My name’s Tanya and I’m a Director of Customer Success Strategy and operations at ServiceNow. In this article, I’m going to share with you five new things I think customer success professionals really should be focused on in these times.
I'm a Mom, I'm a wife, I'm a nerd for customer success in a huge way.
I'm a coffee lover and probably one of the most important things in my life in these times of COVID is that I live in San Diego and I spend as much time as possible walking on the beach here in our lovely Pacific Ocean.
I want to share a little bit about my background, my history. I spent several years in my early career in enterprise technology, working in different roles, primarily in software and user training, in project management, as well as in pre-sales.
I loved the work I was doing. I loved working with customers. I loved all of the wonderful business transformations I got to see happen. But there was always one little regret I had in my mind, which was I never really got to see what happened afterward.
So I would implement projects for customers, spend so much time on site with them and then say goodbye, please delete my phone number because I am a billable resource and I won't be here with you any longer.
That level of fulfillment of getting to see what happens with a customer after the implementation is done to really quantify and appreciate and celebrate with our customers. What success looks like is really something that's super special to me.
As I said, I started off my career in Silicon Valley in a couple of different types of roles. Then I actually took eight years off to be a stay-at-home Mom. I took care of my children for a few years and that was one of the best experiences I've ever had, of course.
But it meant I missed out on what was happening in Silicon Valley. In the time tI was away, our business models completely changed. We went from delivering in an on-premise way to be SaaS as we know it today. Customer success came of age.
When I came back into the workforce about five years ago, I had the wonderful privilege of getting to spend time at Gainsite, which is, in my opinion, the customer success leader as far as both technology and thought leadership.
Some of the observations and ideas I'll share come from some of my learning and studying during my time at Gainsight. And some will also come from my current role at ServiceNow, where, as I said, I manage strategy and operations for a group of customer success professionals we call customer success advocates.
I’m going to talk about five new things that customer success professionals should be focusing on here in these times of COVID. As we think about that, I've been doing a lot of research to prepare and I came across this quote from Diginomica.
In short, it's no longer about growth and chasing revenues. People, value, and purpose will be at the core.
Personally, I would actually challenge this quote a little bit and say I think that was always true, people, value, and purpose have always been at the core. But in these times of COVID and everyone working from home and so much uncertainty, I think there's certainly an even bigger emphasis on the human endeavor aspect of customer success, that as customer success professionals, we have the privilege to deliver.
5 things you should do now
With that, I'd like to introduce the 5 things I think we should all be doing now to engage customers.
Be a role model
Number one to me is being a role model. Being our own best customer, I think that's so important because customers really look to us for that level of inspiration and guidance and how we can get the best value from our solutions.
Number two, be empathetic. This can never be understated at any time in any economic or otherwise climate. But I think right now in particular, there's such an emphasis on the human element to how we engage with our customers.
I really think that can be drawn out of an empathetic approach.
Third, be curious. What can we learn about our customers? What can we know about them in a deeper way as we engage and as we demonstrate we really care about what's going on?
Number four is be consistent. We have engagement models. We have an idea of how we want to work with our customers. Now is the time to double down on that, to be extra, extra consistent.
The term I like to use a lot in this way is clinical execution in the sense that we want to have a lot of precision and consistency in our engagements so our customers can have faith our partnership is really strong.
Be a connector
Number five is be a connector. I think it's incredibly important for us to think about ways we can be connecting our customers with one another, with our own internal resources so they get a broader view of what value and success can look like outside of just the relationship with maybe that single-threaded customer success professional to customer relationships.
With that, I’ll jump into the five and talk in a little bit more detail.
Be a role model
I don't know if any of you have ever heard these terms, but throughout my career, I've heard software companies talk about eating our own dog food or drinking our own champagne in less colorful terms.
I'm certainly more of a fan of champagne than dog food myself. In less colorful terms, what this means is to be your solutions’ number one customer. This is what role modeling is about in my mind.
Be your own most innovative customer as customer success professionals need to be able to understand and articulate the use cases. I think by articulating our own use cases, we can create such powerful messaging.
Let me give you an example of how I talk about our own value and our own stories here at ServiceNow - of how we drink our own champagne.
