Aug 11, 2016

Read Time 7 min

Key questions for your next CS hire, tips for handling unreasonable customers, keeping a customer when your champion leaves


Fighting Churn Newsletter

Recognition of the value of customer success is advancing rapidly and this discipline requires a new breed of professionals. Yet until more candidates see that a career which includes customer success can be as fulfilling as one which emphasizes finance or marketing, we will see a gap between the number of openings and the number of applicants.

Questions for CSM Hires

Finding the right people to fill these new roles is a challenge, yet at every stage in the hiring process you have an opportunity to make your company even more resilient and valuable. Customer success is still so new that we’re seeing many individuals switching over from careers in Sales, Marketing, Support and more. But what matters most are the qualities of each of your candidates, since these transcend title and location.

To isolate the best candidates, there are two key questions you want to focus on:

  • WHY are they pursuing a career in customer success? Customer success is new, it’s hot, it’s trending…and these are the absolute worst reasons to apply for a job in the field. Just like customer success is a profit center for your business, it needs to enlighten the lives of your applicants long before they start working with your company. The best applicants for new positions in customer success have already been working in the discipline for years, even if they don’t know it:
    • They spend their waking hours thinking about what makes for an ideal customer, not just how to close more deals.
    • They’ve decoupled customer success from customer happiness, realizing that the former – not the latter – is their ultimate responsibility.
    • They are masters at cross-functional communication: they recognize that a company’s solution affects far more than just its end-users, and they’re glad to invest the time and energy to make sure everyone understands its unique value proposition.
  • What are their CAREER GOALS? Here’s the catch and it’s not specific to customer success: just doing the same damn thing over and over again for 5 years (yet alone 30) does not make for a thriving career. We’re always learning and our work needs to keep pace with what we learn or we will burn out, flame out or worse. Once you invite the finalists in for face-to-face interviews, start thinking of where they might fit in your organization – and your industry – 18 months from now (forget 5 years, that’s an eternity):
    • Are they on fire for customer success? Could you see them advancing from Customer Success Manager to Director of Customer Success to CCO?
    • Perhaps they’re a bit more technically-minded and they’re already suggesting ideas for how to improve your product that are light-years beyond what your current team is working on?
    • While they might be perfect for customer success, your responsibility as a Leader is not to confine them to that role merely because that’s what you need right now. Business is evolving too rapidly for us to ignore the treasures laid at our feet. As a Leader, you have a responsibility to make sure your customers are successful now and always.

After finding good matches for these two questions, there is the final important question of culture and how the candidates will fit into your team’s dynamic and overall place in your company. Check out the full read to learn more about what to look for in prime candidates.

Tips for handling unreasonable customers

Fact of life: customers can be irrational. They overvalue what they already have, they react differently based on how an issue is framed and they are less satisfied with decisions when they’ve been given more options to choose from. However, these well-known forms of customer irrationality are often easy to work around and can even be used to enhance customer experiences.

Unreasonableness is an entirely different matter.

With unreasonable customers, appeals to logic are subsumed by an emotional intransigence that is often hard to break through. Unreasonable customers are inherently stubborn; they are unwilling to accept what we (and we like to think) most others would accept as obvious. Because unreasonable customers are detached from reality, they are among the most difficult customers to work with.

So what is a customer success pro to do? Try following this five step process for working with unreasonable customers. The techniques are most powerful when used in order but, like all customer service techniques, should be adapted to the specific circumstances.

