A different approach to engaging your customers: How to drive change using motivational interviewing

“It’s your fault that you’re not using our product and decided to use leave to another solution. You never took the training and you never really gave it a chance.” This is something that many customer success professionals may have wanted to say to a client but I can guarantee that this confrontational technique won’t get you very far. Please don’t do this. There is a better way to guide your clients and to get them to change. It’s called “Motivational Interviewing” (MI).

Customers don’t care about your advice until they know you care about them

Motivational Interviewing is a style of communication that emerged in the 1980’s for clinicians to help people with substance abuse disorders. Therapists used to blame their patients for their addictions and provide high-handed orders as a way of treating them. You can take a guess as to how successful that was. MI takes a different approach and after learning more about it I felt that it’s directly applicable to customer success and sales. I will provide an overview of what motivational interviewing is and then dive into different aspects of it in subsequent posts.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing is about drawing out your customer’s motivation (or lack there of) to pursue a necessary change or solution. For example, it can involve getting your customer to take a training course or something bigger such as adapting to a completely new technology. You are digging down deeper into what makes your customer tick and who they really are. It’s a good tool when you need to push your customer out of their comfort zone or to do something they are reluctant to do.

What Motivational Interviewing Isn’t

MI isn’t about getting customers to see things from your perspective. It’s about seeing things from their perspective. It’s about putting their needs before your own. It isn’t about giving your clients advice or telling them what to do. That can cause them to shut down. It’s about finding their motivation so they are more open to change and empowering them to take action on their own.

Motivational Interviewing in customer success
Empower your customers, don’t preach

Four Objectives of Motivational Interviewing 

There are four objectives that you should be striving for when using Motivational Interviewing with your customers:

  1. Bond. You want to build rapport with your customers by establishing a trusted and respectful relationship. 
  2. Empathize. You need to actively listen and appreciate the situation from your customers’ perspective to uncover and understand the motivations. This is about walking a thousand miles in their shoes.
  3. Empower. Give your customers the confidence and hope to make the necessary change. Never take away their autonomy by telling them what to do. 
  4. Commit. Get your customers to commit to a plan and take the first step 

Three Parts of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing isn’t a simple concept. One of the failure points of MI is the lack of training for therapists to perform it properly. To make this easier for customer success and sales professionals I’ve broken this down into three main parts:

  • Part I: Build rapport, establish trust and start to uncover the issues
  • Part II: Assess their motivation to work towards a solution
  • Part III: Get them to commit and create a plan for change

Please stay tuned for my next post where I’ll focus on Part I on how to build rapport and establish trust with your customers. I’ll then cover the other parts in subsequent posts as well as provide an exercise that you can use with your own team to practice this form of communication.

For now, keep this in mind: refrain from telling your customers what to do until you have established a trusted relationship. This will save you a lot of headaches and failed attempts!

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