I was recently asked “What do customers actually need to know?”. I paused before answering because I’m sure if you asked 20 of my company’s current customers, they would give you 20 different answers. I finally said, “You should ask them.”
Start by Asking & Then Listen
One of the keys to effective communication, regardless of audience, is listening. As vendors we often talk more than we listen, I know I’m guilty of this, and we sometimes make assumptions that we shouldn’t, also guilty of this. Let’s be honest, we don’t always know what is best for our customers and sometimes we should just ask.
If your business model involves personalized onboarding, maybe ask the main contact(s) questions such as:
- Do you prefer I call, email, video conference, or text you?
- Would you rather follow us on social media to get company updates or have an email pushed to you?
- Who all at your institution should we include in communications?
Then take note of these answers and ensure your team is doing their best to communicate in a way that matches preferences. The above approach definitely becomes much more challenging when customers onboard themselves (don’t require company intervention to get up and going) and/or in the case where there is a very high customer to CSM ratio. In these situations periodically surveying customers can come in handy to understand items such as:
- How they feel about the ways your company communicates with them - email vs. social media vs. collab forums
- Frequency of communications - too much or not enough
- Ideas for additional communications they would find useful
You may not be able to create a customized communication plan per customer but can certainly begin to analyze trends and adjust accordingly. You can even segment your customers by preference. Another idea is to allow each customer to granularly opt into items they are personally interested in, say newsletters and best practice blog posts, and opt out of those that aren’t of interest, like upcoming webinars or face-to-face events.
I have found that most customers prefer to be informed ahead of time about upcoming software releases versus just waking one day to notice their beloved tool has changed, even if it is for the better. Change is often hard for people so the more time we can give folks to understand what is coming, ask questions, get training if applicable, and hopefully come to terms with things, the better!
In the case where there has been a hiccup or a change in plans for whatever reason, companies should update the affected customers as soon as possible, not wait for them to notice or question what is going on. In these scenarios even when there is no new updates, I always encourage CSMs to proactively communicate to customers on a regular basis in order to demonstrate that the CSM is actively following up on the issue at hand and will continue to do so until full resolution. No update is technically an update.
Another way to proactively communicate is based on what I call data driven reach outs such as “Hey, we haven’t seen you login in the past two weeks, something we can do to help?” or “It appears you haven’t yet had a chance to create your first (fill in the blank based on your software) - here are some resources that may assist you in getting started”. The great thing about these types of communications is many of them can be automated yet still highly personalized (aka not a time suck for CSMs but still leave your customers feeling like you are carefully monitoring their implementation progress).
"No update is technically an update."
Transparency & Self-Service
I strongly believe in transparency. Have a known issue with your software? Be honest with your customers. Most people react better to honesty than veiled attempts to sugarcoat situations. From time to time CSMs may have to fall on a “sword” on behalf of their company. In my experience it is better to do this and admit a company misstep versus attempt to pretend like there isn’t a problem or worst yet somehow blame the customer. Many companies have implemented “trust sites” that show real time system availability and performance information as well as current and historical incidents to further demonstrate transparency.
Another example of self-service communication is customers choosing to follow your company on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, even Slack as a way to stay up to date about your product upgrades, upcoming tradeshows you plan to attend, and more.
"Be honest with your customers."
Warm Squishy Communications
And when it makes sense, throw something in the snail mail. I recently received some stickers from a vendor and thought, “Wow! Not only did I get mail at work, which I rarely do, I got stickers!” Better yet, write a handwritten (not a looks like it was handwritten but isn’t) but a real handwritten (pen on paper) note to your customers. Maybe you can take your account count and divide it by 52 to give you the number of handwritten notes needed to be crafted per week to ensure each customer receives at least one handwritten message from you per year. You may find you only need to write 2 or 4 per week to pull this off. A quick handwritten note (Happy Birthday wishes, congratulations on their implementation rollout, a simple note to let them know it is a pleasure working with them) often goes a long way in helping customers to feel valued!
Speaking of value, regardless of which of the above you are about to send, I always pause and ask, “Does this information create value, in some way, for the receiver?” (and I don’t just mean if they open your email they will notice you are having a BOGO event). Value can be created by sending a helpful tip about your software, sharing industry trends, providing free resources, or even by merely brightening someone’s day with a funny cartoon. The sky's the limit but make sure that you aren’t just “spamming” customers. Each communication should somehow enhance the work they do with you.
As we head into the new year may we each set a goal to listen more than we speak and work hard to deliver what and when our clients need to hear from us. Happy communicating all!
About the Author
Lindsay has spent the past decade helping hundreds of educational institutions implement cloud-based solutions. Her passion lies in ensuring customers just say "Wow!" when asked how the company is performing.More Content by Lindsay Smith