Is There a Secret to Authentic Customer Success?
Over the last many years, businesses have come to discover a critical need to be client-focused. Having an amazing widget or gizmo only gets you in the door with something to sell. Success, on the other hand, requires a devotion to your consumer, with no room for presumption that your product or service is any sort of magic bullet.
It can be daunting for a business to mount an effort to focus on client relations. Where does one even start? How does a decision to be “more about the customer” stand a good chance of resonating down from a leadership proclamation to a practical, “boots on the ground” effort? And how can this effort stay fresh and relevant in daily practice, without eroding into some sort of false sentiment of artificial client devotion?
I cannot claim to have cracked the code, but I have determined a few ways to turn the lofty sentiment of “the client comes first” into an actionable, reliable practice.
The secret to this lies in fostering authenticity—a living truth which must run in all directions within your company. If you want your client service teams to have authentic customer relations, you must find a way to embody authenticity within the core pillars that define your entire customer experience. From there, you must find authentic ways to communicate and translate these pillars to your team. They have to mean something to your people if you hope to see them develop into a daily practice that feels right (authentic) – and not just like some rule everyone must follow. As a leader, this can take a serious amount of self-reflection and, well, authenticity.
A key here is to keep things simple and uncluttered when attempting to turn slightly intangible concepts like “client first” into knowable methods of engagement and service. For me, three things come to mind which can help train and focus efforts in the best direction: Empathy, Expectations, and Communication.
These three words have come to touch everything my Customer Success teams do. They are the fuel to every fire – in sales, in revenue retention, in profitability, in team building, and even in problem-solving. Empathy, Expectations, and Communication are like a guide rope through a dark cave or across a mountain side. Stay on the rope and you will find your way. Feel lost, or about to fall? Find the rope and it will guide you where you need to go.
These three concepts carry equal importance, and impact one another as they infuse a high-functioning Customer Success organization. They set the stage. They define the roles. They light the path. Over time, they help teams build the habits needed to stay focused on the mechanics of successful business relations.
In a brief overview, here’s why Empathy, Expectations, and Communication work so well to foster an authentic and effective customer experience.
Without a spirit of empathy, you’re in for an uphill battle. The goal is to have your team – and really your entire company – think about everything from the client’s perspective. Does this sound hard? It’s so hard. What does your product or service mean to the organization paying you for it? Why does what you do matter at all to the actual human being(s) that you directly interact with on the client side? You must move the focus of your company, your people, and your value messaging away from all the amazing things you do. Rather, you must focus on the amazing ways that what you do mean something to your client. Over and over, ask, “What’s in it for them?” Because you don’t matter.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that setting proper expectations is the glue for everything related to great customer success. From project timelines to performance results, if your customer is given precise and attainable expectations, your battle is more than half won.
This goes for internal teams as well. Do your teams understand the expectations that were articulated to your client? Did your teams participate in setting those expectations? Were you able to prioritize work efforts in order to set the stage for meeting all expectations? Did you build in a bit of inevitable shift and slip room so curve balls don’t drive your client insane with rage? In the end, are you setting realistic objectives with attainable benchmarks vs. pie in the sky, cross your fingers and pray type goals? Be honest with yourself, and your customer. Set realistic expectations.
Communication requires clarity, respect for the audience, and timeliness. No one ever failed because of over-communication, as long as they listened if asked to communicate less.
Clarity in communication takes a serious discipline and is always a work in progress. Communication flows in every direction – to the client and to your internal stakeholders. And you can help yourself tremendously by establishing clear roles of responsibility and accountability.
Obviously, you can’t set expectations without communicating them. More often than not, whenever a challenge or fire comes up, my first questions is, “What was communicated to the client, and what is their expectation?” It can start sounding like a broken record. But repetition is a valuable key to breathing life into the successful traits your team needs to develop.
The Hard Questions
These three pillars are essential in supporting your company’s drive to focus on customer relations. Practicing empathy, managing attainable expectations, and always communicating clearly help keep your lofty, customer-first vision authentic and grounded in reality.
What are you doing today in your organization to foster an authentic client experience? What sorts of things are you doing to generate best practices in empathy, expectations, and communication? These may be hard questions, but they will be worth answering in the long run, for you and for your customers.