At ServiceNow, we create amazing experiences through great workflows. We have four key areas of workflow where we lead:
- IT workflows,
- Employee workflows,
- Customer workflows, and
- Creator workflows, which is essentially the idea that anything that can be automated and anyone who's creative enough to think about a way to create a digital transformation, our creator workflows can support.
Essentially the other way to think about it is we enable innovation across the entire enterprise. My favorite example of this is during my own onboarding experience almost a year ago when I got the opportunity to experience the power of the Now Platform firsthand.
A few weeks before my start date, I got an email directing me to download the Now Mobile app onto my phone. From there, I was guided through this amazing onboarding process.
It guided me through everything I would need to do to hit the ground running from day one, ready to go.
First, I got to select the kind of laptop I wanted, choose all of the laptop components I would need, which, by the way, were waiting for me.
On my first day during my new hire orientation, I completed all the tax forms. I signed up for all of my benefits, all of the stuff that can take up so much time and really distract new hires from getting settled and getting productive.
When they first come in, we automate all of it.
After my start date, I got more onboarding tasks that guided me through my first few months. It was awesome.
The power of the platform
That simple workflow connected me with I can't even tell you how many different departments and organizations throughout the company, the different solutions they use. But from my personal experience, all I saw was that simple interface through my phone.
That is the power of the platform.
I'm not here to sell you on the Now platform, although I would certainly love it if you would consider digitally transforming your organizations with it. But I share this story because it's a simple way for me to talk about the value of my solution.
It demonstrates how we drink our own champagne. I think stories like this really inspire our customers to emulate what we're doing. Any company can reap value from improving its employees’ onboarding experiences. I really believe that.
Therefore, I really believe it's an inspiring way to engage with customers. To me, this is what it means to be your own best customer - modeling for your customers how you get value out of your solution.
During this time of Covid, when inspiration is at an even bigger premium, the passion you demonstrate with your inspiring words really will inspire your customers to follow your lead.
Where drinking your own champagne isn’t appropriate
Some of you might be thinking your solution doesn't fit your business. Maybe you're working in financial services, maybe your organization is focused on education technology.
Obviously, there are lots of places where it might not be appropriate to drink your own champagne.
But when that's the case, I would lean back to number five, create those connections, create peer-to-peer engagements with your customers or even better still, maybe find the customers who have your dream use cases, the closest use cases to your dream use cases that you can find.
Get them talking, hear their stories, be inspired by those most innovative customers, and then memorize those value stories, document them as case studies, find whatever way you can to publicize them, hopefully publicly.
Now, more than ever, I think customers are looking to their customer success partners to role model what good looks like.
I recently had the pleasure of reading an article by a medical doctor named Christine Lao and she wrote about what COVID has taught her.
When I saw the headline of the article, I was really expecting to see some descriptions about hand-washing being critical to prevent the spread of the virus or how wearing a mask is so important for disease prevention.
Maybe you'll be surprised, I certainly was. She said that social distancing and mask-wearing are certainly really important things for us to do but she really talked about how important it is and how she had taken for granted that as humans, we're such social creatures and we need interaction. We need connection with one another.
Obviously, that's been another thing that's been at a huge premium here in these times. I reached out to my LinkedIn and asked for tips like, “Hey, customer success professionals out there in the big community. How should customers engage in these times, what should we be doing? What should we be thinking about?”
This one word kept showing up again and again and again and that word was empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In customer success terms, it's the ability to envision as your customer experiences things.
In this case, the things are your solution, your company, and even your personal interactions. How is your customer experiencing you?
Customer success is all about delivering value. However, that value is so relative. It's in the eyes of the beholder. So as solution providers, we can put a price tag on the solution. We can create our ROI models, we can talk about value derived.
But I think that's all lip service, right? It's handwaving, it's PowerPoint if our customer doesn't agree. They have to sign on to it. They have to be a part of it. So it really is in the eye of the beholder.
In order to understand what value derived or value enjoyed looks like, we have to know how the customer defines value, their definitions of success, the customer’s motivations, and in this case, maybe even their struggles.
