4 Strategic Steps to Help At-Risk Customers Succeed

May 1, 2019

Sam Feil

Customer Success Manager

Welcome to our blog series CSM from the Trenches, a community for frontline Customer Success Managers (CSMs) that discusses trends, best practices, and advice for the frontline.

Being on the CSM frontline allows us to directly influence the success of our clients. I love that; as our clients are successful, we’re successful. Each day we learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful.

Let’s get started with this week’s post!

From: Cole Sanders, Sr Customer Success Manager
Company: ClientSuccess
: Silicon Slopes, Utah

Understanding the Meaning Behind Risk

When customers express frustrations or even start to think about ending a relationship, our first reaction as a CSM might be to assume the worst. However, embracing your most vocal customers is actually one of the best case scenarios we could hope for.

Find the Good of the Frustration

While some customers may take their frustrations around a pending renewal and use it as an opportunity to excuse themselves from contractual obligations, we should be grateful! Those who are vocal simply want to know that we listen, care, and will actually do something with the information they give us.

Frustrations that lead to at-risk relationships are often symptoms of issues that are weeks or months in the making. In fact, if a customer is choosing to terminate it is often considered as a last option for them. Customers understand how much time and effort it takes to migrate from one solution to another. If the transition goes smoothly, there’s still team training and change management that needs to happen in order to use the new solution effectively. Then hopefully, the new solution ends up being a better fit then they felt the old one was.

It’s our job as CSMs to understand the meaning behind these frustrations and risks in order to better know which issues, concerns, wants, or needs are legitimate pains for the customer vs. which ones are simply distractions.

4 Strategic Steps to Help At-Risk Customers Succeed

1. Seek to Understand

We need to understand that customers try to make the best decisions based on the needs of their business and what they think is best for their company. This empathy can help us find ways to resolve issues, concerns, wants, or needs by working toward their success criteria or desired outcomes.

2. Understand Must-Haves

Review with the customer their issues, concerns, wants or needs to understand the why. This will allow you to eliminate false negatives and focus on what challenges are actually keeping them from achieving success. There’s an important difference between nice-to-haves and must-haves.

3. Build a Success Plan

You and your customer will then be able to eliminate items that won’t necessarily help them achieve their success criteria or desired outcomes. Work with them to put together a success plan, one where both parties are aligned and expectations properly set, with a clear consensus on any deadlines, timelines, or constraints. As their CSM, work to deliver important needs that will benefit the needs of their business.

4. Communicate Often On Progress

Communication throughout this entire process is key, especially if you want to be (or become) a trusted advisor. Stay on top of the current issues and don’t become distracted with the nice-to-haves. Keep to the previously agreed upon success plan.


As CSMs, we have many different tools and options we can use in order to help at-risk customers succeed. It’s our job to remove any emotion and stress that might come with vocal and frustrated customers, and instead, take a step back to view the big picture of the situation. If we’re diligent and customer-focused, we can strategically work with such customers to deliver on the must-haves while not being distracted by the nice-to-haves.

Blog Posts:

6 Metrics that Help Calculate Your Customer’s Health & SuccessScore

The One Question that Will Transform Your Customer Success Strategy


Ultimate Guide to SaaS Customer Success Metrics

Customer Success as a Culture: Customer Success Leaders Edition

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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