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CSM from the Trenches – 2 Techniques to Avoid the ‘Overpromise and Underdeliver’ Temptation


For those just joining my blog series CSM from the Trenches, welcome. In this series I discuss trends, best practices, and advice for frontline customer success managers (CSMs).

Being on the CSM frontline allows me to directly influence the success of my clients. I love that; as my clients are successful, I’m successful. Each day I learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful. Let’s move forward with this week’s blog post!

The ‘Overpromise and Underdeliver’ Temptation

Having strong relationships with clients is critical to any company’s success. As frontline CSMs, we do all we can in order to ensure successful customer outcomes. We build relationships with existing customers, have an in-depth understanding of their client’s goals, and help their customers meet those goals through each touch and engagement. In creating urgency for customer success throughout the lifecycle, it is easy to give in to the temptation to “overpromise and underdeliver”. Because this can take many forms, let me be more specific.

In my experience, to “overpromise and underdeliver” often focuses on specifics or delivery dates for future product releases. Because frontline CSMs deal directly with clients, we are often asked, “When will that be new feature be ready?” What’s your response?

I’ve learned it can be a risk factor for client health to answer with a definitive date or promise. Overpromising on a product release can raise a client’s expectations and hopes for an update that isn’t even set-in-stone. This naturally sets a CSM up to fight a fire when the release doesn’t meet the client’s expectations; in other words, you’ve underdelivered.

2 Techniques to Avoid the ‘Overpromise and Underdeliver’ Temptation

Here are 2 techniques I’ve learned to avoid this specific issue:

1. Focus on the Now

Ensure that clients understand the immediate and long term gains of your product or service as it currently stands. Bring value to each customer engagement that focuses on their key business objectives. Anchoring awareness in the “here and now” reduces the impulsivity that leads to the “overpromise and underdeliver” temptation.

2. Be Empathetic

It can also be a risk, however, to simply ignore the topic of future product releases. My recommendation is to still avoid specifics and even details. In my opinion, one of the best things a CSM can do here is be understanding of a client’s condition from their perspective. The virtue of being empathetic can increase positive and helpful behaviors because you focus your attention on the needs and interests of others, as well as key into shared values.

To help explain, let me illustrate an example.

A client offers feedback about a certain product functionality and lets you know that a specific update or new release in this area would greatly increase the efficiency of their workflow. For them, this is a top priority; without it, they’re likely to be considered “at risk”.

As their assigned CSM, you would do anything to strengthen or save the relationship. Your temptation might be to say, “That’s a great idea. I think we might even have that on our roadmap. It should only be a few weeks (or months, etc.).” This not only sets you up to fight fires, but also sets you and your client up to fail. Because everyone’s waiting, and what can you do when you’re waiting?

Instead of turning to details (aka the “overpromise and underdeliver” temptation), turn your attention to empathy; let them know the feedback is appreciated and an interesting use-case. Work to understand their specific needs, interests, and goals better, and help them achieve them with the current state of the the product (see Focus on the Now above). Most importantly – continue to be their advocate.

My final point: CSMs don’t control the roadmap or the release dates. Your goal is to drive value for your customers with the current state of the product. Of course, you can influence the roadmap…just not the specifics and the dates. Your influence starts from an internal perspective, not a client-facing one.

As you engage with clients around product enhancements, I hope these 2 techniques help you “surprise and delight”, build confidence with your clients, and foster deep and authentic relationships.

Check out our resources below for more customer success best practices and insights for how your organization can approach customer success with the customer at the center:


5 Ways to Surprise & Delight Your Customers

Customer Success as a Culture: Customer Success Leaders Edition

Blog Posts:

5 Best Practices to Build a Customer Success Journey Map

3 Keys to Restoring Customer Confidence

Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong Customer Success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.

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