By Kristen Hayer
The word I hear most in customer success is “outcomes.” We often hear phrases like “focus on customer outcomes” and “outcome-based account management.” The problem is that the term “outcomes” is used inconsistently across teams and companies. It’s ambiguous. Even if you’re clear about what an outcome is, it can be challenging to know what a customer is looking for and how to help them get it.
For the purposes of this article customer outcomes = business results. Not your product’s results or the results of initiatives specific to your solution. Real, business results. It can be intimidating to talk about your customer’s business results because they are somewhat removed from your product and they are usually at least partially out of your control. However, these are the results that matter to your clients. When you are able to help your customers achieve real business results, those outcomes turn into renewals, expansions, and referrals.
Here are some practical approaches to uncovering the outcomes your customers value most, and helping them achieve the business results they are looking for.
Understand Each Customer
First, keep in mind that every customer is different. It can be tempting to buy into your own marketing rhetoric and assume that every customer buys your solution to solve X (or Y or Z). The reality is that every customer expects a unique set of business results. It is the job of customer success to uncover those expectations and help the customer achieve the outcomes they want.
- Do your Homework – use your customer’s website and press releases to learn about their business and the initiatives they care about. This can help to start the conversation.
- Ask Questions – ask about their major business goals, and about the results they hope to see from your solution. Be sure to probe for their expected business results, not just what they want your product to do.
- Discuss Expectations Regularly – plans, priorities, and initiatives change frequently. Even if you collected information about expectations at the beginning of your relationship with the customer, you need to repeat this discussion on a regular basis.
Once you’ve uncovered the expectations and values of your customers, you can move on to step 2, creating a plan to help them achieve the outcomes they are looking for. Two really important things to keep in mind during this process: First, this is a project you work on together. This isn’t you dictating to your customers the goals they should have. Second, their metrics are more important than yours. You’ll need to work with your customers to gain access to the metrics they want to measure.
- Create Goals – work with your customer to create goals that will get them to the outcomes they want to achieve. Use SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
- Develop an Account Plan – once you have SMART goals, combine them to create an account plan that spells out the month-by-month or quarter-by-quarter metrics you will work with your client to achieve.
- Measure Results – since you’ve worked with your customer to build an account plan, asking them to share results with you should be a part of the conversation. Work together to gain access to the results that aren’t a part of your solution.
Once you’ve created an account plan, you can start tracking results. This can be a little intimidating. What if a different client initiative throws off your results? What if you miss your goals? Is your customer going to be upset if you underperform? How do you talk about the hits and misses? Keep in mind that your customer is going to be thinking about all of this, whether or not you bring it up proactively. By being the one to initiate the conversation, you have much more control over the outcome.
- Be Candid – don’t try to mask or hide negative results. First, if you’re talking to an executive, they expect negative results sometimes. Second, if you try to hide things, your customer will know.
- Don’t Get Derailed – if you do have negative results, focus on reasons and solutions. This will keep the conversation from getting into the weeds or turning into a complaint session. Ask the customer for their suggestions as well.
- Celebrate the Positive – it’s easy to forget about the wins, especially in the face of negative results. Don’t gloss over the good stuff you’ve done. Highlight and celebrate your win and the outcomes you’ve helped your customers to achieve.
Customer outcomes are just business results. By focusing on your customer’s business, you can zero in on the things that matter to them, and make sure they achieve the outcomes that will tell them they made the right decision in choosing your solution.
Does your team need help uncovering and outlining the outcomes that your customers are looking for? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers consulting engagements, onsite workshops, and online training to help your team create accounts plans that drive retention, expansion and customer satisfaction. For more information visit TheSuccessLeague.io
Kristen Hayer - Kristen believes that customer success is the key to driving revenue, client retention and exceptional customer experiences. Her areas of expertise include developing success goals and metrics, designing the optimal customer journey, selecting technology, training teams, and building playbooks. Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies. Kristen has her BA from Seattle Pacific University and her MBA from the University of Washington.