Customer Relationships

Murphy's Law in Customer Success

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By Amin Akbarpour

We all know Murphy’s Law, right? It’s something along the lines of “if anything bad can happen, it will happen.” In customer success, a lot can go wrong very quickly even if you prepare to the utmost degree. I want to share a few of my more embarrassing misses as a customer success agent and – in hindsight – how I’d handle them if they happened again.

Technical Issues

This has to be at the top of the list for all of us, no? Whether it’s an in-person meeting where you can’t connect to a projector, or a phone call where no one can use the dial-in number, these are disasters that can derail any meeting. Some of the most common instances that have happened to me are:

  • Client is unable to join the screen-share solution

  • No means to properly project during an in-person client presentation

  • Internet lag times during a walkthrough of the product offering

  • R.I.P. PowerPoint

That last one is actually a fairly new one to me. So new, that the first and only times (three, to be precise!) it’s happened to me were all in one week. If you were to run into any one of these issues, it can completely derail your meeting and kill momentum. I’ve started to prepare for these mishaps in a few ways:

  • Ask the client ahead of time what web conferencing tool they use internally and adapt to them. This sometimes means having to download their software ahead of time and asking them to tack on credentials to the invite. Sounds like a tall ask but it also guarantees their ability to join seamlessly and the meeting to start without a hiccup.

  • Send a .pptx or .pdf version of the deck or material you were planning to cover ahead of time. That way if this comes up, you can quickly adjust. I tend to stick with sending it to just our main point of contact so that not everyone gets a look before the meeting. Definitely part of my inner thespian, but I enjoy the showmanship of presenting fresh material.

  • At some point, you start to pick up the parts of your app or product that take a while to load. I preload these pages in multiple tabs or windows just in case there’s a delay so I can still show them efficiently throughout the presentation.

  • Always. Always. Always. Make a .pdf version of your deck and have it open and in the ready in case PowerPoint crashes. Also, if PowerPoint crashed once, assume that it will crash again.

Human Error

Have you ever accidentally called a client by the wrong name? Or written it incorrectly in an email? Or even worse – referred to them as one of their direct competitors? If you have, then you’ve felt that catastrophic level of shame. There’s no cheat sheet for this one. If it happens, your best bet is to just own it in the moment and apologize. You can try to avoid this in the first place by double-checking everything written that goes out, and practicing before walking into any call or meeting. I personally have a habit of writing everyone’s name and the company name into my notebook a couple times before the meeting. It could just be a placebo, but muttering it, writing it, and then being able to look down and read it throughout the meeting might help to ensure that you don’t say anything contrary.

Ultimately, you will most likely run into one or more of the aforementioned scenarios throughout your tenure as a CS representative. Don’t beat yourself up if Murphy’s Law happens - it happens to everyone. You can’t prevent every bad outcome, but at the very least preparation can minimize the impact.

Want more practical tips on how to succeed as a CSM? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, including our popular CSM Training Program. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit 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. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.

Integrating Customer Experience Into Your Customer Journey

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By Jeremy Gillespie

There’s been a hot debate between Customer Success and Customer Experience. Customer Success professionals believe customer experience is a subset of customer success. Customer Experience professionals believe customer success is a subset of customer experience.

We’re not going to solve this debate today. Instead, I’m going to lay out 3 simple steps to ensure that the customer experience is an integral part of your customer journey. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the difference between customer success and customer experience.

Customer Success vs. Customer Experience

The difference is can be a little confusing, so rather than trying to explain it in my own words, I’ll let industry leaders articulate the difference.

The Customer Success Association says Customer Success is about customer relationship, retention, and optimization, and the most effective way to keep your customers is to make them as successful as possible in using your products. Essentially, in their words, customer success is based around the value customers get from using your product.

On the other hand, Forrester defines Customer Experience as “every interaction, or touch point, your customer has with your brand. It not only includes the whats (the interactions), but also the hows (perceptions, feelings) of the customer experiences.” Rather than the value customers receive from your product, customer experience is about how customers interact with your brand, and ultimately how your brand makes them feel.

The interesting part here is both impact one another and are often intertwined.

So how do you make sure Customer Experience is at the core of Customer Success? Well… it starts with your customer journey.

Step 1 - Map your ideal customer journey

Mapping your customer journey is the first step to defining outcomes and experiences at each stage of their journey. Typically, the focus is to define the measurable outcome at each stage, which makes sense, but I’m going to go a step further.

