in exactly the same way. If your customer is dealing with small, annoying inconveniences time and again, when it’s time to renew, they likely won’t, and you’ll be stunned that you’ve lost of a customer. Dealing with negativity is never fun, but it’s important and necessary in the client success world. Reach out to your clients often, learn what’s bothering them, and make it right. Your constant interaction and ability to turn a negative into a positive will leave a lasting impression. Never rely on “happy by default.”
Switch from “you” to “we”
So, you’re having conversations, you’re listening, and you’re delighting … but are you doing it together as a team with your client?
I often hear conversations that include the phrase “how do you envision success?” Typically, your client will answer with a “You will provide” or “You will achieve” type of response. And this means they’re putting the onus of their success squarely on your shoulders. Maybe you’re the best of the best and are OK with this responsibility, but where I come from, success comes when both the client and the provider are working in tandem and delivering results together.
I encourage you to flip the narrative. Ask questions like “How can we achieve success together?” or “What does a successful partnership look like to you?” These questions force your client to view you as a partner, and also ensures that your customer knows that they have some skin in this game. Without their input, data, and teamwork, success will be difficult to achieve. Do the heavy lifting but remember, a partnership is always best!
Beyond that, I don’t know many people who don’t like to be successful. When your campaign does achieve great things, your client stakeholder gets to share in that success. They’ll be more willing to sing your praises to upper management and to go to bat for you during a renewal, because you made them look pretty good in the process of delivering for their company. It’s a win-win.
Do you notice a theme? The most impactful things a client success team can do right now and into the future is elevate your communications tactics. Really listening, reaching out often and working as a team will take you far. Remember that every interaction you have, no matter how small, can turn into something remarkable.
Taylor Napierski is Head of Client Success for Televerde, an integrated sales and marketing technology organization based in Phoenix, Arizona.