Building credibility, developing a human connection, and keeping a customer-first mindset are critical components for sustaining long-term relationships and building customer success, according to a panel session during Startup Boston Week, featuring Stuti Bhargava (VP, Global Customer Success, Immersive Labs), Jason Mercer (Partnerships Manager, Flockjay), Sara Avellar (Customer Success Manager, Jobble) and Sy Pendergast (Customer Success Manager, Goldcast).
Startups must think about the entire customer journey and build consistency in all touchpoints. If the customer has a good experience, the relationship will stay solid and strong – and it’s a never-ending process that creates a mutually beneficial relationship between the customer and startup.
“You’re not just trying to get them over the finish line (to close a deal); you have to keep thinking about how to keep the relationship growing,” said Sara Avellar, Customer Service Manager at Jobble. “When your customers are successful, you are successful.”
Customer success (CS) is the alignment of the entire organization to provide consistency messaging and experiences. Good customer success also focuses on achieving the customer’s metrics. Success breeds success and demonstrating that you are focused on your clients’ metrics will build trust and confidence while strengthening relationships.
Advocate for the Customer
The customer service function is not only the advocate for the customer. It’s also the nexus point between sales and marketing. Looking at the entire experience holistically and finding ways to improve the process, customer service is like a completing a puzzle. Your representatives provide insights and solutions that tie relationships and put all the pieces together. When complete, there is consistency across the company even if presented in diverse ways across different audiences.
Building relationships also requires an understanding of communication styles. Ironically, the remote work function brought on by the pandemic has made accessibility simpler and more comfortable. It is much easier to have a video call than to schedule in-person meetings, and clients are more willing to chat online. Video communication has become an acceptable business communication tool that also humanizes communications, especially when a spouse, child, or pet enters the picture.
Every customer service representative needs to show that human side of who they are. It’s important – and it matters to customers. According to Jason Mercer, Partnerships Manager and Business Development at Flockjay, “I make sure everyone knows I am human, and I know they are human as well. I only check in when I know it will be helpful and applicable to them. and then I tailor it to the customer’s needs.”
Quickly Resolve Issues
If you manage conflict, resolve problems, and create solutions in a timely manner, you’re going to build trust and strengthen customer relationships. Repeated actions focused on solution work, but repeated actions that are negative will quickly send your customer to another provider. Transparency is important to clients.
Startups need to escalate matters within their organizations while also owning up to mistakes. This action builds credibility, and customers will come back because they have confidence in the startup.
“In some ways, it’s the resolution of conflict that builds customer trust,” Stuti Bhargava, Vice President, Global Customer Success at Immersive Labs said. “All people want to know is that they’ve been heard, they can trust you, and that you have a game plan. It’s all about open communication. Do that successfully, and conflict resolution becomes the glue of the relationship going forward.”
Process, Process, Process, and Measurement
The panel agreed that process is one of the top requirements for good customer service. It enhances communication and results, and it strengthens relationships. Set expectations by defining actions and methods through which customers will interact with each step, from contract signing to onboarding to renewal. Sara Avellar adds, “Process drives outcomes and prevention through process.”
An important step in this process is customer check-ins. Reach out to customers to understand how they are engaging and interacting. Understand that there could be speed bumps along the way, and some might drop off after a few months. Reach out. Learn why and work to find resolution to keep engagement levels high.
“It’s good to measure customer happiness to reduce turnover. Data-driven metrics are key but not the tell-all answer.” Stuti adds, “A powerful customer success organization looks at a combination of factors including financial, usage, and sentiment.”
Avellar also reminds us that every company is different in how they use the product or service. Understand usage behavior and use this feedback to improve your process. Spreadsheets are the easiest tool to use. Track and show usage by departments to understand what is really happening and use this data for continuous improvement.
The panel agreed that startups must define their ideal customer profile (ICP) and segment data by audience to determine where to allocate resources. Monitor the data and act when needed. If things are too quiet something might be wrong. No news usually means something is off. Reach out and find out what is happening.
Every customer has unique needs, but you can create a baseline standard. Look at what is effective to build a forecast. Does the data support your ideas? Things change all the time, and it’s important to communicate with customers at different levels and at different times. Jason Mercer added that a great customer success team needs a baseline health metric, and that one powerful metric is Lifetime Value of Customer.
In Summary – Be Real
The customer success team sets the tone for the relationship and is the baseline for a startup’s success. They are the front line and feel the pulse, see what’s happening, and align messaging throughout the customer’s lifetime. A happy customer sets the tone for success, and the data and information collected by customer service relates to recommendations and continuous improvement
Jason Mercer summarizes customer service and relationships managed with the term as “Triple H.”
Humility – Be open, listen well, and address issues. If misaligned the relationship will spoil.
Honesty – Admit it, realign, and rectify. If you cannot fix it, admit it. Do not mislead. be honest about next steps.
Hope – Set a mutually agreeable game plan with new metrics and KPIS. Build hope and confidence that we can resolve.
All customers should feel the same level of support to generate meaningful conversations, advocacy, and accessibility. If you build trust, confidence, and advocacy, you’ll extend the lifetime value of your customer.
Ready to dive deeper? Watch the full recording from Startup Boston Week 2021 directly below: