Martial Customer Success

JKD is a hybrid philosophy of martial arts influenced by Bruce Lee. It is a practice that conveys minimal movement with maximum effect. In the context of Customer Success, it refers to a current process that has become too rigid in a situation in which there is a need is to be like water – to move fluidly without hesitation.

The title might make you wonder, “What has martial arts got to do with Customer Success?” Interesting, isn’t it? Well, we are trying to apply the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do outside of martial arts in the realm of Customer Success.

What is JKD All About?

Jeet Kune Do (JKD) is a hybrid philosophy of martial arts founded by Bruce Lee. He believed real combat was spontaneous. Hence, a martial artist should “be like water,” and move fluidly without hesitation. Lee observed that ‘style’ has made martial arts rigid and unrealistic, since every artist is taught to use pre-arranged patterns and techniques, which are not adequate in dealing with a spontaneous combat. Due to style requirements, there exists no freedom to come up with a spontaneous, individualistic combatting response. JKD is not a collection of various styles, but it includes the best of every style. Lee felt that compartmentalization of martial arts based on region, like Chinese Martial Arts or Japanese Martial Arts, is inappropriate. According to Lee, all these labels hinder the free growth of an art form. In order to grow, there has to be constant exchange of tricks and techniques.

Lessons from JKD

JKD’s basic guiding principles are: Simplicity, Directness and Freedom. JKD also practices flexibility, emptiness, effectiveness, open mindedness, balance, adaptability, and fluidity in martial arts. All these attributes fit in the CS working model as well.

Let’s Apply JKD to CS

One can make the case that CS can sometimes be too rigid, with CSMs forced to follow set patterns, where instead there is a need to make each interaction flexible. It’s about adapting to changing customer needs on the go, and coming up with appropriate solutions.

1. Empty Your Mind, Be Formless, Shapeless Like Water

This is a mantra that CSMs can practice, as they are the ones facing customer issues. The aim of a CSM’s job is to answer questions and proactively find solutions to help customers experience maximum product value. No matter the tone of speech or topic, whether it’s a complaint or compliment, answering each and every message with skill and grace is a CSM’s primary duty.

Just before every engagement, CSMs can practice emptying their minds of unpleasant previous experiences with customers, and their preconceived notions about their current encounter. Since the customer has taken the effort to reach out and provide feedback, CSMs should approach them with an open mind.

2. “All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.”- Bruce Lee

In the CS world, the product is never one-size-fits-all. Usually, each product instance or offering is customized with new feature additions to suit the customer’s needs. This highlights the teachings in JKD pertaining to flexibility. In the context of Customer Success, Flexibility and Emptiness symbolize growth and product evolution.

3. JKD Means Minimal Movement With Maximum Effect

This is very much similar to the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80/20 rule. The Pareto Principle states that roughly 80% of the results comes from 20% of the causes. In business, the 80-20 rule points out that 80% of a company’s revenue is generated by 20% of its total customers. Therefore, the goal is to identify which operating factors generate greater and lesser benefits. Then, focus your time and attention in the direction that multiplies your progress.

In CS, many times customers are segmented as high-touch, low-touch, or no-touch (or tech-touch!) depending on various criteria. Many consider the right approach to deal with low-touch customers is the no-touch model. Once lower-revenue customers experience the difference in treatment, they have a much higher likelihood to churn. Therefore, it’s important to serve appropriately.

On the other hand, your high-touch customer (single large client) accounts and the other multiple smaller clients are clubbed together in the same tier. Here’s where the 80-20 rule or the minimal movement with maximum effect comes into effect. High-touch customers deserve celebrity treatment, as they account for a greater percentage of revenue generation. The customer satisfaction of the high-touch tier is crucial for retention, renewal, and advocacy.

When customers raise a ticket, it’s up to the Engineering team to decide how much effort and time they can allot to resolving the issue. JKD focuses on conserving both energy and time. In this competitive technological world, fixing issues in the shortest possible time, with minimal expenditure of time and resources, is the key to success. This can be achieved by building an efficient team capable of resolving issues based on priority by investing only what is vitally necessary.

4. “One does not accumulate but eliminate. It’s not the daily increase, but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” – Bruce Lee

The above quote can be applied in CS to find the processes that are essential, and those that are ineffective and should be changed or improved. As a result, it is very important to keep tabs on everything and measure, not just the areas of growth, but also the areas that hinder or decrease the rate of growth. Keep in mind that it’s not only the number of new customers that a company gets, but also the rate of churn that matters. Once a customer churns, it doesn’t matter whether he was a high or low revenue customer. The negative feedback he passes on by word-of-mouth can cause more damage than anything else.

5. Simplicity is the Key to Brilliance

Jeet Kune Do professes that the simplest things work best. In the CS world, the simplest deliverable would be to meet customer expectations and deliver value. Even when it comes to support tickets, the right approach is to solve them based on their priority and simplicity. If simpler issues are resolved rapidly, then the long list of tickets will reduce as a result. Also, a Customer Experience Survey (CES) survey can provide an accurate picture of customer experience, and needed areas of improvement.

6. JKD’s Philosophy on Directness

Directness is a key service-culture approach that can be employed by CSMs. If issues have taken too long to be resolved, then it is better to let the customer know the reason for the delay, and make sure they are aware that you are taking the delay seriously and want to deliver them an error-free solution.

Most businesses over promise and under deliver. This gives customers a false-sense of confidence that they are working at an efficient rate. The ideal approach would be to have an internal discussion to check what can be put into quick action, and then provide a direct and clear picture to the customers, instead of keeping them waiting or guessing.

Jeet Kune Do in Effect

Jeet Kune Do provides applicable and adaptable philosophies to Customer Success, and probably many other professional disciplines as well – so try practicing these techniques in your day to day and see if anything changes in the response you get from your colleagues, your customers, and even within yourself.

Shreesha Ramdas

CEO & Co-Founder, Strikedeck