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On Tuesday, May 12 at 5 pm pacific time, the Customer Success Leadership Network facilitated the first in a series of weekly CS Leadership Helpline Sessions. Two members of the governing council facilitated the session: Kim Oslob, senior director of customer engagement at MeasuringU and Kristen Hayer, founder, and CEO of The Success League. Eight people attended, and each attendee had an opportunity to ask questions, engage in discussions with the group, and share their own experiences. 

The world has been turned upside down, and the customer success community is not only built for helping customers through the COVID-19 crisis, but we are built to come together and help each other. These Helpline Sessions are one way we can bring people together. 

To give you an idea of what occurs in these sessions, we thought we’d share with you a write up of the Q&A. If you find this post valuable, share it on Linkedin or with a friend. And sign up for our next session or for our Slack Group. We’d love to meet you. 

Question 1: How can I make my job search more effective in a slowing economy?

Job hunting is tough in any circumstance, but especially in a slowing economy. That’s just reality. It doesn’t mean though you cannot set yourself apart from other candidates. Kim offered some useful advice. 

  1. Networking: Kim talked about how important her network has been in her career. She said that just about every job she’s gotten came from her network. You should continue to foster and/or develop your network. Much easier said than done in a world in which live events are canceled, coffee shops are closed, and no one is working downtown. Kim suggests you keep reaching out to people to schedule video calls, participate in discussions online. People are at home and…one the one hand, people don’t want to be “stuck on Zoom calls” all day. On the other hand, people want to have social interactions with people, which lately can only be done on video calls. Reach out. 
  2. Keep busy in groups: You can get your name (and face) out there by making substantive commentions and asking questions on Linkedin posts in your industry. You can add to this activity by creating original posts that you have the knowledge to share on. One idea for making original posts on Linkedin is to read articles in your industry, and then post your commentary about it, and ask questions, to get people talking in the comments of your post. Don’t forget to use hashtags in your Linkedin posts. Yes, hashtags work on Linkedin. People follow hashtags to choose to see posts on specific topics. As of this writing, 16,711 people follow the hashtag #CustomerSuccess on Linkedin.
  3. Write articles: You can further your experience and expertise and even develop thought leadership over time by writing longer-form articles. This takes more time but gives you a chance to share your ideas more in-depth. And it later gives you the ability to say to a hiring manager, “I wrote an article about that…here is the link.” It’s best to publish articles on your own website and then re-publish on Linkedin (for many reasons). But you will likely get the most views on Linkedin because that’s where your network is likely to be. 
  4. Improve your CV while in between jobs: If you are between jobs, you have more time than when you had a full-time job. Take advantage of that time by taking online classes or attending knowledge-based webinars and expand your skills. If you are a CSM and want to move up to leadership, study leadership (more on that below). If you want to remain a CSM, but move to a new industry, learn that new industry. If you want to get into customer success, learn customer success skills. 

If you want to increase your chances to demonstrate your learning to others, consider documenting your learning journey by writing articles, making posts, being a guest on podcasts, or publishing videos about what you are learning. 

It’s a Zoom/video conference world now. Get comfortable being on camera. For meetings. For interviews. On Linkedin posts. That’s a new (highly relevant) skill to learn.

Question 2: Should I offer to volunteer to do a project for a company for free?

Kristen says that this could be a good idea and it does have potential, but it could also devalue your skills if you do it for free. Kristen suggests instead to offer to do a project as a paid consulting engagement. If the project creates value for the company, they should be willing to pay for it. On the other hand, even if you do a project for free, you gain value by adding it to your resume/CV and quiver of stories and projects you can share in articles, videos, and interviews. That has value, too

There is probably no right answer. Kristen suggested making it paid if you can. And most importantly, scope the project as specifically as you can so it has deliverables, outcomes, and has an answer to the question, “How will you know the project has a successful completion?” Or “What does done look like to you?”

Question 3: How can I move from front-line customer success manager role to leadership?

Kristen’s answer has two parts. First, is to do some self-reflection. Leadership is a different set of skills than customer success management. You need to assess (be honest with yourself) that you want to “change careers” and move to a leadership role. Going from front-line to leadership is every bit the career change as moving industries or changing from account executive to customer success. 

If a leadership track is for you, Kristen suggests studying leadership. She’s a reader and suggested three leadership books: 

  1. The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman – Kristen’s favorite book on learning to be a manager.
  2. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter – If we want to improve, all of us, we need to forget old and current ways we’ve worked and succeeded and learn new ways of doing things. Old habits that can hold you back from the next phase in our careers.
  3. HBR’s 10 Must Reads: On Change Management: Leaders often lead change. Big changes. Small changes. Individual changes. Get good at this.