I think that understanding requires mutual respect, trust, vulnerability, and these are things that can get built in a relationship when we're able to express some empathy.
The magic question
Establishing trust through vulnerability takes a long time, and it can also feel kind of foreign in the business context. So I like to broach the topic with what we call the magic question.
The magic question is, “If your renewal date was today, would you renew with us?” Pretty simple, but it's a huge question that opens up a whole lot of conversation.
If the answer is yes, congratulations to you, celebrate your customer success, by all means, ask for a reference and all kinds of great things obviously can come from here.
However, if the answer is no, this is what I suggest. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself you've just been given the gift of feedback (and it is a gift) and get ready to carefully unwrap it because inside is where all those important details are.
Your courage and vulnerability to ask this hard question have now positioned you to save this customer. Thank them. Thank you so much for this gift.
I think in these times of Covid, economic uncertainty, etc., my guess is the answer is going to be something about value. This is where we want to start to dig in and seek some clarity.
- How can we address your concerns?
- What can we do today to address your concerns?
Personally, I love the phrase, “Please say more” because I think this kind of phrasing can strengthen relationships in really surprising ways. Going back to Dr. Lao, she said, we need human interaction. Being and feeling heard is what your customers need, especially when they've just told you they're unhappy.
Now's the time to mindfully and actively listen, reinforce what you heard, and make sure you understood the concerns.
After you're done with a call, create a get-well success plan and the first step there in going back to the idea of empathy is capture a really clear problem statement.
Make sure you capture what you heard from the customer, and then circulate this internally to get buy-in from all the right stakeholders internally about what you should do, how you should react to this.
This can be a time when emotions can get high and people can get a little fluffy. I would say don't be shy about ringing some bells right now. Now is the time for you to invest in saving your customer, and that is 100% worth the effort.
Create a plan
Once you get an idea of what's going to happen and who can help and how we can get this resolved as a team, create a time-based plan and take all of that, package it all up, take this success plan back to your customer.
Be sure they're comfortable first and foremost with that problem statement before you move on to talk about deliverables or time commitments because again, getting agreement around what that problem statement is, is going to be so powerful to sharing your solution and continuing down the path.
I personally think “problem statement” sounds awfully like a real business term, but ultimately to me, that's the ultimate expression of empathy.
Obviously, document everything, capture your good notes about your conversation, share them with the customer, share them internally, run this customer engagement with that clinical execution.
The last thing I want to remind myself of and I also want to remind you of, is that if one customer has this problem, it's very likely that many, many other customers have the same problem. It's always worth the effort to run through that whole get-well process and really think through how we can deliver better.
Please say more
I want to leave the empathy topic with this phrase I mentioned before. Please say more.
I personally love this phrase because if somebody asks me while I'm drinking my fourth cup of coffee, “Why are you drinking another cup of coffee?” It makes me feel a little bit defensive.
However, if you say “Please say more”, it really can help people open up in a safe way and I think that's really important with our customers.
I just talked a lot about empathy, which is obviously so important to building those strong connections and partnerships with customers. But another important way to build a partnership is through curiosity - knowing your customer.
You're going to know them obviously a lot by engaging and keeping up with all of the engagement you normally have. But I like to think about curiosity in the sense of:
- Learning about the company
- Learn and follow the folks on LinkedIn
- Learn about their industry
- Learn about the individuals
- Read the news
- The blogs
Get to know their leadership however you can. These things can pay dividends in so many different ways.
First of all, from an empathy perspective, you can certainly have a more intelligent, informed conversation if you've learned and done some of your homework.
Some questions you might think about are:
- What awards has the company received?
- How is their stock performing right now? There's certainly a lot of excitement about the stock market going up and going down and all the craziness.
- What's happening in their industry?
- What are other customers in the same industry thinking about?
- Speaking about other customers what are their competitors up to?
- What are they all doing and how has it affected their business?
In addition to learning as much as you can about the business, the company, etc., the same goes for the individuals.
- What's happening with your champions role?
- What's happening in their job description?
- What are their goals?
- Were they recently promoted or are they hoping to get promoted?