I think it makes sense to use the think-feel-do framework here. This is a framework often used in marketing to develop persuasive messaging, but it translates well to customer success. As CS professionals, we are often concerned with “Do.” This is the change or action that you want a customer to take at a specific stage in their journey.

To incorporate the experience more, we need to also define what the customer should “Think” and “Feel” as well.

Step 2 - Define the experience at each stage

Just as you define plays and processes to work toward a desired outcome for the customer, you need to do the same for “Think” and “Feel.”

Think refers to how the customer perceives your product and how it will make them better at their job. Your goal is to have your customers think about your product in a specific way at each stage of their journey. Think of it as a new “lightbulb” that goes off about how your product supports their goals.

Feel is all about the emotions they feel at each stage. While this is tough to define, when you knock this out of the park, it’s virtually impossible for them not to take the desired action. At each stage you need to define how they should feel and what emotions they should have.

So just as you map your desired outcome for each stage of your customer journey, go back and also define what your customer should Think and Feel. I know it sounds a little fluffy, but having these defined will make sure everyone is on the same page about not only what success looks like, but also what experience they should have.

Step 3 - Gather feedback on the experience

So how do you know if you’re meeting the customer experiences you’ve laid out in step 2? The beauty here is you do not need to implement any new platforms or measurements; you can use the existing measurement techniques you’re already (or should be) using. Here are three ways to measure your Customer Experience across your customer journey:

  1. Net Promoter Score - the percentage of your customers who would—or wouldn’t—recommend your company to their friends, family, or colleagues.

  2. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) - the average satisfaction score that customers rate a specific experience they had with your organization—such as getting an answer from customer support or returning a product.

  3. Churn - the percentage of customers who either don’t make a repeat purchase (for transaction-based businesses) or cancel their recurring service (for subscription-based businesses).

When you integrate Customer Experience as part of your customer success journey you should see all of these metrics improve. Most notably, you’ll see success at each stage improve, which will reduce churn and increase your customer lifetime value.

Need help weaving Customer Success with Customer Experience in your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers both customer journey mapping and process design engagements. Please visit TheSuccessLeague.io for more information.

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Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth marketing expert who loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. By leveraging data and technology, he excels at creating innovative retention and expansion marketing programs for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Jeremy is a founding advisor to The Success League, and is also the founder of Built to Scale, a Bay Area consulting firm focused on helping businesses build scalable customer acquisition and retention programs. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University. He's a proud former Pittsburgher, currently living in San Francisco.

Customer Fit (or Know When to Fold 'Em)

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By Steve Schwartz

I spent a few days last week at a conference in the desert oasis known as Las Vegas, but all too often referred to as Lost Wages. When I had a break, I found myself down in the poker room facing off against casino regulars, tourists, and other conference-goers. I’m a very patient player and have lots of time to think while folding awful hands. One thing I realized is that poker hands can be a lot like the three types of customers that I’m sure you all have experienced: perfect fit, good fit, and bad fit. You may not know what type of customer you have when they first sign up, but as more information is revealed about them, you need to act accordingly.

The shortest primer on Texas Hold’em I can offer is this: each player is dealt two cards that only they can see and a round of betting commences. Each player will use those cards and five community cards to attempt to make the best hand possible. There’s a round of betting and then three community cards (the flop) are revealed. There is another round of betting, then one more community card (the turn). Then another round of betting, and a final community card (the river). Finally, there is one more betting round before either one player remains or multiple players show down their cards to see who has the best hand.

PERFECT FIT CUSTOMERS

You look down at two tens and raise the pot only to be re-raised by another player. You call and the flop brings two more tens and an ace. It doesn’t get much better than quads (four of a kind)! While you’ll have to invest some money for them to pay off, you’re confident you’ll be rewarded in the end.

Perfect fit customers don’t come along as often as you’d like, but when you find one, you want to maximize their value. That means that you’ll certainly want to invest heavily in their success in order to reap the profits of case studies, white papers, speaking engagements, and references.

GOOD FIT CUSTOMERS

This time you look down at an ace of spades and a king of hearts. It’s one of the better starting hands so you raise your opponents. You get a few callers and the flop comes king of spades, with the ten and 9 of diamonds. You’ve got a good hand, but there are still two cards to come and anything can happen. Someone could already have a straight or have a high likelihood of beating you with a flush. You’ll have to pay attention to the signals from the other players as the rest of the cards come to decide whether to keep going with your hand or to fold and give up.