Question 4: How to build a success team from an existing support team? 

Kim offers a good and clear answer to this one. The theme of her answer is about the challenge of moving a team of people who are used to working in queues and reacting to incoming customers requests…they may even be great at fire fighting…to a team that acts in a proactive way…reaching out to customers to establish contact, build relationships, and help customers progress. 

Then Kim gave a list of things to execute on:

  1. Set up check-in meetings (or equivalent meetings designed to help customers progress on their activities, use of the product, and goals.
  2. Schedule QBRs.
  3. Build out playbooks for customers.
  4. Get the team some training on customer success. The Success League offers excellent customer success training
  5. Lead the team through a mindset change to being proactive. It will be a new mindset and a new set of habits and skills that the team will need to learn and internalize.

For more on this subject, there is an excellent Strikedeck blog post on it. 

Question 5: Our product is early stage, but customers have enterprise-level expectations for our product maturity, what can we do in customer success to help address/overcome the product gaps? 

You can help customers with more (or better) training to help them adopt features as designed and to help with workarounds. If the training is designed to help customers with their jobs to be done instead of how to use features, you can shift how customers think about learning your product. You can steer them (and help them) towards helping customers get their job done using your product as designed. This takes an eye for instructional design. But it can be done.

Kristen added that since you [the person who asked the question] don’t have a lot of customers, you can schedule meetings with customers and really dig in to understand why they are asking for certain features. Keep asking why. You can spend this kind of time with a small number of customers. Do this with multiple customers. Find the themes. Get customers to articulate the outcomes they are after. Then, bring it to the product team. Better yet, bring your product or engineering team to these meetings. 

Follow up question: We save development on customer-requested features for right before the renewal, so issues can build up. We risk creating one-offs and being reactive. How can we get more proactive on these? 

Kim offers a way out of this. She suggests you bring customers onsite for visits and meetings. Tell customers, “We want you to come in and watch you use our product.” This approach leaps over the task of just addressing the customer feature request that “has to get done.” And tells customers you value them and want to understand them better. It’s a longer-term play. You might consider doing this over video until we are more able to travel. Involve the CX team or UX team if you have one. Make sure to invite the product team to these sessions. Have it as a quarterly exercise you do and offer it out to customers from day one. You can also create a customer advisory board to have one or two-day meetings with key customers to gather their feedback and present your roadmap.

Question 6: How do you manage customer expectations about the features they request?  Customers think, “Because we ask for it, you’re gonna do it.” 

Kim has a simple word choice / re-framing answer. Frame ideas as adding them to the “wish list.” This changes the customer mindset. These are not feature requests that go on the roadmap. These are items that we can add to your wish list. Be transparent about it. But start asking customers, “What’s on your wish list?” Or say to customers, “It sounds like that feature is on your wish list? Tell us more about that?” Get the customer talking about why. Make sure you keep log of who requested what feature so when/if it gets implemented you can go back to that customer and let them know.

Question 7: Our customer success mission is fractured. How do we turn it around? 

Kim and Kristen both weighed in on this one. And the short answer is to “go on a listening tour.” Start with the VP (head of the customer-facing team) and ask where she sees customer success fitting into the organization and to the company strategy. Then, interview the heads of:

  1. Finance
  2. Sales
  3. Marketing
  4. Operations

Listen for themes and gaps. Compile them. Take them back to the VP and say, “We need to bring everyone together on this with a customer success mission. 

And however you define that mission, it must be in the form of an ROI for customers. Not our success. But our customers’ success. The sample mission might be, “We will help our customers deliver better projects using our project management software.” That might be a little overly simplified, but the customers’ outcome(s) is “deliver better projects” however that is measured. 

Question 8: How do you create a tech touch program? 

Kim weighed in here as she has created tech touch programs. She says to start with marketing. They have automation for content and messaging that you can leverage, and they know how to produce content. Then, meet with the CX team and get surveys going to ask customers what support they would want? Try to avoid the scenario in which customers say, “We haven’t heard from you in two years.” After you get feedback from customers and talk to marketing, document your customer journey maps, and identify the trigger points at which you can send automated content to customers to help them get to the next step. It is key that the content is educational and helpful rather than a way to upsell and cross-sell. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Join our Slack Group to get notified of future sessions and where to sign up for the next session

The CS Leadership Network offers weekly CS Leadership Helpline Sessions on Tuesday evenings from 5:00-6:00 PM (Pacific Time). 

Join the Slack Group and get notified about future sessions and also meet over 700 engaged CS people who are also looking to network and help while we navigate the COVID-19 changes to our businesses!

Comments and feedback are always appreciated!