Jan 29, 2021

Read Time 7 min

Retention Deficit: How To Keep Customers by Talking About More Than Your Product


As a Customer Success professional, you talk to customers about your products and services all day, every day – whether it’s discussions about product adoption, value, or ROI. With your well-rehearsed and oft-recited talk tracks around features and use cases, product-focused talk is likely second nature to you, which makes it easy to default to during customer conversations.

But if you want to have more than a one-dimensional relationship with your customer, only talking about your product isn’t enough. You need to focus on your customer – as a professional and as a person. In this article, I’ll discuss why you should talk to your customers about topics outside of your product and services, as well as how to add more depth, substance, and compassion to your conversations.

Elevate Your Talk From Small To Strong

You already engage in small talk here and there at the beginning and end of your customer meetings.

And while this lighthearted conversation fodder has its social purpose, it’s not what’s going to keep your customers engaged and invested in your relationship.

Real customer connections go beyond surface-level pleasantries and require deeper, more authentic topics of conversation that relate to your customer on a professional, and more importantly human, level.

Instead, you need to use what I call “Strong Talk,” or talking about your struggles, challenges, successes, and real-time conundrums.

So, what exactly should you talk to your customers about?

That’s up to you, but consider asking your customer about their current successes and challenges, and offer to share some of your own.

This goes without saying, but I mean professional topics here; steer clear of your challenges and successes that take place outside of the work sphere (unless you just ran your first marathon or have an adorable new niece or nephew – that should be shared far and wide!).

Before we go any further, let’s draw a line between small talk and Strong Talk. The Oxford Dictionary defines “small talk” as “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.” I’d never tell you to ignore small talk altogether, as this is a great way to start a relationship and learn about your customer, but you should focus on stronger topics that affect both you and your customer.

So now, let’s discuss what Strong Talk looks like in your customer conversations using firsthand examples.

How To Use Strong Talk in Customer Conversations

Your customers are fellow humans with incredible potential and increasingly diverse backgrounds, and you should treat them like the valuable resource they are. Plus, like my mother always says, “You can learn something from every person you meet.” I’ve learned the easiest way to accomplish this is by asking others questions and actively listening to their answers.

When you use Strong Talk, you discuss recent challenges with your customer and even ask for their advice. You also share your learnings when you know they’re experiencing a familiar challenge.

Personally, I talk about ChurnZero nearly every minute of my average day when connecting with customers. But last week, I did something different. My customer mentioned in an offhand remark that they were ramping up hiring again and would soon be onboarding 10 new CSMs. In the past, I may have given a hearty “way to go!” or “congratulations!” and moved on to more specific ChurnZero topics. But this time, I dug in a little deeper and shared my own experience growing a team while at a previous company and admitted my biggest challenge in successfully doing that. In a two-minute monologue, I shared that the shift from hiring one person at a time to larger groups caused us to completely revamp our onboarding process.

My No. 1 learning from that experience (one that I’ve implemented now more than once) was to meet with the leads of the teams that our new hires would be working with (so for this example, the team leads of Implementation, Support, and Success), and ask those team leads to help compile a document that showcases what we all want our new hires to know within their first 30 days.

Even though this anecdote may not have directly aligned with my customer’s current experience, luckily for me, we ended up having a truly fantastic conversation about the pros and cons of hiring classes versus individuals. We were able to bring the conversation full circle to ChurnZero by discussing how our product has helped train new hires in the past.

In the end, the candidness of our conversation was not only refreshing, but gave us both a newfound perspective of and appreciation for our shared struggles. Realizing that you’re not alone in what you’re going through is one of the most powerful and memorable feelings – and one that we should actively work to cultivate and spread amongst our customers and one another.

Don’t Forget the Door Swings Both Ways

SaaS and Customer Success are two industries where people are eager to collaborate and share their experiences. Although it may sound counterintuitive, don’t be afraid to ask your customers for advice.

If you have an internal challenge, I encourage you to ask your customers if they’ve experienced a similar situation. If they have, I bet they’ll be willing to share what they learned from it. If they haven’t, they’ll respect you for being open – and honesty and respect go a long way.

I recently practiced this type of Strong Talk myself when I asked a client for their advice on remote work.

Due to the social constraints (most notably a lack of face-to-face interaction) of a work-from-home environment, I was growing more and more aware that I didn’t have a good pulse on team morale, and I didn’t know how to find that pulse so we could offer support where needed.

While I was on a call with a client who had been open about their past challenges, I explained my feelings and asked if they had any advice. To my delight, they shared great tactics on how and when to take that initial pulse (via a weekly anonymous survey to all employees using 3-5 simple questions), as well as how to implement changes based on their findings.

For example, their team recently instated a company-wide mental wellness day and care packages with company swag and handwritten notes from each employee’s manager that sincerely thanked them for the strengths they brought to the team.

It may seem vulnerable to discuss your challenges, and boastful to discuss your successes, but you can’t learn and grow if you don’t start somewhere.

Strong Talk Tips To Strengthen Your Customer Relationships

Here are a few of my tips to help anyone implement a Strong Talk practice.

Be timely.

If you have a dedicated call on the books to train your customer’s newest hire to be a daily user of your platform, focus on that topic and don’t steer the conversation to Strong Talk territory. Be mindful of your customer’s attitude and priorities and how they engage when you shift the topic.

Be courteous.

Thank your customer for their insight or for sharing their internal struggle or success. If they didn’t want to share, they wouldn’t have, so take the opportunity to be grateful.

Plan, but don’t script.

The purpose of Strong Talk is to share learnings with (and learn from!) your customers. If you recall a customer mentioning a challenge in your last EBR, and you recently had a similar conversation with another customer who tackled that same challenge, you can absolutely plan to bring this up on your next call, but don’t set a script; you want this to be an insightful conversation and not just a monologue to prove you’re thinking outside of your product and services.

Take notes and log every touchpoint.

If your customer tells you they’re struggling to identify their NPS goal or they’re planning to hire 10 new team members, take note of that in their account or contact profile in your CRM or Customer Success tool.

That way, if a different customer of yours mentions they recently set an NPS goal, or if a month later your content team writes a fantastic NPS guide, your notes will help you identify those opportunities to network with your customers and share resources.

If your customer seems extra open to having these Strong Talk conversations, take note and consider engaging in Strong Talk even more frequently than the one-fourth rule mentioned next.

Maintain balance and use the one-fourth rule as a guide.

When maintaining balance in your relationships, you can use the idea of the emotional piggy bank (with its deposits and withdrawals), or Brené Brown’s “marble jar” concept.

With the emotional piggy bank, your customer has a set number of tokens in their bank, and these tokens can be spent or earned. When your customer shares their knowledge and insight with you, and thus spends some of their tokens, you want to make sure you always repay that favor and deposit tokens back. The customer should receive as much benefit (or more) from each conversation as you do.

To practice balancing your account, use the one-fourth rule. For example, tag every fourth call you have with a customer as your Strong Talk call where you’ll ask for their advice or offer your advice on a previously mentioned topic. As you get your feet wet with Strong Talk, plan for five minutes of Strong Talk (unless you feel your customer is responding positively and you want to extend your conversation). Otherwise, after those five minutes, jump back to your product or service agenda.

Remember Each Other’s Humanity

Like you, your customer is human. They’re doing the best they can with what they have. With Customer Success being an emerging field, your customer’s background may not directly relate to their current responsibilities. Given this dynamic, your customer has likely gone through the same or similar challenges that you’re currently experiencing; or if they haven’t, they know someone who has. Remember that you’re not only a representative for your brand; you too have a diverse background that makes you an invaluable resource for your customer, just like they are for you.

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