Similarly, the most common customer you’ll find is a good fit. Their goals align well with your product offering, but things can change as their needs change or as they learn more about what your product can and can’t do for them. As you gain more information about your good fit customers, they may need significant investment in product enhancements to stay a good fit. At this point, you need to decide whether you’re willing to make those investments for the greater customer base, or let this particular good fit customer slip into the realm of a bad fit.

BAD FIT CUSTOMERS

In our final hand of the night, you look down at two sixes (clubs and hearts) and call another player’s raise. The flop brings a jack, nine, and eight, all spades and there is a bet and raise before it gets to you. If another player has two spades, you’ve got a less than 3% chance of winning the hand. You could certainly invest more money and try to get lucky or bluff the other players, but most of the time you’ll cut your losses and fold the sixes.

We’ve all had bad fit customers, but sometimes we don’t realize it until we’ve invested far too much and can’t let them go. They ask for enhancements that aren’t worth investing in, their product usage doesn’t look healthy, and their expectations don’t align with what can be delivered. Just like our sixes, sometimes the best decision is a quick fold so you can focus on the next customer.

Whether with customer success or poker, it’s always difficult to make a decision when you’re heavily invested in a customer or a potentially good hand. My advice is to always use as much data as you can, whether it be product investment costs versus potential lifetime value or odds of catching the cards you need to win versus cost to see those cards. And remember, don’t believe the phrase “it’s better to be lucky than good.”


I’ll bet you didn’t think you’d learn all about poker reading a customer success blog! The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers training and coaching for customer success leaders (and those who want to be). Check out our Leadership page for more information on our programs, and learn when to hold ‘em and fold ‘em!

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Steve Schwartz - Steve is a customer success leader who enjoys starting and building high-performance teams at early-stage startups. He has worked in startups for the past 14+ years in a variety of customer-facing roles. By engaging with customers during the sales cycle, he ensures customer expectations are fully understood and can be exceeded. When not writing for The Success League, Steve is co-leading Customer Success at Carrot Fertility. He holds a BS from Tufts University and an MS from Virginia Commonwealth University, and spends his free time with his wife and two kids exploring the Bay Area.

The Building Blocks of an Account Plan

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By Ashley Hall

Account Plans. They are just like going to gym: We should be doing more! Just like exercise, the more you schedule your account planning time and respect that time on your calendar the more successful you will be.

No single account plan can fit all clients across all industries, and compliment all platforms and services. Try as we might to have a standard approach to all our clients, at the end of the day they truly are all unique. Luckily, regardless of the variables, your team can define the basics of a comprehensive account planning approach.

Here are my non-negotiable requirements when it comes to building an impactful account plan.

Org Chart

My first step to building an account is always defining the team and their titles. Understanding your customer's internal organization is a huge part of your role. It’s your responsibility to be able to tell the story of the client and define their roles and goals. Think in terms of who is your main point of contact, your “champion,” their peers, and also two levels of leadership above them. The more contacts and touch points, the better.

Reasons for Purchase

Understanding their motivation for purchase helps set the tone of the relationship and gets you started on the right foot. That understanding sets you up to deliver upon their first success criteria. I love being able to look back on those original struggles or challenges months down the road and tout how we were able to solve for them. In other cases, if they are still struggling with those same challenges, you can highlight some red flags to tackle.

(Evolving) Success Criteria

In addition to the original reason for purchase I always like to highlight 2 or 3 other areas where they are trying to improve. This way our calls are impactful and goal-driven, not just “check in calls.” Again setting these criteria, and achieving them over time, fuels the content for future impact reviews and QBRs.

Red Flags

Highlighting red flags is another huge part of your role. You shouldn’t be solely responsible for solving them, but these are important to raise up to your management. Staffing changes, a high volume of feature requests, and escalated support issues are prime examples of red flags to monitor.

Initiatives & Next Steps

Next steps are such a huge help for me in my day-to-day. They are a reminder of what we are working on, and if I owe an action item or waiting for the client. Initiatives can be unique to our working relationship or their current team. Being able to recall and support a larger initiative of theirs will show the customer that you’re aligned with their current needs and supporting their bottom line.