Think about how you can help them achieve those goals. Also, this can be a nice way to tap into the conversation of do they have any suggestions for how you could better engage their higher-level leadership? So when you get to those renewal conversations, you know who to have the conversations with.
Whether what you learn is good news or bad news for yourself, for your customer, being a great partner is really about caring enough to be curious so exercise those empathy skills and that curiosity and get out there.
At the very end of last year, just at the time of the end of year holidays, I hired a running coach to work with me because I want to get myself back into marathon shape. My running coach is giving me tons of advice, he’s very, very inspiring but I'll tell you the advice I found the hardest to integrate is really the simplest, which is the theme of this slide.
I think everybody knows that consistent physical training is the key to getting those long-term results. It makes sense because for me, being consistently sedentary is what got me out of my marathon shape in the first place, which is kind of a bummer.
My coach sits on the sidelines, he provides me a training plan, he cheers me on every day with really supportive messages and lots of gentle curiosity about my progress. It's been a really cool experience, I certainly have a long way to go, but it's been a fun journey so far.
I share this because I think it’s a good metaphor for business. Here at ServiceNow, as I mentioned, I manage operations for a team of customer success advocates. I like to think my job is about coaching our CSAs, as we call them, to deliver consistently.
The magic hour
They're all pretty early in their careers. They manage portfolios of about 80 accounts, and their engagement model includes a quarterly success review with each customer, a 60 to 90-minute meeting with one customer per quarter.
I call this the magic hour because, in this magic hour, our CSAs need to cover so much content. As you can imagine, there's a lot to talk about. The CSA’s job is to prevent surprises, to ensure long-term relationships.
I think part of my job is enabling them so that magic hour is super valuable for the customers, keeping our customers inspired, keeping them wanting more.
They're going to talk about trends in the IT service management space, how to engage remote workers, what kind of best practices exists in preparing and maintaining a safe post-COVID workplace.
I think of our CSAs as really Jack of all trades and so because they manage such large portfolios it’s really critical they're always prepared. That's really the key to a big part of my job is they have to always be prepared so they can engage consistently.
To be super clear what we're talking about here is not true one-to-many tech-touch style customer success. It is still in my mind at scale, though. When you have scale, that means you have very little room for error. I doubt you have very much room for error in your business, either.
So by keeping our CSAs always prepared, we're able to keep pace with our customers’ expectations, delight them, and really keep that engagement fresh and strong.
The importance of data
I will put a little footnote out there, of course, much of what I'm talking about here as far as maintaining consistency and being always prepared requires a ton of data and really strong technology. These are two things that play crucial roles in everything we do. That's a topic for another day.
But I think the idea of keeping your team always prepared and that focus on operational rigor so they can be consistent is super important.
My running coach is providing me tons of structure - I have to bring the discipline of consistency. And the discipline of consistency is something that’s never been more important for us.
Be a connector
This is my favorite one and a big part of why I came into customer success in the first place because I love to be in front of customers. I love to get to connect them together.
Remember Dr. Christine Lao, she said that more than anything else, what COVID has taught her is that we're all craving human connection, human interaction.
Diginomica said it's all about people, purpose, value, values. So as customer success professionals, we're in such a fun and unique position to connect to people.
When I was a customer success manager, one of my favorite parts of my job was connecting customers for peer-to-peer engagements. A customer would tell me about how they'd implemented a new use case and I would say, “Are you interested in speaking to other customers?”
They always 100% of the time, at least in my experience, said yes. Connecting customers with their peers is the best win-win-win. It's also a super low-risk way to enter into the world of creating advocates.
Expand professional networks
First, everybody is looking to expand their professional networks. We're all out there on LinkedIn, building brands for ourselves and all of these things.
Getting a little nudge from you, who's their trusted solution provider, makes you and your company look better to your customer.
Second, both of these customers get to learn from one another and expand their networks. That's fantastic. Again, you're providing huge value.
Third, and this one is one of my favorites, with the customers learning from one another about how they're each innovating with your solutions, you're actually growing adoption at two customers at once.
Everybody is getting inspired. Everybody is getting excited about your solutions. How much fun is that? I think that's really awesome because your customers act as references to one another, and you're not dealing with any of the overhead of, “Is it okay with our branding group to use our logo?” or “Does legal agree with the language we're using?”
