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How to Deal “When The Customer Isn’t Always Right”

We’ve all heard the expression “The customer is always right”. And while this may be the gold standard for retail or service industries, it’s certainly not true in software and technology. At least, not always.

For Customer Success Managers (CSMs) in the software and technology industry, their job is to ensure that even though the customer may not be “right”, they are always successful. Having disagreements or tough conversations with customers isn’t easy, though. In fact, it can be downright hard. In the following blog post, we’ll share learnings and suggestions for how to handle those tough conversations with grace and poise while setting not only your customers, but your employees up for success.

1. First and foremost, ensure your CSMs are supported & happy

If your employees aren’t happy or don’t have the tools they need to be successful, then you can bet your customers won’t be happy or successful, either. One of the most important but often most overlooked principles is to ensure your employee’s needs are met first. Since your employees are engaging directly with customers (especially customer-facing roles such as CSMs), their attitude and way of handling the situation is a direct reflection back on your organization.

A recent article from Inc. Magazine explains why keeping your employees happy will ultimately produce incredibly happy customers: “…Remember why you hired your employees in the first place. Chances are, you assembled your team based on their values and abilities. Put faith in that. Support them however you can. Remember that when you’re evaluating performance and giving feedback.”

The article goes on to say, “Instead of focusing on making your customers happy, ask what you can do to make your staff happy. If your staff is well trained, has adequate authority to make decisions and solve problems, and has the resources necessary to meet reasonable customer needs (and even a few of the unreasonable ones), then you’ll end up with higher customer satisfaction naturally. Your employees will be a joy to work with, and that pleasure in the transaction will transfer to the customer experience.”

2. Understand your customer’s goals inside and out

Without first understanding the customer’s goals for what they are trying to achieve with your product or service, there is no way to have a legitimate disagreement. You must first seek to listen and fully understand what the customer is trying to achieve, why, when, how, etc. Ask open-ended questions to gain as much insight into why they have come to that conclusion, and give them the time they need to fully articulate what it is they believe they need in order to achieve their goals.

Once you have listened to the customer fully, and you disagree with their approach or solution, then it’s appropriate to articulate back why you disagree or recommend a different approach to achieve their end goals.

Eric Prugh, COO of PactSafe, says “to ensure customer success both now and in the future, you can’t just deliver exactly what your customers want. Customers are investing in you as a leader, as an innovator, and as a partner,” Eric explained. “So a big part of my customer interaction is listening to themes, listening to the market, listening to the analysts, and trying to find the balance that will lead our customers into the future while providing increasing business value today.”

Eric and his team want to have conversations with customers. He loves getting customer feedback, but he also enjoys sharing his own point of view and hearing customers’ reactions. “The outcome for the customer is a win-win when they get to leverage the benefit of feedback from other customers to solve problems they either don’t have yet or didn’t realize they had,” commented Eric.

3. Help your customer understand the big(ger) picture

Most customers are not early adopters, according to this article featured in Inc.. “Most customers don’t care about the way you’re trying to create a new market, or find a new delivery mechanism, or shake up the product line. Most customers just want to know why they can’t have the same thing they had yesterday, and the day before.”

If your company is in the business of excitement and innovation, there’s nothing worse than relying on the customer’s love of the status quo to provide your business with feedback. You need to hold to your own mission and push through the resistance of “But Why?” so that you can show them your narrative of “Because.”

Ryan Warren, Vice President, Strategic Solutions at Salesforce, explained how they help customers understand the bigger picture: “we try to look at business objectives first – I think that it’s easy to lead with product oriented conversations (such as: how can this feature make your life better?), but until you can capture where the organization is going as a whole, it’s hard to figure out how to best align your company with the features they’re requesting,” said Ryan. “We don’t want to just react to what the organization says – at Salesforce, we put a lot of money and thought in order to get ahead of that. We drive our customers to what they should be doing – even if they aren’t ready yet.

When you see an opportunity that your customer does not, it is your responsibility to help them understand how your product or service can best help them meet and exceed their goals. Often times you may see something that would be advantageous to your customer that is not directly tied to your product or service, be sure to provide them with these insights as well. Try implementing these steps, and share others with us that you’ve found helpful by tweeting us at @ClientSuccess.



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The Golden Rule of Customer Success: 8 Guiding Principles

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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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