Customer Experience, Customer Success

It’s easy to think you know your customer

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photo by

It starts with the purchase

When you get that endorphin rush from seeing a sale you may think you’ve won a customer. If everything’s gone right, you’re absolutely on the way to a relationship that might last years and will produce great things. More frequently the purchase is just the beginning of the process of moving from trial to loyal (and avid) customer.

Think of this example – if you had a lemonade stand and someone showed up once to purchase a refreshing drink, would you think of them as a regular customer or someone who showed up needing lemonade that day? Their needs for a cool drink could be related to the outside temperature, hydration after a long walk, or a need to try the most talked-about lemonade on the block. But the first day they show up at your lemonade stand, a buyer is not a customer.

Now think forward, and imagine that for several hot weekends in a row you’ve seen the same person. You know a bit about the time they show up, how many cups of lemonade they buy, and perhaps have made chit-chat and talked about something more than the weather. You could definitely call this person a customer, but not yet a loyal buyer. You don’t know when the lemonade stand around the corner will come calling.

When the same customer shows up on a rainy day, asks you why you haven’t opened the lemonade stand, and presents you with a few ideas for other things you could sell (“psst – Brownies go extraordinarily well with a cold glass of lemonade”), you’re well on your way to earning a Customer For Life.

It continues with dedicated service

Why did your customer come back? Undoubtedly you’re not the only lemonade stand in the neighborhood. And you might not even be the cheapest. But people are creatures of habit and want to know where they are going to make a purchase with someone who cares about them and what they think.

Learning more about your customer and the key drivers of their business is the single best thing you can do to build success. Not “success” in the traditional sense where you measure the sheer dollar amount of the contracts you bring in and the quotas you make. I’m talking about success as defined by the raw ability to understand why your customer is hiring your company and to translate that into the products and services you deliver for them.

Success might mean not selling to a customer today until their business has matured to the point where they really take advantage of your solution. Success might mean highlighting the single feature in your product that – no matter how they use it – will improve their business so that they talk to other people about you. Success might mean calling a customer up just because and saying “hello, I’m calling because I wanted to know more about how you’re doing and how I can help.”

Success Grows with Your Understanding of The Customer

It’s easy to think you know your customer. They bought something from you, after all. Isn’t that enough? But remember that their business is changing and developing at the same time yours does too.  The solution that worked for them months or years ago might not work as well for them now for the needs they have today. Or perhaps, the reason they bought your product hasn’t changed a bit.

The point is that their business – like yours – is not static. You need to keep on asking the customer what they think, why they continue buying, and what they need to really succeed. The capital S in Success stands for Solves Their Problem. Which problem did they hire you to solve?

Which Job do they want done? Learn more about that and then next time a customer asks you for your answer, you’ll be able to speak simply in the words of a customer just like them.

Standing Desk

Balance is a tricky skill.

Balance is a tricky skill.

If you’re like many people you balance easily. Riding a bicycle was an early thing for you. Likewise trying a skateboard or balance beam. Maybe you even are clever enough to use a unicycle or a slackline.

Not me — I’ve always been a little off kilter. I didn’t really notice it when it took me until I was 10 to ride a bike. I have trouble reading when cars are in motion — instant motion sickness. I hate being the passenger in a car unless I have something else to distract me (music). