Customer Success Battle Scars: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

November 30, 2016 Chad Horenfeldt

Customer Success Battle Scars: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate and… communicate.

Did I make my point?

In my last post, I covered how you can’t f@&k around with hiring as a customer success leader at a fast growing start-up. In this post, I'll outline some approaches to ensure you are communicating effectively to your team and to the rest of the company. While my experience has mostly been at start-ups, this applies to any company and really any leadership role. While many in customer success are seeking an innovative approach to solve all of their problems, there are leadership basics that everyone needs to incorporate into their regular routines.

When I was the VP of Customer Success at Influitive and our company was going through a massive growth spurt, I had a great plan on how I was building the team and how we would make customers successful. I knew the people we needed to hire, I knew the data we needed to track and I knew our current targets. I knew why customers were churning and I knew which of our customers needed the most assistance. I had a solid strategy that I was executing on. The problem was that I didn’t take the adequate time to communicate it effectively. I also didn't let people know where I was struggling as I assumed that I should just be able to figure it out. These were some great battle scars that I'm very proud to have as they remind me as to what I need to do on a regular basis.

Outline Your Plan, Provide Updates. Rinse & Repeat

Communicating effectively isn’t very difficult. It’s as simple as outlining your plan and keeping everyone informed on the progress you are making. It’s important to get buy-in on your plan by seeking out input from your team, your customers and the rest of the company. In addition, you need to explain to your organization why you decided to focus on certain areas over others. This helps get people’s buy-in. If you have your team’s respect and trust, they should be bought in. However, a plan by itself is not enough.

You need to keep updating everyone on the progress you are making on the plan and the impact it’s having on your team and the company. Progress is like a drug. It provides a euphoric moment because if progress is communicated properly, people can see how their individual efforts are contributing to the overall company goals. It makes people go “ah hah! that’s how all of these extra hours we’re putting in have helped us move the chains.”

It’s also important to keeping reiterating what the plan is and the reasoning behind it. Don’t assume that people will remember it as they are busy on their day to day. If the plan changes, that’s ok – just keep everyone informed. Let people know why it changed and how it impacts them. I try and provide an email summary to my team every 2 weeks that reinforces how we’re executing on the plan and what is coming up in the next week that is part of the overall plan. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to write. This task should also keep you on track and act as a reminder as to what you’ve achieved and what you still need to do.

Another great approach is to have a live scoreboard on key metrics (we use Hoopla) that everyone can see as well sending weekly dashboard updates to the team. Try and get your key metrics in a central place that makes providing updates easy. For example, when a customer launches with our product, we can all celebrate together as it flashes on our TV as well as sends an update to the entire company on our general Slack channel. Celebrate these wins together.

Keep the Message Simple

You may have a complex plan and that is great but distill it down into a simple message that people will remember and internalize. If you are parachuting into a new leadership role, the situation may require you to attack multiple items but if there is too much going on, it can be confusing to your team and they may not understand the message or reasoning behind it. The board and the executive team should receive the “Full Monty” as they will expect a fully baked plan but you can synthesize the key message down to a catch phrase or quick saying. As an example, at Bluecore I merged our Services team and Customer Success team into a Customer Success department. We had to come together so we could collaborate better for each other and for our customers. I came up with the hash tag #cometogether which not only became a rallying cry for the team, it became a phrase that was being used across the company (this hashtag also allowed me to tie my Canadian roots to a NYC based company). 

Another key tactic is providing a clear purpose for your customer success function and repeating it over and over and over and over again. This is our CS purpose at Bluecore “To help our customers get so much value and love the Bluecore experience so much that they shout about us from the roof tops”. This is in every presentation I make to the team and to the company. The message is simple – get our customers to love us. 

Having regularly scheduled monthly meetings and quarterly kick-offs and retrospectives forces you to continue to think about the overall goals and ensure that they are clearly articulated. Get these setup and in everyone’s calendars.

Keep the Executive Team Fully Informed

At the executive level, you need to clearly lay out your goals on an annual and quarterly basis. You should be providing weekly updates. Don’t bullshit your metrics or the issues you are facing. Let the team know if you are struggling and get their insight. The key to all of this is to have accurate information and to provide regular updates.

If you are starting out in a new Customer Success role, it can be hard to turn things around quickly (if that is what is necessary) so first focus on benchmarking where you are. This can include:

  • An internal survey of the team to gauge their engagement and happiness
  • A customer survey such as Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Churn and upsell metrics
  • Adoption metrics
  • Hiring

As an example, I was able to improve the NPS in 6 months by 600%. The impact on retention was slow but I was focusing on improving our business for the long run. 

The examples I outlined here are just a few aspects of communication. They don’t include the 1:1 conversations you have with your team nor does it include your style of communication. All of these are some fundamentals of great leaders in any function and something I may come back to in a future post.

I hope that you have found this useful. There are so many more aspects to communication and I definitely am constantly learning new ways that I can improve how we do this. Please share your any ideas or tactics that you have found to be successful.

In my next post, I’ll outline how you should really be focusing on 1-2 big rocks at a time and not take on too much.

The post Customer Success Battle Scars: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate first appeared on Chad's LinkedIn.

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About the Author

Chad Horenfeldt

Chad is a Customer Experience and Customer Success executive with 15+ years experience developing Customer Success teams with companies of all sizes.

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