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There’s an old joke about a naval officer who sees a blip on the radar and gets on the radio to tell them to change course. The person on the other end of the radio refuses, telling the naval officer that he should change his course instead. Indignant, the captain of the ship takes the radio and says, “to the vessel at bearing 295, this is the captain of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. You will divert your course or you will be fired upon.” Then the response comes over the radio: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

The point is that communication is crucial. If you’re not on the same page as your customers, you’ll just be talking past them and you won’t accomplish anything. In the business world, that means understanding what clients and customers are saying and responding to them in a way that shows them you’re listening. There’s no exact science to what to say to someone, but we can offer some tips.

Talk Like a Human Being

The person on the phone shouldn’t sound like the emotionless face of a big company, they should sound like a person. In general (like we do in this blog), we tell people to use “we” pronouns when speaking on behalf of the company. But there’s a big difference between this blog and a one-on-one conversation.

Speaking as an individual feels personal and relatable. It feels like you’re working on the customer’s behalf, not the company’s.

It also helps to mirror the same words that the customer is using. You probably use some specific terms internally with your colleagues that the average customer wouldn’t use in their day-to-day life — most companies do. But insisting on the “proper” vocabulary, correcting the customer, or ignoring their phrasing makes it seem like you’re not listening.

Here’s an example. Let’s say an order is late arriving to a customer, so they call to ask about the holdup. If they say, “my tracking number says that the package hasn’t left the warehouse yet,” it won’t help to tell them, “the shipment is leaving our fulfillment center today.” Instead, it sounds like a canned line. The customer gets the impression that you’re memorizing what you should say rather than actually listening to their problem.

Instead, use the same phrasing the customer used in the first place. If you respond with “it looks like that package left our warehouse this morning and should be reaching you by Tuesday,” it shows them you’re addressing their specific concern head-on.

Another useful approach is to use “relational” words. Words like please, thank you, and sorry demonstrate concern and empathy, while words like yes and okay simply demonstrate agreement. This all sounds pretty intuitive, but word choice matters — and it can make or break a customer interaction.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Charge

You’re the expert in this situation. Whether you’re calling the customer to help onboard them to a new product, address questions, or handle concerns that they’ve raised, there’s a reason that they’re talking to you.

By all means, start your conversation on an empathetic note. Use relational words to show the customer that you understand their situation, that you understand the challenges they’re facing and the goals that they’re chasing. But be careful that your tone isn’t too apologetic, or you may lose your authority. Instead, be sure to utilize solving verbs (get, go, call, do, permit, allow, resolve, etc.) as your interaction with your customer unfolds.

When you do take charge, be specific. If there’s a specific item or feature that the customer is concerned with, use that same terminology — “blue button-down” is more specific than “shirt.” Being specific helps further show the customer that you’re not just reading from a script. You’re listening to their precise needs and addressing them head-on.

You might find yourself in a situation where the customer is asking you for a recommendation. Maybe you offer a wide array of products and they’re having trouble narrowing them down. Again, be specific. Rather than phrases like “I love this one” or “a lot of people have enjoyed this one,” tell customers “I recommend our Premium subscription level for a business of your size” and be sure to include the why. Customers are free to choose what they want, and you shouldn’t pressure them into one option or another — but if they ask you for help, they want to know what you think. Don’t shy away from telling them.

What Not to Say, and How to Say it Better

We don’t want to script everything you say to a customer — that would defeat the point of trying to foster a more authentic relationship in the first place. There are a few phrases, however, that you’re better off avoiding entirely.

I Will

At first glance, “I will” seems like a good thing to say, right? It’s a promise to the customer. The problem is that customers don’t want to be told what you will do, they want to be told what you’re doing.

“I will” is too vague — it sounds like an empty promise. Instead of using “I will,” try to fill out your statement with useful, actionable information. Don’t say “I’ll send you the contract,” say “I’ve started drafting your contract, you should see it in the next 24 hours.” Don’t say “I’ll forward your suggestion to our team,” say “I’ve added your suggestion to a Google Doc where we track feature requests.” Avoiding “I will” statements forces you to come up with something more specific and more helpful.

No

We realize that sometimes you have to tell your customers “no.” The problems start when you tell them no without further context. Maybe they want a feature you don’t offer or a price point you can’t approve. In any case, the customer has thought about this request and has taken the time to contact you. They know what they want and why they want it.

The best thing to do is to meet them halfway — tell them why the answer is no. Whether the prices are set at corporate, the software can’t support that feature, the weather is preventing your shipping from going out, or whatever else the problem may be, there’s a reason for it other than “we don’t feel like helping you.” Customers will appreciate your candor, even if they don’t like the answer.