Account plans provide your team and your clients continuity and structure. Account plans allow you to collaborate with your team internally, and are the basis of knowledge-sharing when it’s time to transition accounts from onboarding, to success, and at your next promotion. While they can sound daunting at first, this is an important initiative to begin. Start with the basics and you can always revisit and refine over time.

Looking for more tips on how to build account plans? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, including our upcoming classes on Customer Goals & Outcomes and Kicking off the Relationship, which are both a part of our popular CSM Training Program. For most information on this and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Ashley Hall - Ashley loves to lead account management and success teams; from training newbies to building processes out of chaos to working directly with customers. She is passionate about helping customers achieve goals. With an eye on the future she is a powerhouse in building scaleable frameworks that support and drive growth. Ashley is one of the founding advisors to The Success League, and serves as a regular instructor for the company's CSM Training Program. She also serves as a customer success manager for ProsperWorks, and brings her work experiences to her articles and classes. Ashley holds a BA from the University of Colorado, Boulder and enjoys living in San Francisco while traveling all over the world.

Customer Success: You Messed Up, Now What?

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We are delighted to be joined again by guest blogger Manoj Jonna, from YayPay, with his perspective on mistakes. We know you'll find this helpful!

By Manoj Jonna

“To err is human.”

Businesses make mistakes, often. Customer success teams are one of the first groups to bear the brunt of business missteps. But what happens when customer success teams make mistakes? What do you do when you are the pitcher and the catcher?

We’ve done many things right here at YayPay. As a budding customer success team, we’ve also had our moments of introspection and learning. We learned that adopting a standard strategy can help you bounce back from your mistakes and turn things around.

5-Step Model

We’ve distilled our strategy into a repeatable 5-Step model. The model has the following key components – the five A’s.

  1. Assess

  2. Acknowledge

  3. Analyze

  4. Assist

  5. Amend
     

Assess:

When you get a disappointing note by email or a dreaded phone call from your customer, pause for a second. Fight the urge to react at that very instant.  Although the need for speed is key, we need to balance expediency with thoughtfulness. This is the time to assess the nature and gravity of the issue. This is not the time to analyze in-depth because you don’t have access to all the information. Perhaps your customer simply wants to be heard. Perhaps the problem is more serious that you anticipated. You do, however, need to have a baseline understanding of the issue at hand.

Acknowledge:

The next step in the process is to acknowledge what your customer has to say. Stick with the medium of communication that your customer prefers. You know your customers best. Pick up that phone, get into a car, type that email. Whatever you do, ensure that your customer feels heard. In many cases, the situation may very well warrant a sincere apology. This stage is also your opportunity to gather any missing pieces of information from your customer. Once your customer feels heard, you will have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Reassure your customer that you will resolve the issue and provide a timeline for resolution.

Analyze:

This is stage where you get to take a breather. Your customer is appeased, for now. You are equipped with the right information. You can now move from a cursory assessment of the issue to a deep-dive analysis. Break it down into chunks. Determine what went wrong, how things went wrong, why things went wrong, how things will be fixed, who will make the fixes, and how similar issues will be prevented in the future. Communicate your findings with your customer. If you need to make changes to your resolution timeline, this is time to let your customer know.

Assist:

This is the most straightforward stage in the model. Your analysis is complete and now it is time to execute on your findings. Work with your internal teams and your customer to resolve the issue. Don’t fall into the temptation of assuming that the issue is resolved. Confirm with your customer and get complete buy-in.

Amend:

This is by far the most important part of the process. The 5-Step model is built on implicit trust between you and your customer. In Step 2, when you acknowledge your mistake, you also make an implicit promise that you won’t repeat that mistake. You only have one bite at the apple. Amending your existing processes, product, or technology so that you won’t repeat the same mistake closes the feedback loop. Without this key step, the model falls apart.

While there is no perfect recipe that solves all customer success challenges, having a repeatable model will provide much needed structure in times of crisis.

Need practical tips on how best to approach your customer once a mistake has been made? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, like our upcoming Difficult Conversations class (8/9). For more information for this and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io 

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Manoj Jonna - Manoj Jonna is Vice President of Customer Success at YayPay, an Accounts Receivables Automation Platform. After spending nearly a decade working with fast growing early stage and mid-market companies, Manoj has developed a keen interest in finance transformation. Prior to YayPay, he worked as investment banker at Deloitte Corporate Finance where he represented businesses on M&A transactions. As a former CPA at Grant Thornton, Manoj worked closely with CFOs on business process improvement. He is a graduate of Georgetown Law.