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“Empowerment” is a strong and bold word that suggests action. Merriam-Webster defines empowerment as “ to give official authority or legal power to [an individual].” For customer success executives, that word and the results that it brings about can mean the success or failure of your customer success department - or even the culture of your entire company. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your CSMs (and therefore your customers) is empowerment. Empowerment to delight customers, to solve problems, to bring in other departments, to raise up concerns to your executive team, and to have difficult but necessary conversations with customers and internal teams alike.
If a CSM doesn’t feel empowered to take action, or has to go through three levels of management to get something approved, he or she will quickly lose faith in the system. Often times when this happens, CSMs are forced to either make decisions that will go against the executive team in order to provide for the customer, or they will stop taking action on behalf of the customer altogether - for fear of the system or fear of rejection.
How can executives empower customer success teams to do what’s right for the customer without causing mayhem across the company? We believe the following actions are necessary for any company that wants to empower its CSMs to be true customer champions:
Do your Customer Success Managers need approval for every action, renewal, conversation or upsell, no matter how small? Do they have to ask the customer to wait for an answer so they can get permission about anything outside of a standard request? Talk about a frustrating customer experience. Don’t get me wrong: You definitely need to have processes in place. However, giving your team the freedom to make the right call (within some boundaries, such as an upper limit for discounts, etc) allows them to make a quick decision while they are in the midst of a conversation with a customer instead of having to ask their manager for everything. Not only does this make for a better customer interaction, it lets your CSMs feel like they have autonomy.
Let your CSMs be part of the decision-making process. Create a culture where creativity is welcomed. Set up some brainstorming sessions when you are trying to define a process or resolve a problem. You will be amazed at the ideas that build upon each other when everyone is throwing their thoughts on the table without reservation. Your CSMs see what is going on with your customers, so they are the perfect additions to go to for ideas. Additionally, having your team be a part of the decision making process will go a long way toward getting their buy-in. When a decision is handed down, you will often be faced with resistance. But, when you make your team part of the process, they will be glad they had a say, and will have a better understanding of how the decision was made in the first place.
It is especially critical for sales and customer success teams to work together effectively. Our CEO, Dave Blake, puts it this way in a recent Openview Labs blog post: “I always ask people if their account executives and customer success managers are BFFs, because they have to be.”
“A common friction point is typically who owns the account,” Dave says. “My answer is they both do. They both have responsibility for making sure that the customer is successful and for working collaboratively together to make sure that that happens across the organization.”
In order to do that, Dave recommends establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities. “For example, who takes an escalation when it’s a product escalation? Does that go to sales, or does that go to customer success? Who owns the sales and the commercial aspect of the relationship? Obviously, that is typically taken by the sales team. Who owns the day-to-day functional relationship?”
Not only is that important for you to figure out to make sure things are running smoothly internally, even more importantly, you want to make sure you’re providing a seamless customer experience. The last thing you want is for customers being confused by the hand-off process or not knowing who they should contact for what.
“You need to have your sales leaders and your customer success leaders seeing eye to eye,” Dave says. “And then fostering that collaboration with their teams so that they are accountable for teaming up on behalf of the customer.”
This may sound scary, but don’t be afraid to let your CSMs try out new ideas on their own. Appreciate that they are thinking beyond their assigned tasks and trying to create a good customer experience. If you have hired a trustworthy team, they won’t take advantage of the fact that you are letting them have some control. Instead, they will be motivated to make the right decisions for the customers and the company as a whole. Yes, they will make mistakes, but don’t we all? Just be sure they learn from these, and move forward by providing them the sense that they are still empowered to take care of your customers.
The bottom line is that you will have a much happier and motivated team if you give them decision-making power. If you don’t make them feel like they are being micro-managed, they will step up to the plate. You will have a stronger team and they will want to stay with a company that makes them feel that their opinions matter. Your customers will thank you!
Empowering your CSMs to keep the customer front and center in your organization is crucial for success - and for a company culture that embraces the customer above all else. How does your company seek to ensure the customer is always first by using empowerment?
Check out our resources below for more customer success best practices and insights for how your organization can put customers first:
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.