Partnerships: Being Sustainably Successful With Clients

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By Amin Akbarpour

I was chatting with a colleague who helps run partnerships in my current organization and we were sharing some recent anecdotes in our respective jobs. It’s easy to forget how much Customer Success revolves around forming strong partnerships with our clients. Those strong partnerships include great communication, building solid relationships, and always adding value. Nothing highlights the signs of a true partnership more than how things go when the going gets tough. Recently, I’ve come across many examples of situations where client needs went unresolved in both my current role and conversations with fellow success professionals. I was surprised to hear how often CS representatives were unable to come to terms on a sustainable path forward that met the needs of both sides.

Sustainability

Ultimately, we need to find sustainable solutions to the problems that arise in client relationships. When I mention sustainability, I’m referring to resolutions that are not resource intensive, can be deployed in a flexible and efficient fashion, and properly address the client’s concern or problem. It must check each of those three boxes.

As CS professionals, we’re pulled in two ways constantly: internally and externally. It’s our job to uncover the pain points on both sides and come up with creative solutions that meet the needs of both our company and our client. In addition, every solution needs to be deployed in a sustainable fashion. Two examples to illustrate my point:

Sustainable: A client suddenly becomes very under-staffed, and has to cut back on usage of your product during a critical time of year for your company. Internally, you discuss a plan to temporarily support them with an offering that would allow them to maintain their current level of usage, and build good faith with the client as a result.

It is very important that you set proper expectations both internally and externally in this type of situation. This is only sustainable when it is a true one-off situation where both the client and your colleagues know that it will not become a trend. There is always a fear that these types of responses will go from being one-off to occasional to often. That’s when it crosses into being… 

Unsustainable: A client is constantly asking you to make significant changes to your product so as to support their unique set-up and requirements. You recommend constant internal attention on this item and require that immediate engineering resources be deployed to assist with each request.

A common mistake here is to interpret your engineer team’s ability to accommodate these requests as sustainable. They simply are not. Each time this happens, you’re pulling resources off of other projects and causing delays across the board. Not to mention the annoyance factor of getting pulled off of one project and put into a “put-out-the-fire” situation.

As you look to determine sustainable solutions for both your team and clients, do not forget that the solution must also adequately resolve the pain point too. Many a times I’ve encountered solutions that don’t truly resolve the client’s problem or simply “kick the can down the road.” You can avoid this by always asking about the impact of a solution or potential pitfalls of implementing the new process.

I have a quick checklist I go through in order to feel comfortable that a truly good resolution has been developed. I ask myself:

  • Does the the client’s stated pain point remain the same or get worse under this proposed solution?

  • Does the solution introduce new problems that the client must burden?

  • Does the solution cause any of our company’s internal resources to be moved off of other critical tasks?

  • Does the solution significantly increase my team’s service hours on a permanent basis for this client?

If I can get through the questions above with four straight “No’s”, then I know it’s a sustainable path forward.

Being a good partner does not mean doing everything you can to give a client what they want or protecting your internal team at all costs. Being a good partner means understanding concerns, creatively identifying potential solutions, and ensuring that those options are not only acceptable, but sustainable for both parties. As a customer success professional, you’re in the driver’s seat so ensure you put everyone in a position to be successful.

Need more help with your client partnerships? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CSM Certification Training Program which includes classes such as Customer Advocacy and Cross-Functional Leadership. For more information on these and our other classes and consulting services please visit our website at TheSuccessLeague.io

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Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect. With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League and currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.