Feb 10, 2023

Read Time 5 min

What’s your customer’s love language? Disruptive questions will tell you.

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As a customer, there’s nothing better than working with a CSM who really “gets you.” Someone who understands your needs and knows what your perfect business review looks like.

However, the path to achieving that idyllic customer connection isn’t always straightforward. Different ways of communicating and defining love, aka value, can sour otherwise great relationships.

The good news is the secret to unlocking better customer bonds is far more formula than fate.

In our webinar “The five customer love languages,” Bob London of Chief Listening Officers borrowed from Gary Chapman’s seminal book “The 5 love languages” to reveal the various ways customers experience “vendor love.”

Bob shared techniques, like how to ask disruptive questions, to help CS teams discover their customers’ love language. You can get the full list of questions in the webinar. My favorite: What’s the one thing your company is absolutely counting on you to get done this year?

Bob’s interviewing methods sparked a lot of discussion about the nuances of asking customers candid questions. The Q&A session covered what to do if you feel uncomfortable asking customers about your competitors, whether you should use disruptive questions in NPS follow-up, how to get customers to talk about goals beyond the usage of your product, and more.

Discovering how your customers define value using disruptive questions with Bob London

Q: You recommend asking the question: If you got a call from a competitor tomorrow, how would you react on a scale of one to five (one = ignore and five = respond). If a CSM feels uncomfortable being this direct, is there another way to approach this topic?

A: I would say, without sounding like a jerk, my job is never to sell someone on asking a particular question. My job is to explain to you why they work and give you my experience that they do work, and to tell you that the questions have been formulated in a way that reflects a lot of lessons learned.

The short answer is you can tweak the questions that I’ve given you. But what I’ve learned is if I tell people that too often, then one person will say to a customer, “We’re getting coaching and the coach told me to ask you this question.” I wouldn’t do that.

If you want to reword the question about competition, hit me up on LinkedIn and I’ll give it some thought. Because I think the bigger question that I would ask you is, why are you uncomfortable? I’m not challenging you. I want to understand more about why people are uncomfortable.

I understand why it might not feel completely natural or it feels bold to ask the question, but I wouldn’t let that keep you from asking the question just the way it is.

Q: Would you recommend using disruptive questions as follow-up questions to an NPS survey?

A: These are designed for conversations and being very open-ended and letting the customer talk and go where they want to go. But I have been open to having them used as a survey. I do think there’s some applicability.

For the competitor question (shown in the question above), if you ask that question and give them a one-to-five scale, anybody who says “Five: I would go talk to a competitor pretty quickly,” gives you a chance to understand that and follow up. That could be very valuable and very important. I’ve gone from being very anti-survey to being very pragmatic and saying, you know what, I understand we all need to get data at scale, so let’s figure out how to integrate these questions into a survey.

Q: As a CSM, when I pose disruptive questions to some of my customers to learn more about their business, they respond by addressing goals related to our product. How can I get them to talk about objectives beyond that?

A: Append the question explicitly by saying, “What’s the one thing that absolutely has to be off your whiteboard in the next 90 days—independent of what we do? If it has to do with our solution, great. But I really want to understand everything you’re responsible for.”

I’ve had that same experience where I say, “If I could sneak into the board meeting, what’s the biggest priority or challenge they’re talking about?” They’ll start saying, “I don’t know if they’d be talking about your productivity app.” I’m like no, that’s not what I’m asking about. I’m saying in general, independent of what we do. And that’s fine. Part of the process is educating them.

The reason they assume you’re asking about your product is because that’s what every vendor they’ve ever met with does. It gives us an opportunity to differentiate ourselves by pointing out, no, I’m not just asking about our product. Forget our product. I want to know what your world looks like.

Q: Is the question “If I could sneak into your board or executive meeting, what do you think is the biggest priority or challenge they’re discussing?” applicable to startups and mature companies?

A: Both. 100% both. It really doesn’t matter. The difference is, in a startup company, sometimes you’re still trying to find your way in the market. Product-market fit is not etched in stone, and that speaks more to how you use the answers.

Q: How can you approach these questions if you have a customer who works in a highly regulated industry and says they’re limited in what they can share with anyone outside their company?

A: If that’s the case, then you have to specify that you’re not looking for something along the lines of corporate strategy, but more of an operational objective. I wouldn’t clarify the question that way while asking it though. What I would do is at the beginning of the call, say to them, you’re going to get questions that you’ve never heard before. If there’s something you feel uncomfortable with (and by the way, I say this all the time, no one ever takes me up on it) then just let me know, or you can skip the question.

They’re not supposed to be giving you trade secrets. If you ask the questions the way I’m recommending them, they will talk about their priorities and the company’s strategy in a way that serves your needs without them giving away anything sensitive.

Q: How can Customer Success teams transition from using macros (canned responses) to a more direct and personalized approach when answering customer questions?

A: There are scripted answers for a reason. Hopefully, they are the right answer that’s going to make the customer feel heard and give them some value. But as is noted in the question, we work in a world that’s mostly help centers. I don’t know if that means you’re in customer support, but that’s a little bit different.

I would say if your job puts you in a situation where you have time with customers other than being reactive, then that’s when you can use these more disruptive questions to take a step back at the relationship level. But if you’re in a situation where you’re working on volume and scale and you have to get through customers quickly and get to them, then I think that’s just a different setup and I’m not sure if there is room to ask disruptive questions.

Better conversations lead to better value

Our work to become better listeners is never truly done. If Bob’s discovery techniques have you feeling like your conversation game could use some additional TLC, we’ve got just the thing.

In our webinar, “How to have more strategic customer conversations,” Bob shares his go-to questions for getting the most honest responses and tips on “listening between the lines” to grow your understanding and spot new opportunities to add value.

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