Customer Success 101: managing expectations

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This is the third post in a 3 part series that dives into the components that lead to a successful partnership with your customers. My second post reviewed how to build relationships with your point of contact and others. Another building block in forming successful partnerships with your customers is Customer Success managing expectations. Below are a few strategies for how to deftly manage (and exceed!) your customers’ expectations.

Yes, you’ve probably heard this one before but it’s worth repeating. Over-promising will not win you any fans- it only stands to hurt you when you invariably come up short. Do yourself a favor and don’t put yourself in the position of always playing catchup when it comes to Customer Success managing expectations!

If you work in the service industry remember that your job is to provide a service to your customers. We’ve all encountered someone who seemed to have forgotten that their job was to be of service- like a rude shoe salesman who suggested that asking for your shoe size was a major inconvenience to them. A big part of making sure your customers know you’re there for them is to make yourself available when they need you. Knowing what kind of communication your customers expect of you is also very important. That is a useful conversation to have with the product owner and anyone else you will be communicating with over the course of your partnership. Part of managing their expectations will also be letting them know when you will not be available or when there will be limitations on how fast you will respond to emails or calls. Some productive methods for setting boundaries with customers are discussed in this post.

A customer has just requested a new feature be added to your product, one that you suspect is unlikely to receive a spot on the roadmap in the next 6 months (or ever). This is a pretty common reality in the world of SaaS and depending on how you field this request you could either look like a hero or a dud in the customer’s eyes. The first step is to determine why they are asking for this feature. Often times customers ask for something they think will address a pain point without giving you and your team an opportunity to brainstorm alternative approaches. I have often found that if you have a strong understanding of the customer’s hurdles internally and in the marketplace, you can suggest a solution that works for both parties. In the startup world, where things often move at 200 MPH, that could mean implementing a manual workaround that buys your team a few months before you have to add the feature to the roadmap.

When a customer has a strong case for why they need a new feature built, there are a few possible next steps. First, determine if this feature could bring in additional revenue for your company. The most compelling feature requests are ones you can make a strong business case around. If necessary, consider presenting the business case to the leadership team outlining the estimated cost, service, and benefit dimensions. Second, gauge how important this feature is to the customer. If you think inaction could cost your company the account come renewal time, make sure to bring that to the attention of the Product and leadership teams well ahead of time. Finally, try to get a sense for if the customer is willing to pay for the development of this feature. Not all SaaS companies are open to operating on a consultant-like model when it comes to building out new features, while others have built a huge share of their revenue around these services (think SalesForce).

Let’s say you’ve done all that and this feature is still unlikely to get built anytime soon- what do you tell the customer? Be honest with them. I have found that stringing a customer along works about as well as you’d think it does; which is to say it doesn’t work at all. Try to explain to the customer why this feature is not in line with the direction your company is moving in right now. This will also allow you to suggest vendors who they might be able to partner with that could help them accomplish the goals they had for this particular feature.

Every company has a hiccup every now and then- recall the GoDaddy shutdown of 2014 or the launch of Healthcare.gov, but mistakes also present an opportunity to impress your customers with your response to these challenges. I recall my surprise at how understanding my customers were during a 48+ hour outage once I explained the cause of the problem and the comprehensive steps we were taking to ensure we would not make the same mistakes again.

Read the other posts in this Customer Success 101 series on establishing a Customer Success point of contact and relationship management.

Written by

Customer Success consultant, writer, and expert www.brooke.land

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