Stop Saying No – Customer Success is About Saying Yes

just say yes

I can’t go very far today without reading an article that provides advice on “how to say no” to colleagues or senior leaders that approach you for assistance.

The latest is a post from Greg McKewon who wrote “How to Say no Gracefully“. I actually think this is bad advice – especially for those in customer success. I believe that if you get legitimate requests for assistance that involve your customers, you should find a way to take those on.

At one point in my customer success career I was told that my team was only supposed to serve specific customer segments and that I should not concern myself with items that were outside my swim lane. As I continued to say “no” as gracefully as I could as requests came in, I ended up reducing the influence I had, alienating myself, hurting the reputation of my team and putting my entire group at risk. In addition, overall customer satisfaction decreased as customers had subpar experiences and my team’s moral was low as they were confused about their role and resented assisting other groups’ customer requests in areas that were perceived outside of their domain.

Saying “no” Hurt my Career

As I reflected on my predicament, I realized that I needed to adjust the lens that I was using to view the role of my team within our organization. I decided to act quickly. As one of the groups that had true subject matter experts when it came to the customer I needed to embrace all requests for assistance and figure out how to accommodate other teams’ need for our expertise. Having such a close relationship to the customer is a massive advantage and I wanted my team to be included in all discussions when it came to servicing customers.

Instead of saying no, I created a process that allowed us to take on more requests from other departments so we could say yes more often and provide a consistent and reliable approach. I then focused on how we could be more proactive so we would be involved in all strategic decisions when it came to servicing and communicating with our customers.

I not only removed no from my vocabulary, I banished it. The results were immediate. I had re-established my own reputation within the organization and I developed a renewed purpose within my team. Could we handle everything that came our way? No, we couldn’t. Was it challenging to accommodate the onslaught of requests we received? Yes! Even with this new strain on the team, I would much rather be perceived as a strategic group within the organization that is ready and willing to provide the best possible experience for customers.

I’m not saying that you should take on every project or request thrown at you but you need to understand the power that you have being so close to the customer when you are in a customer success organization and how that should be used to your advantage.

Here is my advice on how to tackle requests that come your way that involve your customers:

  • Create a process that makes it easy to track requests for assistance. Don’t just rely on email. For example, use a ticketing system for internal requests just like you may have for customer support requests.
  • Track all of your customer interactions so you can demonstrate the value your team has had on renewals and upsells. This can help you justify adding additional people to your team so you can take on additional requests.
  • Measure your impact on adoption. Similar to tracking interactions, you should also track how your team’s efforts are influencing product adoption. This can help guide you on which requests you should entertain. If you have data to back up where your team can have the most impact and the areas that are time wasters, you can use this data as a way of deflecting requests that are not in line with your priorities.
  • Communicate the goals and priorities of your group to the rest of the organization and keep them regularly informed. This is a way to mitigate requests of assistance that are outside of your core areas of expertise. If you do get a few crazy requests that you really don’t want to get involved in, you can remind the requester that you have certain priorities at the moment and ask them for their advice on how they think you could accommodate their request. At times, I may not offer to take on items but I would almost always offer up myself or someone on my team to help out.

My advice is not to say no but to either say yes or agree to be involved in some capacity. If there are requests that you feel just don’t make sense, use data to demonstrate where you feel your team can make the biggest impact and instead of saying no, don’t say yes.

Keep in mind that the worst thing you can do is build a cocoon around yourself and your team. Here’s the reality: if you are in customer success and there is a situation that impacts the customer, you should be involved.

How have you tackled similar situations?

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