Many well-intentioned CS professionals are so focused on the details of their product or service and are in a rush to get the customer to cover lots of information that they skip the critical relationship-building tasks that form the foundation for a strategic, trusting relationship. As a result, clients are cautious and hesitant to engage with them and introduce them to other parts of the organization. The net result is that things take much longer and are less effective than they should be.
To address this critical issue, we teach our clients the "Go Slow to Go Fast Approach" for building effective relationships.
The essence of this approach is that you need to take the time to build a trusting relationship with a client before you are ready to start working on content. When you do this, you prevent many of the delays and missteps that always slow down the process later.
The trust you build upfront - the relationship capital - will allow you and your client to move faster and further later in the process.
One of the most common problems we hear from Customer Success (CS) leaders is that their team members don't have the right kind of relationships with their customers. They tell us:
- We want our CS teams to work with customers on more strategic / business issues
- Our customers view our CS team as junior, support resources
- We can't get the right person at our customers' organizations to speak with us. Our only contacts are in procurement or IT.
- Our customers won't even get on the phone with us or engage with us
- When we then work with their teams, and we ask them precisely what they do when engaging with customers (especially new customers), it is no wonder.
While some CS staff members instinctively know how to grow a new relationship, most customer success professionals have never learned how to build trusted, strategic relationships with their customers.
Step 1: Build a Trusting Relationship
During your initial few client interactions, you need to spend time learning about the client members with whom you will work. You need to understand who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their view of their organization, and what constitutes success for them and their organization. It is especially important to focus on the executive sponsor(s) and your primary contact.
You also need to share with them about your background, expertise, and weaknesses. You need to demonstrate how you can help them achieve a level of success they can't achieve on their own. Be honest and upfront with what you do well, and where you will rely on others to get the expertise they need.
Your goal is to start to learn about each other and figure out how you can work well together. Building these relationships take time and will continue over several interactions and meetings. This is not a single discussion topic on the agenda.
Step 2: Agree on the Process
A crucial step in building trust is to define the process by which you will collaborate with the client team and executives. Spend time right up front asking when the executive wants to be involved in decisions, where they want to be kept updated, or where they want you or your team to handle issues for them. Directly review expectations and get agreements about roles and responsibilities for you, the client executive, and the client team. Also, discuss how these will change over time and in different project phases.
Ask how to communicate with them (phone, email, meeting, etc.) and how frequently they want to be informed. Some clients are busy and don't want you clogging their inbox with unnecessary details. Others want to be involved in every step of the way. Find out your clients' preferences.
Another key issue here is to discuss and agree on how to handle any conflicts, issues, or risks that will inevitably come up over the project. Make sure you have a clear escalation path and plan with your clients.
Step 3: Content Discussions
Only after you have done the upfront work of building relationships, trust, and agreeing on how to collaborate, are you ready to get into the detailed, content discussion. This is when you can start talking about your project plan, deliverables, activities, etc.
Also, make sure you have the right people in the room for these discussions. Many CS staff members make the mistake of asking the detailed content discussions to the first person they encounter, often the client executive. A better approach is to explain the nature of the exact questions that need to be covered and ask them who is the best person in their organization to address them.
Try the Go Slow to Go Fast Approach with your next new client and reflect on how it changes the relationship. Note where you avoid delays, conflict, and problems because you have built relationships and are transparent on roles and responsibilities. Do you have issues with current clients where you might have skipped some of the steps here? That is OK; you can go back to them now and work on building trust and agreeing on collaboration processes now. It can only help.
Want to learn more about how you can improve customer relationships and success? Check out success program and learn how to deliver proactive, confident, and effective customer success services!