8 Keys to Preparing CSMs for Challenging Customer Conversations

July 26, 2022

Colby Bock

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy, Voice of the Team

Customers find their way into companies through various channels at different times. Their experience with your company and distinct use of products and services will always be unique. Companies tend to approach all customers with “one size fits all” processes and understanding. Instead, I recommend meeting customers as they are, instead of how we would like them to be.

Even the most seasoned CSM will have to navigate a challenging customer situation every now and again. CS leaders can prepare CSMs for those difficult conversations by first elevating the CSM’s knowledge and building their skillset. Training and certification programs for CSMs or partnering them with mentors can help you further support them.

Through my years of experience coaching CSMs in working directly with customers, I’ve put together this list of proven tips to help my fellow leaders of Customer Success to guide their teams through challenging customer situations and better equip them for success.

1. Listen to understand

First, help your CSMs to take a step back and listen on a deeper level. Customers may have a series of problems that are indicative of a systemic issue, or it may be a “pile-up approach” to push on specific items troubling them.  By allowing the customer to vent, CSMs can leverage polling or discovery questions to determine the foundation of their issue. Additionally, attention to the comprehensive nature of their concerns will allow a CSM to see a holistic picture. By listening to understand, CSMs will enhance their understanding of their customers’ true challenges and objectives, build rapport, and develop a deeper level of partnership in the long run.

2. Create memorable moments

Every situation is an opportunity to create a positive and memorable experience for your customer. CSMs should think about what makes a situation memorable for them. Consideration, confidence, and competence are the hallmarks of relationship building and establishing harmonious two-way connections. Coach CSMs to identify what approaches their customer responds best to, so they can make every interaction attuned to that customer’s unique needs, solidifying a strong partnership.

3. Use techniques to reduce the stressful anticipation

Practice and preparation are the keys to reducing stress around customer meetings. Have CSMs rehearse the upcoming conversation with you or with a peer for strategic feedback. Visualizing success can take the emotional anticipation out of presentations and looking forward beyond the call to a resolution and path of success can reduce apprehension around the conversation itself.

4. Don’t overexplain internal processes

Many times, customers just want to be heard. When something isn’t working or taking longer than expected, CSMs tend to overexplain the business’s internal processes as filler conversation. Instead, remind them to be direct and open about the situation and next steps. Then, they can more effectively utilize their time by conceptualizing creative workarounds that may be beneficial to your customer.

5. Remember, it’s just news

There are situations where CSMs dread speaking to a customer when they don’t have a solution yet or can’t accommodate a request. They may be meeting to inform the customer of slow progress or “bad news.” This can lead anxiety to build from anticipating the customer’s response. It’s important for CSMs to remember “it’s just news,” and that customers need this information to make relevant decisions regarding their role and business. If you can help your CSMs take the emotion out of the equation, they’ll be more effective at delivering a variety of information to their customers. Oftentimes attentive listening, ingenuity, and even referring them to other solutions, will help drive that partnership too.

6. Lean on strong escalation processes

CS leaders should build clear, concise escalation processes to support the CSM team and ensure their CSMs know when and how to leverage that path. If you have a solid framework in place, created with cross-functional commitment from your peers in Product, Support, Finance, Legal, and Sales, your CSMs are much less likely to get flustered.

7. Advocate for your customer…when it makes sense

It can be easy for CSMs to fall into the trap of catering to whoever is pressing the hardest. Since CSMs should be as proactive as possible, to build strong partnerships, let them know that it’s okay to step back to analyze the most effective use of their time. Before a CSM goes running to Product or Support to prioritize a customer need or request, help them assess the situation by providing them strong escalation and prioritization processes.

When you are advocating internally for your customers, you still must know your business and your boundaries. I’ve worked for companies that end up running around reactively all day trying to put out fires for their customers. This can be extremely disruptive to the business and can create a reactive culture that creates drag on the company and their goals.

8. You can’t please everyone

As much as we want to please every customer, some may just not be a good fit for your business. While CSMs should always perform their due diligence and live up to your contractual agreement, some mismatched vendor/customer relationships can create turmoil and disruption and not be worth it for either party. Help your CSMs to identify these situations, determine if it’s most effective to part ways, and not take it personally.

In closing

Remember, and remind your CSMs, that each customer is unique. Listening to understand and leading with direct communication and transparency will unite CSMs and their customers. This will also open opportunities to improve and strengthen the partnership between both companies.

Help your CSMs to embrace the techniques I’ve outlined above, so they can find a stronger sense of control and focus within their role, and ultimately drive higher levels of success working with their customers.