Essential Etiquette for Customer Success Communications
Blog: The Process Street Blog
Jeff Gardner (Director of Customer Support & Success at Intercom in the early days) on customer communications:
“It’s got to be easy. Don’t make customers jump through hoops to use your product.
It’s got to be effective. Know everything about your product, including its limitations.
It’s got to be authentic. Make sure everyone’s aligned on your fundamental cultural values.”
As a Customer Success Manager, you represent the customer’s interest and your goal is to help them get value from your product. In many ways, they are the link between the user and the company, and that link grows stronger the more acquainted with the product the customer becomes.
CSMs are kind of like a combination of product manager and technical support; one of their chief duties is leading the Customer Success team in handling all communication from the customer about the product, be it questions about service, onboarding, or resolving technical difficulties.
It goes without saying that communication is important. The tone, content, and delivery of any kind of messaging should be refined and optimized to deliver the best possible customer experience. You should consider how to tailor different messages for different purposes, mediums, and customer profiles. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to get you very far, and a keen understanding of etiquette around customer success communications is essential.
This means the CSM needs to be able to take into account the nuances of written communication with individual customers and be able to adjust their approach to each specific situation.
In this Process Street post, I’ll detail the core principles vital for a CSM to lead their team to successful communications with all customers.
- CSM communications etiquette: Ground rules
- CSM communications etiquette: Provide a solution
- CSM communications etiquette: Closing a query
Customer success communications: Ground rules
Meet customer expectations
I’ll start with the obvious: Be upfront and clear in all of your communications.
If you promise a solution in the next update, you need to be 100% sure that solution is there.
If you say you’ll respond by Tuesday at noon, you respond by Tuesday at noon. If the worst happens, and you can’t do this for some reason, be sure to communicate this to the client as soon as possible.
You don’t like having to wait around because someone else is running late; your customer doesn’t either.
Your customers will only trust you if they know that their expectations will be met.
Pro tip: Be realistic about your commitments. It’s a good idea to include some wiggle room in your deadlines because the unexpected always pops up. Only promise what you know you can deliver.
Reply to the first message fast
If you need additional time to find a solution, let the customer know you’ve received their request and are working on an answer. It’s also a good idea to provide a realistic timeframe for your response.
A typical reply might go something like this:
“Thank you, your request has been received. Today, by the end of the day, we will complete all the calculations and send them to you.”
Explain like I’m five (ELI5)
You know the ins and outs of every part of your job, your product, and your company. Your customer does not. In your customer success communications, it’s much better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
When providing information, use as much detail as possible. Be sure to clearly explain your actions and avoid jargon as much as possible.
Even with our best efforts, misunderstandings sometimes still occur, so remember to check in with your customer. Make sure they understand what you’ve told them, and answer any questions they might have.
Always be aware of your tone as well. You want to sound professional, but also friendly and approachable. Use affirmative statements as much as possible and avoid passing blame onto the customer. They’ve come to you with a problem. They’re frustrated and confused. It’s your job to fix that.
Customer success communications: Focus on the solution
Don’t make excuses
This follows on from the previous point. Your customer is frustrated and confused. They don’t care about why you don’t have a solution; they just want the solution. Even if your office has been flooded and you’ve had to turn your desk into a raft, it’s best to simply apologize, assess the situation, and inform the customer what is possible.
There will, of course, be situations where you do need to tell the customer why something has (or hasn’t) happened. However, you need to take ownership of the situation. Apologize, provide a brief explanation, and then let the customer know what you plan to do next.
Answer every question
It’s becoming increasingly common for business inquiries to be written informally; this is even more true for customers. You may get very well-structured messages with bullet points of every question and concern the customer has, but chances are, you won’t.
Customers don’t always know what you need to know to solve their problems – and sometimes they aren’t even entirely sure what their problem is. As a result, you need to carefully read their message and make sure you know what it is they’re asking for.
We’ve all had that experience where we ask for help and the person responding offers an answer that has nothing to do with what we asked, or requests information we’ve already given. It’s frustrating at best, alienating at worst, and a sure fire way to lose your customer’s confidence.
Provide a walkthrough of every step
The solutions you offer should be structured like mini-tutorials. Your customer will have a much easier time understanding what needs to be done if it’s laid out in a step-by-step structure.
Each step needs to be precise. Break down the task into the absolute smallest parts to ensure nothing gets overlooked. If a step has more than one action, you haven’t broken it down enough.
At the very beginning, state the cause of the problem. This will give the customer context about why the problem happened, and how the steps will correct that problem. Once they understand the causal relationship, it’s less likely for the problem to reoccur.
State the action as an imperative command, like this sentence does.