If you can suggest a workaround or an alternative, that’s even better. It shows that you genuinely care about solving the customer’s problem and helping them out, even if you can’t do exactly what they’re asking.

You Need To

Avoid telling a customer what they need to do. Whether you’re onboarding them as a new customer or following up with additional educational materials, you don’t know exactly what’s going on at their end — their technical ability, their familiarity with the product, or what else is impacting their day.

Telling a customer what they “need to” do sounds like you’re putting off helping them. They don’t want to be told exactly what to do, they want you to get them to the point where they can do the work themselves. Sometimes you do need the customer to help you out by checking something on their end, logging in, or providing you with other info, but your goal should be to encourage self-sufficiency.

The best course is to treat the customer like a member of your team. Remember: your goal is to help them understand your product so well that they don’t need your help anymore. Instead of telling them what they need to do, walk them through it with phrases like “now we can set up…” or “the best solution is if we…” Treating them like equals will show them that you’re on their side.

Signing As The Team

We know to use the customer’s name (or at least a friendly greeting) when we talk to them, but remember that customers don’t like feeling like they’re talking to a corporate monolith. To keep your interactions personal, sign off on emails with the name of the person handling the reply. If you’re on a big team, use the name of the team leader. Just don’t use “The [company] team.”

It’s All About the Customer

When it comes down to it, the whole idea behind a Customer Success team is to help the customer — whether you’re helping them choose a product, install a piece of software, set up their purchase, learn a new feature, or troubleshoot a problem.

A happy customer is a repeat customer, and the best way to make them happy is to make sure their needs are met. Since you can’t be there in person most of the time, you’ll have to handle those interactions over email or over the phone. A lot of communication is lost when you can’t see the person you’re communicating with — body language, facial expressions, even tone of voice. That’s why it’s so important to be careful with the number one tool at your disposal: your words.

There was a time when a business’ relationship with its customers basically ended at the point of purchase. You convinced customers that you had the best product, made the sale, and that was the end of it. Those days are long gone.

Customers today are spoilt for choice. In every area of business, they have more brands to choose from. They’re increasingly aware of who they’re buying from and what those companies represent — way beyond just the product itself.

Why Customer Success is So Important

All that choice means that it’s more difficult — and more important — for you to stay at the top of customers’ minds. It’s crucial that you communicate with your customers, frequently and across multiple channels, in order to remain their business of choice and create a strong relationship.

Happy customers become repeat customers, and retaining customers is just as important (if not more so) than acquiring new ones. Experts peg the cost of acquiring a new customer at five times the cost of retaining a customer. Translation: it pays to keep your existing customers happy.

Our reasoning is spelled out in something we call the Customer Lifecycle. You can read more about the Customer Lifecycle here, but the shorthand version goes like this:

  1. Onboarding — you welcome new users to your ranks, set up your product, and help them begin using it.
  2. Adoption — customers start to become aware of how much value your product provides, and begin using it in their everyday lives.
  3. Usage — customers are fully comfortable with your product, are using the full breadth of features, and have integrated your product into their day-to-day workflows.
  4. Value Realization — your product exceeds the expectations the customer had for it, providing a positive ROI and showing them their investment was worth the money.
  5. Advocacy — customers are so happy with your product that they recommend it to friends and colleagues.

Advocacy is the endgame. Future prospects will put far more weight on a recommendation from a trusted friend or colleague than on your marketing materials, so creating advocates is one of your top priorities. That’s why Customer Success — not just for the biggest customers at the top, but for each and every one of them — is so vital to the future of your company.

Treat Customers as Individuals

When communicating with your customers, you can’t just paint in broad strokes. Communication with your customers only works if they feel heard, noticed, and appreciated — that won’t happen if your customers feel like they’re all being lumped together.

That means not sending them offers for far-flung locations or for products that won’t work for businesses of their size. But it’s more detailed than that. Each customer is a person — even B2B clients have a human being at the other end making business decisions. That person has likes and dislikes and specific circumstances and needs.

A well-maintained CRM is crucial for keeping track of all this. Each of your customers came to your product in a different way, through a different series of touchpoints and platforms. They want slightly different things out of your product. Their short- and long-term business goals vary. Keep notes in your CRM on who your customers are, what they care about, and what they need from you.

How Are You Supposed to Keep Track of All That Customer Info?