  • Guide them gently back to Earth: Sometimes customers are only unreasonable because they are angry and have temporarily lost perspective. Use techniques like active listening and letting the customer punch himself out to help the customer not only feel heard but also to begin opening up to other perspectives.
  • Give them a difference lens: Sometimes a customer’s perspective is skewed by emotion, sometimes it comes from not being able to see the exchange through a different lens. Once you have guided the customer to a place where they are listening (at least partially), explain the why behind the situation. Don’t make excuses but if your reasons are sound, they can often help the customer see things in a different light.
  • Sell them on an alternative: The nature of unreasonable customers is that they only want what they want; they are not interested in the other options you present. If you’ve followed the first two steps above, many unreasonable customers will be in a more receptive place and willing to entertain alternative solutions. But don’t just present the alternatives; sell the alternatives. Tell the customer why your option can be more appealing. Explain to the customer how you can deliver better and more consistently working inside of your existing systems. If at all possible, present your options as superior alternatives to what the customer is asking for.
  • Draw the line: If a customer remains unreasonable, sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand. You shouldn’t do it out of frustration or because you’ve “hit your limit” but instead because it’s obvious that nothing else is going to work. However, be prepared to lose the customer at this point or at least for them to remember the exchange unfavorably.
  • Say goodbye: Sometimes, unreasonable customers are also abusive and aggressive. When you believe that drawing the line is only going to delay the inevitable and subject your team to more abuse or if you’ve drawn the line before and you are being met with more unreasonable demands, then it is time to say goodbye. Assuming your business can handle the loss of that customer, the impact on morale and the time that will be freed up to focus on more deserving customers can often make cutting the customer loose the wisest choice.

This last step – saying goodbye when it’s appropriate – can be the most difficult; as customer success pros we want to be able to make everyone successful. But if you find yourself nearing this position with a customer, we recommend checking out this read and this read for guidance on when and how to get rid of a truly bad customer.

How to keep a customer when your champion leaves the company

Not too long ago, Rachel English, Director of Insights for Customer Success at Zuora, faced a challenge that all customer success pros have or will eventually have to deal with: potentially losing a customer when your champion leaves the company.

I almost lost a customer - Zuora success story

So what did Rachel do when this all-too-common and very difficult situation happened to her? Her full story is definitely worth a read (she walks you through exactly what she did and its textbook customer success) but here are the important take-aways that helped her survive this volatile situation:

  • Visibility into and automation based on ALL of the data you have on your customers (who they are, what they’ve bought, their usage patterns and the results they’re achieving) is critical. Without that, you’re truly flying blind in your retention efforts. Proactive awareness of a potentially bad situation can be the difference between failure and success.
  • Being able to clearly voice and even visually demonstrate for your customer the value they are achieving through use of your solution is incredibly powerful. Understanding that return on investment makes it much more difficult for a customer to walk away, even in light of internal staffing changes or shifts in priorities.
  • It pays to plan ahead and create playbooks that define any and all steps to undertake when a signal of risk is received or an opportunity alert is triggered. It takes time and careful thought to do this well, but it allows you to take action quickly, in the heat of the moment, to document what was done and whether it worked, to establish consistency across your team and activities, and to iterate over time to improve processes.

You don’t have to be perfect right away. All you have to do to build a customer-success-oriented company that retains, grows, and makes your competitors green with envy is to commit yourself to improve.

Shameless self-promotion: In love with how Rachel tackled this issue but feel like you don’t have the means to do this on your own? ChurnZero to the rescue! Our tool is designed to guide and empower you through each of Rachel’s actions, giving you everything from full visibility into your customer data, to proactive alerts of changing behavior, to automatically triggered plays to immediately react to changing situations, to demonstrating your value to your clients. Let us show you how ChurnZero Customer Success software can help you in situations like Rachel’s – and in many other common CSM scenarios

Word to the Wise

This week’s wisdom comes from Jocelyn Brown, the new VP of Customer Success at Allocadia. We’ve talked a lot this week about the best qualities for a CSM – when you’re hiring them, when they’re dealing with unreasonable customers, when they are facing a seriously tough situation – so it seems fitting that our wisdom focuses on a single quality that all truly successful CSM need to have: CURIOSITY. Jocelyn describes the role of this important trait perfectly:

Jocelyn Brown VP of CS at Allocadia

For more inspiration from Joceyln, check out her welcome interview; lots of great customer success tidbits can be found within it!


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