Follow the logical connection of each step and try not to interrupt the chain of actions with too many sub-points.
Check for readability
Your solution’s walkthrough should be easily scannable. Add line breaks in between paragraphs if necessary. If you send the customer a wall of text, they’re going to feel overwhelmed and unable to follow the steps.
Use text formatting, like bold or italics, to highlight key points, but don’t overdo it. Only highlight information that is important or actionable. Too much formatting can make your message difficult to read.
Pro tip: If you’re unsure, read the paragraph with only the bolded text. If it doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t convey the important details, reassess your formatting.
If possible, include screenshots of each step, or even a video tutorial. This will help orient the customer to where they should look for information, and will ultimately help reassure them. Providing visual explanations is a great way to ensure the customer understands your instructions on the first try.
Links to any resources should be included as a list at the end of your message. Within a longer text body, these links can be overlooked, or inadvertently distract the customer from fully reading through the information you’ve given them.
In some cases, you’ll need to request additional information from the customer. Like the links, keep all of your questions together in one section, and number them so that the customer is easily able to provide answers.
Customer success communications: How to close a query
Tell the customer what you’ve done
There are those customers who don’t care how a problem was solved, only that it was solved. However, it’s good practice to let them know what steps you’ve taken to resolve their issue, particularly if the customer has made a specific request, or the solution took a substantial amount of time.
If a problem takes too long to resolve, a customer may feel like they’ve been forgotten about or that their issue isn’t important to the company. By informing them of the work you’ve done on their behalf, it reassures them of their value.
Consider what happens next
Always try to anticipate your customers’ needs whenever possible. The more quickly you can resolve their concerns and pain points, the happier they’ll be.
Consider this example:
A potential customer has questions about a product launch. It’s reasonable to infer that they are likely to place an order for that product in the future. While answering the initial question, you can also include relevant information and resources about purchasing and delivering products, saving both of you time down the road.
The customer will be happy. You’ll look good. The company will look good. It’s a win all around.
Be gracious when receiving feedback
All feedback is good feedback, even if it’s negative and even if you don’t agree with it. Any time a customer provides feedback, remember to thank them. It’s a good idea – particularly with negative feedback – to ask additional questions about their experience.
Let’s say a customer felt their problem wasn’t solved by the CSM. Based on just that information, you don’t know why their problem wasn’t solved, so can’t address the situation or offer an alternative.
The CSM in question may have been unclear, distracted, or in need of further training. Perhaps there was a language barrier, or the customer wasn’t able to articulate their issue. Perhaps there was a technical problem or a system crashed. Perhaps there simply wasn’t a solution to that customer’s problem.
Without knowing the context of the feedback, you can’t appropriately apply it.
There are no “yes” or “no” answers
That’s not true. There definitely are. You just shouldn’t use them.
A short, one- or two-word answer indicates to the customer that the CSM isn’t invested in their issues. This is another instance where over-communication is your friend, especially if you’re dealing with a complex product or service.
Always provide your customer the most complete and relevant information for their question.
Look at these examples:
- “Yes, this product is in stock. The last delivery from Israel was only 2 days ago.”
- “No, this product has ended, but there is a similar one.”
- “Yes, it is better for you to use the website live chat, it will suit your needs the most.”
- “Yes, our specialist will come to your home. You need to agree on the application and time.”
- “No, this procedure does not require general anesthesia. Local is quite enough, none of the patients complained of pain.”
Yes, you should get the last word in
Do not leave the customer hanging. The last communication should always come from you. Even the most difficult, arduous exchange with a customer should be wrapped up with gratitude and encouragement. You don’t want this to be the last time that customer ever contacts your company.
Finish with a positive statement and assure the customer that you’re happy and willing to help them with any further needs they might have. Let them know what the next steps they should take are, and thank them for their loyalty.
Every interaction you have with a customer is a building block in the overall relationship that customer has with your organization. You want those building blocks to be solid and stable, so take advantage of every opportunity to make a positive impression and foster some goodwill.
Pro tip: To make your life easier, you can use a template builder to create a template and then use it when answering clients.
Customer success communications: Key takeaways
Every CSM has their own communications etiquette tricks they’ve discovered work well for increasing customer loyalty and engagement. However, the tips in this post are some of the most important parts of any CSM’s communications.
Above all, remember to always be calm and respectful in your interactions with customers. Try to understand their needs and all possibilities for resolving their requests.
Satisfied and valued customers are more likely to leave positive reviews and recommend your company to family and friends, which leads straight to more loyal customers and an increase in revenue!
What other tips would you recommend to CSMs out there looking to improve their customer communications? Let us know in the comments below!
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