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10 Keys to Client Success

Client Success

Happy customers do not equal more business.

Over the last few years, customer service continues to become outdated, while customer success has arrived as the new kid on the block. Contrary to what some may think, customer success is not merely a rebranded version of customer service. Customer success is changing the ideology behind the customer relationship. It means companies are shifting away from a transactional approach to the customer relationship and moving to a customer centric business model. Happy customers with a great customer experience no longer guarantee retention…it is the addition of customer outcomes that make the relationship sticky.

Customer Success (CS) = Customer Experience (CX) + Customer Outcomes (CO)1

Customer Success is the business methodology of ensuring your customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service. Customer Success Management is the process of proactively orchestrating and managing towards your customer’s achievement of their desired outcomes.2

In order for organizations to be successful and retain customers, it is imperative that the customer understands how your product aligns to their business strategy and meets the objectives they hired you to solve. When your customers have a great experience, but their business objectives are not solved through your relationship, they are at risk of leaving.
The Customer Success Manager (CSM) role is positioned uniquely to be the internal advocate for the customer. The CSM understands the business needs of the customer, and can help champion those objectives cross-functionally to achieve the success of the customer. Furthermore, the CSM carries a different relationship with the customer than sales, as they are set up to be a trusted advisor and consultant for the client. Let’s look at 10 keys to success when building your customer success strategy.

Client Success

10 Keys to Client Success:

1. Anticipate Customer Needs
It can be difficult to rise out of the email cycle of reactive responses. Customer success is not only shifting from reactive to proactive, but it reaches further to being predictive and anticipating what our customers need before they do. I previously worked for a company that specialized in employee recognition benefits, and one of our products involved a Yearbook designed for significant employee milestones that included a picture and congratulatory message from the CEO. Thanks to Google alerts, my colleague received a news flash that the client’s CEO would be changing at the end of the year. Instead of waiting until the change happened to start lengthy design changes in the Yearbook, my colleague reached out to acknowledge the upcoming change and how that would impact the client’s Yearbook design. Additionally, he provided a timelines and next steps that would be required. The customer contact was thankful for the proactive communication that enabled a seamless design transition.

2. Advisors Are Not “Yes” People
CSM’s tend to be people pleasers. We should do whatever makes the client happy, right? We need to pause before we adopt that mentality. A CSM plays the role of a consultant to the client, not an order taker. When a CSM knows when to say no and explain why it will benefit the client, they become a trusted advisor that is able to manage the interests of the client as well as their internal organization. Although the client may not want to hear “no”, they ultimately want to understand a best practice approach that will give them the most value out of their partnership. This is best accomplished at the beginning of the relationship where you can define your role and how you and the client can expect to work together.

3. Open-ended Questions & Listen
Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.” Curiosity about your customers will make you a better CSM. Open ended questions allow you to understand what your customer is actually thinking and creates space to gather additional insight about their business objectives. Look at the balance of the conversation… Are you doing all of the talking? Are their responses stuck in a Yes/No cycle? In order to master the art of information mining, a CSM needs to be comfortable with silence. Great conversations start with “Why”, “How”, “What”, “Tell Me More”, or “What do you mean by that?”.

4. Do What You Say You Will Do
This goes without saying when you think about people you trust. Keep your promises. If you tell your customer you will have a report to them by tomorrow… then get it to them tomorrow. If for some reason you can not make a deadline, then proactively reach out to the customer to reset expectations and own up to your mistake. Blaming others or making excuses reduces your credibility as a trusted advisor.

5. Know Your Products
Understanding the capability and value of your product is fundamental to being an effective CSM. You can’t be an advisor or consultant if you don’t understand what your organization is brings to the table. Start by learning the functionality and features of your product, and then build a value proposition so your customer understands not just what your product does but why they need it. What business objectives will your product or service solve for the customer?

6. Learn your Customer’s Business
Knowing your customer’s industry will allow you to anticipate business trends and understand your client’s ecosystem. The easiest way to do this is to subscribe to your client’s newsletter, read their trade reports, and set up Google alerts for your customer and their competitors. I once had a large technology client that had some negative press surrounding a lawsuit and an alarming price reduction in stock shares. This happened right around the time their contract was up for renewal. Knowing the intel gathered from the news reports helped me comprehend a larger business strategy behind their workforce reduction and budget cuts to our contract. This understanding shows your customer that you are invested in their business and they have an advocate at your organization..

7. Always be Consulting
J.B. Wood from the Technology Services Industry Association said, “Selling won’t help, but helping will sell.” Many will understand the feeling of walking into a clothing store, only to have a sales person bombard you with questions about what they can help you find. This can turn the customer off because they feel like they are just a dollar sign to the associate. In contrast, if you have someone approach you with styling tips, colors that compliment your skin tone, or information about the pieces you have your eye on, this is better received as helpful information.

The same philosophy goes for your business. CSM’s are differentiated from a sales person, because you are the customer’s trusted advisor that provides helpful information to maximize their adoption and value.

8. Take Ownership
Don’t burden customers with your organizational chart. The CSM is the quarterback internally to carry the ball cross-functionally and needs to own the relationship. If multiple internal stakeholders are communicating with the client, it reduces a narrowed voice and can create conflicting messages for the customer. Do not be afraid to bring in subject matter experts to assist with a meeting; however, the CSM should be present and facilitate the relationship as the liaison between internal and external stakeholders.

9. Know What Customers Need to Be Successful
Your organization wins when your customer is successful, so it is of great value to understand how you customer defines success. What are your customer’s KPIs? Do they have a strategy map? What will get your contact promoted? Understand what your champion in the account needs, and make them look like a rockstar. A great way to do this is allowing your champion to shine in front of their leader by giving them a chance to share what they have accomplished in a Quarterly Business Review or project completion.

10. Forget Happy and Focus on Good Customer Outcomes
ROI > rapport. It’s not that we like angry customers, but outcomes far outweigh “happy” in terms of recurring revenue. If a customer is happy but they don’t see the value of your relationship, they will churn. Other customers may not be happy, but they are successful and have significant results to show for your partnership. These customers have skin in the game and can be leveraged to provide insightful feedback to improve your product. Good rapport can get in the way of outcomes, because it is fleeting the moment a competitor walks in the door with promises of better results. If the relationship is all about great dinners and tickets to the big game with nothing to show for your product, it is not a sticky enough relationship.

Before you get overwhelmed by ten new disciplines to incorporate on top of your overflowing inbox, mastery of just one of two of these will enable you to better serve your customer base. Ultimately, any way you can demonstrate value to your customer and play the role of a trusted advisor, you will be well on your way to a customer centric mentality. Happy customers do not mean repeat business, but customers with outcomes will be back next year.

Adapted from Gainsight’s 2018 Pulse Conference session, “How to be a Kick-ass CSM,” presented by Sanders Slavens from IBM and Lorna Henri from App Annie.

Ashvin Vaidyanathan, Ashvin, and Ruben Rabago. The Customer’s Success Handbook: How to Thrive in One of the World’s Fastest Growing Careers-While Driving Growth for Your Company. Wiley, 2020.1,2

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Hayden Asselta

Hayden Asselta

Hayden has worked in Client Success for over three years, focusing on larger enterprise accounts in the technology, financial, chemical, and association industries. She focuses on creating an internal retention strategy that turns everyday customers into raving fans.
Hayden Asselta

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