The Fundamental Flaw of Proactive Customer Success

“You want us to do what?”

Who here has openly said this or had this run through their head when your manager proposed a new process that would essentially add more work to your already busy day? Don’t deny it – I know you’ve done this. I have done it as well and have been at the front of the room when someone on my team has said this to me. As it relates to customer success, I’m typically asking my team to do something new that will help our team be more proactive with their clients. It typically will require more effort so I try and ensure that it’s something that is important (and they understand the importance) and that we have addressed obstacles that may prevent them from accomplishing these new tasks. This isn’t easy and I will dig into this.

When it comes to the world of customer success you will see the word “proactive” being mentioned over and over and over and over again. These are all good articles written by people that I respect but they are all fundamentally flawed in their assumption that the CSM team can determine on their own to be proactive if they put the right tools and practices in place. If that was the case, why do so many CSM teams never reach the proactive customer success levels that they aspire to? Is it because they don’t have enough CSMs? Is it because they don’t have the right technology? Is it because they haven’t properly trained their teams? These items may be contributors but there is a deeper issue that is often overlooked.

The fundamental flaw is the assumption the Customer Success Management team can determine its own proactive destiny. It’s just not the case that CSMs should somehow be able to magically transform themselves and start thinking proactively and performing proactive activities. The problem typically resides outside the role of the Customer Success Management team and requires a new strategy.

The fundamental flaw is the assumption the Customer Success Management team can determine its own proactive destiny.

Waking up on Monday and declaring that the CSMs will now be required to do quarterly business reviews doesn’t make them proactive CSMs. Telling the CSM to time block two hours a week to review client alerts and respond to them doesn’t make them proactive CSMs. You need to understand the obstacles that are preventing the CSM team from going on the offensive and create a viable strategy to overcome this. This post will help you get there.

The Real Obstacles to Proactive Customer Success

When transforming your CSM team from reactive to proactive, you may find the following obstacles:

  • The CSM is currently responsible for troubleshooting issues which is sucking up their time and has created a culture of customer support rather than demonstrating value.
  • The product requires the CSM to be directly involved to help users complete their desired result.
  • The CSM is responsible for additional duties such as renewal or onboarding customers.

If the CSM is responsible for handling support, providing services and/or training due to flaws in the product and is carrying out other duties such as renewals, how in the world does anyone expect them to have the time to be proactive? How can they prepare for a business review when their inbox is inundated with urgent client issues? If you try and implement proactive measures under these conditions you are either setting yourself up for a massive failure or a mutiny.

If you try and implement proactive measures under these conditions you are either setting yourself up for a massive failure or a mutiny.

What’s the ONE Thing that you can do to make your CSM team proactive?

Ever read a book and have your whole world flipped upside down? When I joined Bluecore, I had to quickly surmise the issues that were preventing CSMs from being more proactive and that were creating a negative customer experience. After reviewing where the CSM team was spending their time, speaking to customers and reviewing feedback surveys it was obvious to me where we needed to focus on. There were areas of the product that needed improvement, our customer success software was misconfigured and essentially useless and our CSM team was spending most of its time helping customers execute with our software and managing issues. I needed to prioritize the key issues and act quickly.

In these situations, you need to rely on your experience and the limited data you have and make a decision – especially in a fast-growing start-up. I relied on the “focus question” from the amazing book “The ONE Thing”. This is how it works. Just ask this question “what’s the ONE Thing I can do to make the CSM team more proactive such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary”.

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do to make the CSM team more proactive such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary”

To me, if I wanted to the CSMs to be proactive, I needed to separate out the support tasks from their other responsibilities. I mapped out a plan to create a Product Support team within the Customer Success department that included the job description, costs, success goals and implementation plan to make this team successful. I received approval and then I started to recruit the people that would make up this team. At the same time, I communicated to the CSMs (and other groups) my plan to help them be more proactive and to imagine what it will be like to not have to drop everything for escalations and to handle deep technical investigations. Everyone was excited.

Boom Goes the Proactive Dynamite

After we hired and ramped up our Support team some amazing things started to happen. Our Net Promoter Score (NPS) jumped by 600% which told us that customers were happier, we built a cohesive CSM team with very low turn-over and we fully rolled out a quarterly business review process (by the way, the QBR was the ONE proactive Thing that the CSM team focused on). CSMs had a cathartic feeling when they could hand off client issues to a support email address and comprehensive knowledgebase. CSMs had complete trust in the Support team (who were measured based on response time and customer satisfaction) as they knew that their customer issues would be quickly picked up which would allow them to focus on the strategic items that would help drive more value in their accounts.

Ensuring that the customer success managers perform a QBR effectively is a whole other topic. We’re blessed as we have a data science team that has made this easier for us by providing a well-designed spreadsheet with benchmarks that our team can review and send to their clients. Even with simplifying the QBR process, our CSM team could not have executed this without tackling the major obstacles in their way.

While I’ll always expect to get the “you want us to what?” reaction because I will continue to push our teams, I have built up some credibility so that my teams know that I will help them clear a path to reach these proactive expectations. We will always raise the bar and when we do, we’ll be ready to tackle the next challenge that gets in our way.

I would like to hear if you have had similar challenges and if you agree or disagree with this premise.

Thanks for reading this. If you liked it, please feel free to share it.

Chad Horenfeldt

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