Failing to Deliver: What Not to do in Customer Success

Horrible-emailI received one of those emails last week from a vendor that was a winner on how to damage a relationship. I had to share this story with you so you avoid this type of behaviour.

We had been working with our vendor to implement a feature that would integrate our system with theirs and provide a better experience for our customers. Unfortunately, we were told that the feature wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be ready for another 3-4 weeks. We’ve heard a few times already that this feature wouldn’t be ready after it was promised and this game has been going on for over 3 months.  We reached out to an executive to share our frustration. The response was classic.

Instead of the executive responding, a random employee (perhaps an account manager?) responded indicating that we were wrong, the feature was already available as was explained to us three months ago, and a link was provided that outlined the feature to prove how incorrect we were. Wow! I can’t believe how stupid I was (very heavy sarcasm).

Poor Communication: Where Did They go Wrong?

  • They should have asked for more details before providing a solution. They did ask to meet with us but it was after telling us that we were incorrect in our assessment of the current state.
  • They should have admitted that there was an error and have been more sympathetic. This issue is having a large impact on how we work with customers.
  • The executive should have responded directly. If the customer is that frustrated, an executive should want to get involved.

Lessons for a Customer Success Manager

 As a customer success manager, you’re going to have this type of scenario at some point: your customer has asked for a feature, your team has promised to deliver it and when it comes to the date it’s supposed to be ready, it’s not available for some reason or another. This will happen – guaranteed. Here’s how to handle this:
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait until the feature due date that was promised is missed. Keep the customer in the loop. You can do this via your case/ticket system or via email.
  • Set the right expectations. Don’t have a standard answer of 4-6 weeks. Be transparent with your customer. They would rather you be honest and let them know that the feature you wanted is just not available. Be sure to include a logical reason and think about getting someone from your product management team to help deliver the news in some cases. For example, let the customer know that they had to sacrifice one feature in a product release to do another feature that will benefit them.
  • Be sympathetic. Understand how the item impacts your client and use the right tone in your communication. Picking up a phone and delivering the news or meeting a client in person is also recommended. I believe that any message with emotion should not be delivered by email.
  • Direct the executive. Give the executive the info they need quickly and get them to respond.
This story ended on a more positive note. After we responded with an email indicating our further displeasure, the executive responded with a sympathetic email and took responsibility to make it right with us. We’ll see if they deliver in 3-4 weeks or if we have another broken promise.

Have you had any stories like these?

3 thoughts on “Failing to Deliver: What Not to do in Customer Success

  1. I really enjoyed your article. What resonated with me was “be sympathetic” and “Be transparent with your customer. They would rather you be honest”.

    Many times a customer success person comes in as the “cleaner” to fix a problem. If we all start from the two points above setting/meeting expectations becomes much easier.



    1. @josh – thanks for dropping by and glad you liked it
      @paul – relationship is really important and if you don’t have one, you have to start off on a good foot.


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