Here’s an all-too-familiar situation for those of us on the front lines of customer success:
You get an email from a customer asking for custom work on their implementation. Because the customer is a rocky account, you feel obligated to agree. You know you have a full plate for the day, so you tell yourself you can handle the request quickly, that it will only briefly distract you. Twenty minutes later, things have gotten more complicated than you expected and the next thing you know, it’s been three hours since you started on the request. At this point you realize you’ve ignored three hours of pre-scheduled work to get this done – insert small panic attack here. Once you’ve recovered, you stay late at the office, trying to make up for lost time. Go home, sleep, repeat the next day.
Our instinct as customer success pros might be to blame other teams for this scheduling mess. We blame product for not thinking of this [obvious] use case when spec-ing the feature, we blame sales over-selling this account in the first place [again], we blame technology for not making the design more flexible [whhhyy].
But in order to take control of your calendar and maintain a productive schedule as a CSM, the first thing you have to do is be honest with yourself about the role you play in messing up the schedule in the first place. As CSMs we often have the best of intentions to follow a strict, well-planned schedule but just as often we allow ourselves to be pulled into firefighting mode by our customers and by our co-workers. The result? We are less productive, for ourselves and our customers. In fact, in a recent survey of more than 700 CSMs, time management was the most commonly reported frustration for CSMs.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! Follow this exercise to help you diagnose where things are taking an unproductive turn with your schedule:
- Step 1: Write down what your schedule was supposed to look like yesterday. Make sure to include not only your scheduled meetings but also the time you had planned to work on longer-term and/or strategic projects and the time that you should be purposefully setting aside for daily tasks like processing email.
- Step 2: Write down what your schedule actually looked like yesterday. Be honest about how you really spent your time, including details like time you spent answering emails, time you spent discussing situations with co-workers and time you spent on unexpected customer engagements.
- Step 3: Figure out what you could have said “no” to – and realize that it might not be the things you first think. For example, many CSMs don’t plan out time to answer their email, instead checking it whenever it occurs to them/almost constantly (here’s why that’s a bad idea and why you should only process your inbox twice a day). These mindless habits can be the main thief of productivity.
- Step 4: Write down what might happen if you fail to do what you said you were going to do. This exercise can reveal the true reasons we deviate from our intended schedules, even when we know we shouldn’t. This exercise will help you foresee when you need to be stricter with yourself about sticking to your schedule.
Transitioning from customer touchpoints to customer journeys
When most companies focus on customer experience, they think about touchpoints – the individual transactions through which customers interact with parts of the business and its offerings. This is logical, as it reflects organization and accountability and is relatively easy to build into operations. Companies try to ensure that customers will be happy with the interaction when they connect with their product, customer service, sales staff or marketing materials.
But this siloed focus on individual touchpoints misses the bigger – and more important – picture: the customer’s end-to-end experience. Only by looking at the customer’s experience through his or her own eyes – along the entire journey taken – can you really begin to understand how to meaningfully improve performance.
Customer journeys include many things that happen before, during and after the experience of a product or service. Journeys can be long, stretching across multiple channels and touchpoints and often lasting days, weeks or even months. Organizations that fail to appreciate the context of these situations and manage the cross-functional, end-to-end experiences that shape the customer’s view of the business can prompt a downpour of negative consequences, from customer defection and dramatically higher call volumes to lost sales and lower employee morale. In contrast, those that provide the customer with the best experience from start to finish along the journey can expect to enhance customer satisfaction, improve sales and retention, reduce end-to-end service cost and strengthen employee satisfaction.
- The trouble with touchpoints: Touchpoints by their very nature are isolated events. So while an individual touchpoint – or even all the unique touchpoints a customer has – could go well and a customer could report being satisfied with each individual interaction, this same customer could still be unhappy with their cumulative experience across multiple touchpoints, multiple channels and over time.
- More touchpoints, more complexity: At the heart of the challenge is the siloed nature of service delivery and the insular cultures, behaviors, processes and policies that flourish inside the functional groups that companies rely on to design and deliver their services. Whether because of poorly aligned incentives, management inattention or simply human nature, the functional groups that manage these touchpoints are constantly at risk of losing sight of what the customer sees (and wants) – even as the groups work hard to optimize their own contributions to the customer experience.