It’s an intimidating task, to be sure. Even if you have detailed notes on every customer’s specific circumstances, preferences, and needs, you can’t possibly spend the time and resources to write individual emails or serve individualized ads to each one of them.

That’s where automation comes in. Automation software can track the various traits of your customers, from the age of their account to the size of their business, from their job title to their location, and hundreds of others.

We’re not advocating that you send a personalized email to every single customer on your list. Instead, the approach you should be taking is to set up criteria for the people you do want to follow up with individually.

For example, you might want to send out a short-term checkup message to customers who have been onboarded to make sure they’re not having any trouble with the software you set up for them. You don’t want to just sit back and wait for customers to contact you — only about one in 25 customers with a complaint will actually reach out about it, and the rest might just silently churn. And you don’t want to pester customers who don’t need help.

Following up manually would get the job done, and you could make a note in your CRM that those customers have been contacted, but it’s time-consuming. You could also segment your email lists, but of course those segments can quickly become outdated — new customers aren’t new for long.

What’s the solution? Automated Customer Success software that can tell you exactly who needs to be contacted, when, and how. Let’s stick with the same example. Based on your previous usage data, you decide to seek out customers who:

  • Signed up between 30 and 90 days ago
  • Completed the educational materials you sent
  • Logged in within the last week
  • Logged in more than 10 times since they signed up
  • Haven’t been contacted since they were onboarded
  • Haven’t started using some specific feature, indicating that they may not know how
  • This is not a suggestion to automate every step of the process — there’s no denying the value of a human touch when reaching out, whether it’s by email or phone. But sorting through databases is a waste of your Customer Success team’s time.

Automating the tedious parts of your Customer Success workflows isn’t replacing in-person communication, it’s enhancing it — by freeing up time that would otherwise be spent behind the scenes and providing all the useful, individual information you need to talk to each customer, you enable your Customer Success team to do what they do best: keep customers happy.

Learn more – Want more insight on moving toward automating your CRM? Read our whitepaper right here.

Newsflash: Most Sales and Customer Success (CS) professionals can’t read minds.

Okay – that’s probably not surprising. But it seems to be a common assumption when there is no defined strategy for handing off a customer from Sales to CS.

Nailing this hand-off is critical to ensuring the customer experience is positive from the start. When you get it right, your customer (and your team) reach desired outcomes faster. When you get it wrong, a host of issues arise, jeopardizing your customer’s perceived value of your products and services…which, of course, negatively impacts renewal.

In a recent LinkedIn article, How to nail your Sales-to-Customer Success hand-off, Manish M elaborates on the risks that can become a reality when the transition is rocky:

  1. “The Customer can feel misunderstood and unappreciated when the Customer Success Manager (CSM) enters the account without proper context. The momentum built during the sales process and the excitement the customer has for using your product can dwindle rapidly.”
  2. “Going in unprepared and asking redundant questions to the customer can severely diminish the CSM’s credibility. The CSM starts off on a completely wrong foot, and most of his time is spent firefighting and re-building trust with the customer in addition to performing the onboarding tasks.”
  3. “Lack of accountability for the hand-off tasks can lead to confusion within the Sales and CSM teams and leads to finger pointing when things go wrong.”

So how do you get it right? Sheik Ayube, Director of Business Development at ESG, recently approached members of the Customer Success Forum for advice on transitioning a customer from Sales to CS. His request garnered a lot of interesting opinions and some enlightening personal experiences that illustrate common (and avoidable) pitfalls. Yet when I boiled it all down, three common themes stuck out.

Communication

The need for communication between Sales and Customer Success is a no-brainer. However, how to communicate effectively is a bit more complex. Hands down, the biggest communication complaint involved requests for information that was either unnecessary or already known. Trent Young suggests, “Keep it succinct and focus on key factors for success. Ask for insight that isn’t easily found, like who or how decisions are made…Show up to the customer call with this information and validate key points, don’t ask things which are already known to your organization.”

Likewise, having a defined internal communication process will help ensure the right information is passed from Sales to CS. Julie Weill Persofsky explains, “The internal transition should cover the situation, pain, impact and critical event uncovered in the sales process. The most important thing is to make the client feel as though you have gotten up to speed on everything they shared during the sales process and aren’t starting from scratch.”

Documentation

Process and documentation go hand-in-hand. Developing a process is meaningless if it isn’t documented to ensure consistency and accountability. Where should you start? Ian Hurlock advises, “Firstly, implement a handover form that salespeople must fill out before closing the opportunity in the CRM. This adds accountability and will capture most of the context from the sales deal while it’s still top of mind. I would then recommend implementing an internal handover meeting to get more context on key contacts, champions and blockers and then have the salesperson on any customer kick-off call to make sure that you can keep the customer and the sales team accountable for any verbal commitments that may not have been captured in email or the CRM.”

Customer point of view

Customers typically don’t see themselves as doing business with different units within a company. They bought a solution from a company and expect to be trained, nurtured and supported by that company – regardless of org charts and silos. So, the transition from one point of contact to another throughout the lifecycle can be confusing and discouraging if not handled properly.

Don’t let internal issues cause you to lose sight of the ultimate goal – helping customers be successful. As Dave Jackson points out, “The better question is, ‘how do you bring the organization together around a single journey that encompasses the entire buyer lifecycle?’ Don’t solve your problem; solve the customer’s problem.”

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to smoothly transitioning customers from Sales to Customer Success. What works for your customers and your teams will rely on a bevy of factors. What I’ve laid out here is only a small sample of the ideas shared in Sheik’s thread.

Learn more – Can the caliber of your Customer Success Managers impact the quality of your Sales to CS hand-off? Check out our white paper, 10 Simple* Traits of an Awesome CSM to explore the key attributes that define a successful CSM and how to ensure your team embraces them.

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” While this wise quote may have come from the unlikely lips of Drake (award-winning hip-hop artist for the uninitiated), it couldn’t more accurately describe the importance of Customer Success (CS). In fact, it’s also a solid place to start answering the question of what is customer journey mapping.

If only we encountered more companies who embrace a similar mindset when it comes to knowing how customers experience their products and services. We would see impressive strides in customer engagement and customer retention.

However, so many businesses rely on reactive measures —when the actual goal should be identifying customer journey mapping tools and proactively defining what success looks like to customers at each stage of the customer lifecycle.

Put the “pro” in proactive

We can’t entirely blame teams within those companies though. There are times when you have to play the proverbial hand your dealt — from limited resources to tight budgets — but it is possible to overcome the stumbling blocks forcing them to rely on reactive data.

That said, it is possible to still go through the step-by-step exercise of understanding what your customer experiences at every turn.

But why? Because we said so! Actually, it’s a fair question. The simple answer is to create a blueprint for success to reap the following benefits:

  • Acquire appropriate data to establish high-water marks
  • Harness the power to constantly assess incoming data
  • Justification to systematically and strategically advance your company
  • Discipline to avoid random micro changes with minimal impact
  • Freedom to flex resources to capitalize on opportunities and course correct

Overcoming stumbling blocks

The path to developing a customer journey map is littered with obstacles. Diving into a lifecycle exploration requires vision and drive. Just a few to watch out for along the way include information overload, analysis paralysis, and imbalance between planning and action.

Prioritizing your strategy is key, and journey maps help organizations enhance customer experience improvements.Answering some fundamental questions can clarify your prioritization process quickly:

  • Which improvements have the biggest impact?
  • Which improvements have the highest degree of complexity with the shortest/longest time to accomplish?
  • What are the biggest obstacles to improve a process point?
  • Where is the lifecycle performance weakest/strongest?
  • Where are the gaps between what customers say and their behaviors?

Typically, when organizations take the time to ask tough questions, the results can be game changing. The areas of improvement often fall in two key buckets (1) lack of organizational alignment and (2) not ready or willing to face the brutal truth.

The customer journey map blueprint in four steps

Moving from reactive customer support to proactive customer experience isn’t easy.So take a candid assessment and follow a blueprint for getting started.

1. Promote organizational alignment:

Build a cross-functional team, with representatives from the groups that own sales/marketing, support, policies, operations, product development and other services that drive what the customer sees and experiences.

2. Confront the truth:

Uncover and activate the insights that haven’t been identified. Gather external research that’s relevant to your market. Interview customers, analyze data from your systems, and gather analytics on web traffic, and more.

3. Move from reactive to proactive:

Changing your core customer philosophy from reactive to proactive is the biggest obstacle your company will face. It’s also the one that bears the most fruit.

4. Put your company on the map:

The customer journey mapping process will spotlight organizational gaps, help you figure out where you need help and reveal growth and retention strategies you could never have discovered any other way. Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their enterprise relationships without human interaction. It’s time and resource intensive and corners just can’t be cut. But it’s the best way to put your company on the map.

Ready to embark on the customer-mapping journey? Download our white paper, Putting Your Customers (and Your Company) on the Map, to take a more in-depth look at what’s required to put your customer on the map and your company on the road to a better destination.

Learn more – Learn how to build an effective customer journey map. This guide will help you.