Why the Best Customer Success Managers Embrace Their Most Vocal Customers

As a Customer Success Manager (CSM), you have relationships with customers of all kinds. But it’s most likely safe to assume you have a few customers that are very vocal about their experiences with your product or service. And those customers usually have a direct megaphone to their audience where they don’t hesitate to share everything they like, dislike, and want improved about your product, service, support and company.

What happens when you get an email from those customers — do you cringe? How about when you see their name on your caller ID? Your immediate natural reaction is probably to take a deep breath and wish someone else had to deal with it. While it can be very difficult to manage — especially at first — there is absolute GOLD in those vocal customer relationships. Yes, there will absolutely be bad days, maybe even some humiliation along the way. But for those CSMs who can step back and embrace their most vocal customers and learn how to dig deeper into those relationships for insights and opinions, they find incredible and rare pieces of wisdom.

Why Should You Embrace Your Most Vocal Customers?

Vocal customers can seem mad at you, your product and the world in general. Because of this seemingly harsh attitude, those customers can be difficult to work with and hear out, especially on a continual, every day basis. However, as a CSM, it’s important to remember that their reactions and criticism may actually be warranted. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer for just a moment. What if you had an important task to do and the product you’re using is stalling? What if you can’t get a resolution with support — and it’s been days on end with no resolution in sight? Or you’re left with no explanation for bugs you keep encountering? All of these things and more could actually hinder your ability to do your job and / or take you away from other important priorities. What if you were in their shoes, would you be upset?

While dealing with an unhappy customers is never fun, their feedback can provide valuable insight you can’t get anywhere else. How many surveys, beta testers, phone calls, and customer panels would it take to uncover all of the nuances a vocal customer can bring to the surface — all without you having to ask or spend budget? Often times, vocal customers don’t demand fixes at that very moment. They want to know that you listen, that you care, and that you’re actually doing something with the information they’ve shared with you. They want to know you understand *their* perspective from *their* lense, and that you’re not just focused on your perspective and roadmap. Chances are, if you pay attention and truly seek to understand the customer’s perspective and address their needs, their attitude will not only change for the better, but they’ll become your biggest advocate.

Outside In, a book authored by Forrester Research Analysts Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, helps to remind us that customers are the reason we have companies in the first place. Yet, oftentimes companies are structured with customers as an afterthought. This book suggests that customers should be at the center and that “we should build companies with the customer at the center of every proposition.” Manning and Bodine focus on the “six disciplines” of customer experience, which include:

  • Strategy
  • Customer Understanding
  • Design
  • Measurement
  • Governance
  • Culture

At the end of the day, your most vocal customers are usually your best customers. The reason they are so vocal is because they actually care, they want to help you improve as a business / product / partner, and they want you to succeed — especially if they see that they, the customer, are truly the center of your company. In reality, the customers you should be most concerned about are the silent ones.

Why Should a Silent Customer Cause Worry?

As a CSM, you probably appreciate having a few low key and quiet customers. But in reality, these quiet customers should have you more stressed than those who voice their complaints. Why? When customers are silent, you have absolutely no idea what problems they’re encountering, what frustrations they have, or even if they’re using your product in the first place! Often times if your customers are silent, they are apathetic towards your company and product, making them the most dangerous kind of customer you can have. Silent customers may be pleasant to have throughout the year (because they don’t demand your time or attention), but what about when renewal time comes around? Can you act quick enough to address their concerns? Do you know which products or services might be suitable for an up-sell? Chances are, you don’t have any valuable information to assess their true disposition.

What do you do if your customer is silent? It’s important to engage “high and wide” across the organization so if one of your points of contact isn’t responsive or leaves the company, you have many others that you’re able to lean on.

Now What?

A Mashable article authored by Susan Payton, reminds us that, “No matter how you interact with unhappy customers, the point is not to brush them off, and make sure you learn from their feedback. Don’t just pretend to listen and then go on doing business as usual. Take the feedback as constructive criticism that can help you determine your company’s future. How you handle your failures could make you or break you.”

Listen to your customers and continually interact with them. If your customer is vocal, embrace them and be grateful that they are opening up to you. These customers are pushing you to be better. They want you to succeed. On the other hand, if your customer is silent, beware. Engage immediately, build relationships high and wide, and dig deep to understand their needs and disposition. Encourage them to communicate often, sharing their feedback — good and bad. Foster a collaborative and transparent dialog. Doing so will pay long-term dividends for both your company and your customers.

Founder & CEO

Dave Blake is founder and CEO of ClientSuccess, which is changing the way SaaS companies manage, retain, and grow their existing customer base. Prior to launching ClientSuccess, he was VP Global Account Management at Adobe and VP Strategic Accounts at Omniture.
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