Last weekend, I was snowboarding down a mountain when I passed by a mother and her small panicked son, both on skis. His face was red from frustration and he kept screaming in terror as she called out helpful, but poorly received advice. I was instantly filled with empathy as I recalled the frustration I had been filled with my first day on the slopes. This little boy wanted so badly to ski, but his exasperation was getting in the way of learning from his mother’s directions. The last thing I heard as I puttered past was his mom saying, “If you don’t listen, I’m going to stop helping you. Can you listen?”
Sometimes as customer success managers (CSMs), we run into the same temptation to throw our hands in the air and say “if you don’t listen to me, how can I help?” This happens when a customer ignores our offers to provide assistance in goal setting and project planning or even when a customer reaches out for advice and immediately ignores it. It can be frustrating to want to help customers succeed when they don’t seem to want it. It doesn’t necessarily make a customer wrong or a customer success manager right. It just means that there is room for improvement in how CSMs and customers communicate.
Jerry Fletcher, the VP of Customer Success at Sparkcentral, stresses the importance of understanding difference styles of communication. Many people are visual learners, some folks communicate best in long form text, and others prefer to hash out ideas talking in person or on the phone. We make it a point to identify which means of communication are best suited for teams and individuals so that our customer success team can help our customers achieve their goals in a manner tailored to their processes. If a team is receiving a project proposal that is written in longer form text, a supplemental flowchart or simple checklist may help keep the project better on track if the team consists of many visually driven members.
Before beginning any kind of undertaking, no matter how large or small, it is important to establish a baseline of what everyone knows. It’s bad enough when teams aren’t on the same page, but it’s almost impossible to move forward if teams are so far out of alignment that they’re reading entirely different books.
When we welcome new customers into the Sparkcentral family, our customer success managers and account managers meet with them to discuss their business needs and team goals, as well as overview any upcoming projects or events that will require collaborative strategy between our team and our customer. No two teams are the same and each business drives value from different metrics, so understanding a team’s specific goals are imperative. I’ve realized the importance of clarifying basic concepts before entering a project, especially since many of our customers have to keep up with an ever-changing glossary of terms unique to different platforms. As a team, we create an environment where all team members feel comfortable asking for clarification on the most (seemingly) fundamental idea.
The best way to achieve long-term success with customers is to serve as an extension of your customer’s team. This doesn’t mean always devoting an unlimited amount of time to a customer, but it does mean being available when they are available (we work across time zones and oceans, so meetings aren’t restricted to our HQ’s business hours). Our dedication to our partners grows their teams and drives business value. On our side, showing this value means we can focus on expanding accounts rather than sales being focused on up-selling. All-in-all the experience becomes more genuine and over time, small expansions become big wins.
Big wins are great, but it is also important to celebrate the small wins with customers– and not only in the first few months of your relationship. Customer success managers who have been working with teams for years can still find ways to highlight team accomplishments. If you have a customer who set a lofty goal, identify benchmarks that will keep up the momentum and encourage continued collaboration. Checklists and short-term goals are great ways of assessing growth and productivity and should be celebrated. Even occasional words of encouragement (or a well-timed gif) are appreciated when working with customers who feel like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.
Just like the mom teaching her son to ski, by having him understand that they were in it together, CSMs need to show customers that they’re on the same side with a common goal of success. When we reach what feels like a roadblock or major hurdle, it can be tempting to give up. In those moments, it’s crucial to take a step back and make sure we understand what our customers are actually trying to accomplish. Even a minor miscommunication or misunderstanding can undermine a CSM’s most well thought out plans.
I don’t know if that little boy skied without assistance by the end of the day, but I like to imagine he’s learning a skill that can be passed down, shared, and expanded on. The most successful customers are able to do the same. When a CSM creates an environment where learned skills can be easily transferred to new team members and leadership, we multiply the yields of our efforts. Customers who have clear goals and a strong understanding of how to reach these goals are able to keep themselves on track. At Sparkcentral, account managers and customer success managers have incredible goals set by our customers who we work with on a day-to-day basis. The success of our teams is determined by our customer’s achievements and by driving lasting business value. Our mission is to power amazing customer experiences with our customers, and that right there motivates and inspires us every day.