- Introduce journeys, don’t remove touchpoints: The answer isn’t to replace touchpoint management and thinking. Indeed, the expertise, efficiency and insights that functional groups bring to bear are important and touchpoints will continue to represent invaluable sources of insights. Instead, companies need to recognize and address the fact that – at least, in most cases – they are simply not wired to naturally think about the journeys their customers take. They are wired to maximize productivity and scale economies through functional units. They are wired for transactions, not journeys.
So how should companies tackle this issue? Focus on these six actions, which are critical to managing customer-experience journeys:
- Step back and identify the nature of the journeys customers take – from the customer’s point of view.
- Understand how customers navigate across the touchpoints as they move through the journey.
- Anticipate the customer’s needs, expectations and desires during each part of the journey.
- Build an understanding of what is working and what is not.
- Set priorities for the most important gaps and opportunities to improve the journey.
- Come to grips with fixing root-cause issues and redesigning the journeys for a better end-to-end experience.
The power of documentation for CS
A lot of CS leaders ask “what’s the one thing we can do to be more proactive?” They want a silver bullet to strengthen their customer relationships, improve communication with sales and seal the deal when renewal time comes around.
Unfortunately, there isn’t just one thing you can do to achieve massive results. Life is a game full of infinite variables and it’s our job to figure out which ones we have a degree of control over. But one area that CS teams can control – but often overlook – is education. And improving your documentation might be the closest thing to a silver bullet you’ll find.
For most CS teams, talking about improving documentation is absurdly boring, which often translates into never working on it. But if you team says any of these three things, you definitely have work to do:
- “Our customers never read your docs…”
- “I’ve sent the same canned response ten times today…”
- “If I have answer that question one more time, I might lose it…”
The fact is that the quality of your documentation represents the quality of your CS organization, as great documentation helps your customers achieve a successful outcome without needing your intervention. So with that in mind, here is how your can revitalize your documentation:
- Before you begin, think about the person who’s using going to use the doc: Be sure to center everything around who they are and what challenges they face. Do your best to use language that the customer themselves would use to describe their current situation and problem. In particular, you want to think about the search terms they will use to try to find answers.
- Read your current version from your customer’s perspective: As you read, ask yourself the following questions and look for areas to improve:
- Does this speak to my customer? In terms they will understand and use themselves?
- Will they be able to find this using their own natural words?
- Is this easy to access?
- Thoughtfully write a 2.0 version of your doc: Before you do this, it could be helpful to spend some time looking at companies with highly celebrated documentation like Optimizely and Asana. As you write, strive to be clear, honest and thoughtful – your customers will recognize and appreciate that effort.
- Send the doc to a teammate or manager to review: Don’t bear the burden of writing documents in a vacuum. Another set of eyes (or multiple sets!) can be very helpful.
- Break it up over time: Yes, documentation is extremely important but you don’t need to rewrite your entire knowledge base in a day. But you do want to purposefully set aside time for this project – and protect that time on your calendar.
Word to the Wise
This week’s wisdom comes from Kirsten Helvey, COO at Cornerstone OnDemand, a cloud-based learning and talent management solutions provider. In a recent episode of the SaaStr Podcast, Helvey discusses (among many interesting things) why businesses should focus more on upsells than customer acquisition:
“Focus on your clients! Be a client company, be a company that is solving a problem for your clients – because they pay your bills! It costs a lot less to upsell than to acquire new customers. [So] we [at Cornerstone OnDemand] focus on delivering the right experience – and [the right experience] has changed, actually it changes almost every year in a lot of ways because of wonderful new technologies and data – but it’s all about what you do with that data to help you drive your business. Customer Success today is about knowing the science of your customers and knowing all aspects [about them]. Every customer is important.”
The good stuff about customer success and upsells starts at 19:00 but we highly recommend listening to the full episode, there’s lot of great nuggets of sage advice: