How to Handle Common Customer Success Scenarios Image

How to Handle Common Customer Success Scenarios

By Dan Steinman

As you grow your Customer Success Management operation, you'll find yourself seeing very distinct patterns in what - at first glance - appears to be an endless variety of situations with your customers.

When you and your Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are feeling that sense of déjà vu and you hear yourself saying "I've been here before" you'll appreciate the ability to replicate and systematize your Customer Success workflows with with a system like Gainsight.

That said, there are three common customer situations that are worth discussing and preparing your CSMs for right out of the gate, though. And if you've been in the Customer Success world for any amount of time, you'll instantly resonate with these:

  • The Angry customer
  • The Silent customer
  • The customer who believes you are their personal valet

The Angry Customer

Your CSMS will encounter with this type of person often. The nature of Customer Success is such that your CSMs will often find themselves in a defensive and reactionary position. Your long-term goal will be to change that to offensive and proactive, but - regardless of what anyone tells you - there's no way to make that the case 100% of the time, predictive analytics or not.

So, when your CSMs encounter the angry customer, here are a few tips that will serve them well:

  • Remember that the customer's goal is the same as yours – to get value out of your product
  • Logic trumps emotion
  • You have the tools to help the customer

It's easy to see the customer as your enemy in difficult situations. They aren't always nice, they aren't always patient, and they aren't very forgiving. But they are human and, here's the kicker... they actually want your product to work just as much as you do.

You can actually use that understanding to your advantage if you can get past the emotion, which is critical to do quickly. Make sure your CSMs understand that it will never, ever work to match your emotion with the customer's emotion; they need to stay patient and logical.

Get your CSM to take their concerns seriously and keep digging for specifics so they can either help them or can find someone who can. In most cases, the customer's frustration is not completely because of your product or your CSM's behavior. As is the case with all of us, there are always many other things going on causing us stress in addition to the current situation.

Ensure your CSMs find a way to empathize without patronizing. Get them to stay focused on the goal since that will earn them the respect of the customer. If the angry customer comes to the realization that the CSMs are committed to solving their challenges, the emotion will disappear (or at least subside a bit) and the partnership can begin.

Perhaps most importantly, if the CSM can't solve the challenge while on the phone, be ultra-responsive and over-communicative in your follow-up with the customer. This is the way to build trust and a mantra you should live by in all your customer situations.

My hope is that your company will have a customer-focused mentality so you can always find the right people who can help you resolve the issue. Assuming it's possible, there are certainly people who can understand the situation and help you make it right.

In fact, we just did a webinar on aligning the company around Customer Success and you can view the archive here.

The Silent Customer

This might be the trickiest situation your CSMs will find themselves in and, perhaps, the most common.

Remember the law of physics that says "A body at rest tends to stay at rest"? It applies here, too – "An unengaged customer tends to stay unengaged". It will often be the job of your CSMs to enter into a situation like this and figure out how to re-engage the customer. If you can't, you are sure to lose them so this becomes life or death.

One approach has to be persistence. Customers are busy, too, so you'll often find them thanking you for being persistent even when you are pretty sure you've crossed the line and become a pest. Your CSMs may have to try many times, with many methods, before you catch them at just the right time.

One thing you should definitely do is spend some time with one of your more experienced Sales Reps. They've been in this situation dozens of times where a hot prospect suddenly goes quiet. They've got tricks upon tricks for recapturing a silent prospect's attention. Most of them will seem like purely common sense but you will need a whole bagful because the same one won't work with everyone. So, listen and store them up for future reference.

Obviously, email and voicemail are your most common tools. But don't forget Twitter and LinkedIn. Following someone on Twitter and favoriting the occasional tweet might get their attention. Similarly on LinkedIn – they are in some groups and commenting on forums, you might be able to enter in or at least "like" what they say. We all have egos and, believe me, we all notice those who pay attention to what we have to say.

And, of course, get your CSMs to use their colleagues and executives where appropriate. Oftentimes, people respond to titles so don't be afraid to get involved, or to even ask your CEO to make a call on your behalf. Silence and time are your enemies here so don't hesitate. Act now.

The Customer Who Believes You Are Their Personal Valet

This can also be a tricky situation for your CSMs to deal with effectively since this happens when a customer takes advantage of someone who is smart, helpful, and responsive; and how do you argue with that, right?

It's fine to do things for our customers when there's an urgency and the CSM can do it faster than they can, or when it's occasional. But, in the long run, it is your responsibility to teach your customers how to fish, not prepare the grilled salmon and feed it to them.

Here are a few ideas for dealing with this type of customer:

  • Make them take the keyboard – with the easy availability of screen-sharing tools like GoToMeeting or WebEx, there's no reason your CSMs can't walk the customer through your application with them pushing all the buttons and you looking over their shoulder. You have the right to insist on this.
  • Give them homework – if your CSMs are working a multi-call issue, they shouldn't hesitate to hand out homework for the customer to do between sessions. The best CSMs are extremely adept at this. It's a skill to hone and have faith that your customers will thank you for it someday.
  • Slow-roll them – there will be lots of customers who need the attention of your CSMs, so they can't allow one or two to monopolize their time. When they finish a session and the customer wants another meeting tomorrow, it's OK for the CSM to tell them the next opening is the following Thursday, especially when they've given them some homework and they can advance the cause on their own in the meantime.
  • Offer the Services team – there does come a time in many customer situations where the best solution is for the customer to get out their checkbook. If you've established yourself in that trusted advisor role, the customer will see this as an attempt to help them, not sell them something.

    • If your CSM can't spend more than a couple hours a week with the customer (and they generally can't) and the situation that they're working through with the customer looks like it may take several weeks, the customer can probably get to the end solution much faster if they are willing to pay for some dedicated resources.
    • A perfect example of this is the scenario where your power user leaves the company or changes jobs and the new person has not been trained. If your solution is reasonably complex, it is not a small task to get the new person up to speed. If you have a Services package for this situation, that's perfect. But even if you don't, the likelihood of success and satisfaction, will be much higher if dedicated resources can be applied instead of a couple of hours a week of your time.

It is guaranteed that your CSMs will be in each of these predicaments many, many times over their Customer Success career. Handling them well is often the difference between them being good or being really great, and the difference between you running a successful Customer Success org and one that just gets by. So don't let your CSMs be surprised; make sure they're prepared for whatever comes their way.

The best way to ensure you have high-performing Customer Success Managers that fully understand how they fit into the Customer Journey is to enroll them in Customer Success University now.

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Picture of Dan Steinman
Dan Steinman GM, Gainsight EMEA GM, Gainsight EMEA
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  1. Josh
    Oct 17th, 2014Reply

    Great post.

    Another approach we’ve found to be helpful for the ‘silent customer’ is to reach out, put them on a bit of a pedestal by stating that we’re looking to connect with a select list of our customers to hear what they have to say about the product and service. This isn’t deceptive because it truly is a select list (the silent customers) and we really do want to hear their feedback to see if there’s something we can do to encourage engagement.

    You were also bang on for how to handle ‘personal valet’ customer. We’re in the early days so we actually don’t mind and even expect this right now. However, we definitely use the “home work” approach as it helps to build confidence in the user and it also helps us identify pain points where we’re just not making it easy enough. The services team option will also become necessary… otherwise it just becomes impossible to scale.

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