You're just talking about two professionals having a conversation together. And in the process, you've made yourself, your solution, and your company more valuable to both of those customers.
If we want to force multiply that, take that to an even stronger level, host a webinar, maybe just something small, host a webinar within the individual portfolio of customers you work with.
Maybe your company has hundreds or thousands of customers - just pick out the ones you work with every day.
Maybe run a workshop, that can be so easy.
My favorite is to invite a customer to talk about their cool use case and inspire everybody, make everybody want to aspire to be like that customer.
Being a connecter in this way positions you and your company and your solution again, as the necessary ingredients for the innovation and maximizing of value and that's so important.
Another way I like to think about connecting customers is with internal people. As I mentioned, I used to work at Gainsight and Gainsight is a company of absolute experts at leveraging the entire team to help customers succeed.
In fact, they have an expectation on their customer success professionals to facilitate these multithreaded engagements with strategic customers, always inspiring customers to innovate, reinforcing the value of the partnership at the same time.
One way I did this in practice was I would always invite an executive to join a key engagement, something like a quarterly business review, usually once a year per customer because if I'm meeting with them quarterly they don't need to see a C-suite every time but it certainly is nice when they can.
During the pre-meeting prep, I prepare the leader attending with some specific messaging of things we want to talk about, whatever important things we can reinforce. Then I would know they're always coming, whoever this executive, this higher-level leader is, they're always going to be emphasizing their commitment to the customer’s success.
They're going to share a story or two about other customers, which always, again, inspires everybody for innovation.
I found this practice particularly helpful, really valuable to the customer relationships and to helping to bloom that that partnership with the customers. But I also found I learned something valuable every single time I had the privilege of bringing a C-suite executive in to command the room.
You can learn so much and it's a wonderful way to both grow your own career and also make your customer feel really important. Gainsight actually calls this one of their elements of customer success, they call it stakeholder engagement.
They create executive buddy pairings of their own executives with customer counterparts. In fact, they've written a lot about this on their website, take a look at their website and you can learn a lot from them about how to make every customer feel like the most important customer. I really think that's important.
I certainly say this a lot in our ServiceNow terms. I'm pretty sure whatever the size of each one of our customers, the investment they're making in ServiceNow, chances are that's one of the bigger investments they're making outside of human resources.
I suspect that might be true for you as well. If that's the case it’s a really good time to, again, express some of that empathy and try to make that customer feel like they are the most important.
The last thing on this idea of being a connector is finding ways to introduce customers to your product experts, support folks, contributing to customer advisory boards. Nothing is going to create loyalty better than being personally invested in the partnership.
Who doesn't want to have a voice in the future of somebody’s product? If you ask me to contribute to the future of a solution I use every day, I'm definitely going to be in there.
Being a connector makes you invaluable to your customers. Think about that magic question, think about that magic hour and get out there, and get after it.
To conclude here are the five things that we talked about.
- Being a role model,
- Being empathetic,
- Being curious,
- Being consistent and
Recently someone introduced me to Fred Kaufman, a philosopher, and economist. He used to be with LinkedIn and now he's with Google in learning and development.
The idea that he talks a lot about is this perspective switch from victim to player. You can think about this as victims are like spectators in this analogy. They're watching life happen.
But players are actually out there in the game. They're on the field. They're making things happen. Players are looking at challenges as chances to show what they're made of, to show who they really are.
2020 and 2021 have been really unusually challenging years in the United States for sure but certainly wherever you are. The stuff we've seen is totally different from anything I've seen in my lifetime.
It's been a really big reminder to me that nothing is guaranteed to work out the way we want it to, regardless of how much we prepare, regardless of our attitudes.
In addition to that, in many ways, whether your customers renew with you or cancel, this is all largely out of your control. There's so much we can do, but we can't fix everything. So why not look at these challenges as chances to demonstrate your integrity?
To be a player, and to engage with your customers in a way that makes you feel the proudest of how you did it.
To put it a different way in these challenging times, I like to ask myself, what values do you want to express? To me, the values I want to express are the ones I’ve shown you in this article. I'll leave you with that.