The Idea Behind Building Relationships

Building strong interdepartmental relations is just as important as building long lasting relationships with customers. Almost all customer-centric companies have customer retention and customer happiness as their primary objective – it takes a village to achieve this goal – involving a high degree of dependency on other teams within the organization. If you train Customer Success teams to build strong internal relationships, then they are more able to align strategic goals and optimize resources. Working on internal relationships positively correlates with decreasing churn rates, increasing renewal rates, and further affirms customer trust in your company.

There is a lot of talk around building relationships with your customers, and how that is correlated to churn. In order to instill a sense of bonding and relationship building with my CS team at Axway, I bought a Dale Carnegie’s book for all my team members entitled, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age. This book discusses in depth how you can enhance the ability to get things done, while optimizing your resources and creating an extensive network of internal and external stakeholders. I highly recommend this exercise for all nascent and established CS teams to bring not only your team together, but also to spark bonding efforts between teams.

Customer Success and Support Team

Usually, when a customer faces a problem, they raise a ticket and provide the relevant information to a CSM. Subsequently, this information has to be passed on to the Support team to fix issues or escalate to Engineering. Here, an alignment between the teams facilitates efforts on both ends, and provides a more holistic answer to customer concerns and queries.

Coordinating with the Support team is a crucial factor, especially when some tickets take too long to be resolved, tickets are queued up, or if you have a customer who prefers immediate responses. Let’s look at an example of how important it is for CS and the Support team to be aligned and have a clear channel for communication. Assume you have a customer, and their company has undergone some recent internal changes or is tied to a deadline, and they have raised a ticket. These background details or specifications should be clearly communicated to the Support department for them to take into account when handling a ticket from this particular client. Weekly meetings with the Support team helps facilitate a smoother and more efficient transfer of information, and better equips them to deal with customer-related issues.

The absence of a clear line of communication with the Support team can create situations, in which:

  • Tension between the teams makes it difficult to work together and the client notices it
  • Teams tend to point fingers at each other, when customers are upset due to the responses they get for tickets
  • Due to internal conflicts, you may end up making your customers unhappy, usually owing to delayed responses to tickets or not answering the issues in the right way

Consequently, when things go wrong and customers are upset, it’s about connecting with each other as a single unit, working together to solve the problem at hand, and focusing on being ready as a team to effectively handle issues in the future. Support is very much an extension of Customer Success, in the sense that they have a lot of touch points with customers, just like CSMs. It is of utmost importance for the Support team to build a bond or connection with customers right from the get go, and constantly work on strengthening that relationship in order to generate greater gains that result from increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Customer Success and Engineering

It is a well-known fact that Customer Success and Engineering work hand in hand. Here, Engineering, QA, and Product can be put in the same bucket. If there is a bug that needs to be fixed, or if a new release is slated to go out – these are examples of overarching events whose effects may result in significant upheaval in the day to day operations for CS, Engineering, QA, and Product teams. All troubleshooting and development tasks fall under the Engineering umbrella, and CS has to be on hand to train their accounts on the new features, or give status updates on fixes.

Customer happiness is a direct result of how closely you are listening to customer concerns. In this context, CS involves Product and Engineering in the customer engagement process to explain the reasoning behind their feature requests. Oftentimes, customers request certain type of product enhancements for compatibility reasons. These are then handed over to Engineering and Product. This is great from a product standpoint, because you know that customers are using the various features in your product, but can sometimes feel extraneous if they are not backed up by customer testimonials.

It’s very important to seamlessly align with Product and Engineering in order to share metrics and quantitative data on what customers are requesting. It’s a great idea to invite them for meetings with customers, so that customers can explain what they are looking for. If, for example, 25% or 50% of your customers request the same feature or update, you should then consider enhancing your product with this feature, since that is the popular vote.

Usually there is a lot of pressure on Product and Engineering to release features quickly. Since there is a high probability that the customer will not renew until their request is granted, the smart way to handle such a situation is to have the CSMs, who work with customers directly, recognize that Product and Engineering have roadmaps. More often than not, Engineering and Product are swamped with pending tasks, and overarching promises to your customers could potentially mess up their workflow. In such a case, always check in with these two departments, before you overpromise and underdeliver.

It’s a careful balance between winning your customers’ trust, and forwarding serious enhancements to the Product and Engineering teams. Otherwise, it can seem like Customer Success is piling them up with a lot more inessential work.

Best Practices for Customer Relations

It’s a great practice to tell customers that your company likes to collect feedback, and solicit their opinions regularly. What’s even more important is to inculcate that feedback into the product or take it into account during production. Similarly, if and when that feature comes into play and is released, the client should be one of the first people to be informed.

Another factor that significantly adds to customer satisfaction and loyalty is when you map out the requests that they have asked for. Even if it takes you a while to do it, make sure you process these requests and inform your customers about the status – this is a sure shot way to turn your customers into advocates and get your company invaluable referrals.

Working on internal, as well as external, relationships not only facilitates seamless functioning between departments, but also makes sure the company is closely tied to its customers. Establishing a feedback loop with your customers means that feedback comes in, and that it is translated into product and feature updates by the Product and Engineering departments.

Kim Oslob

Sr. Director, Global Customer Success, Axway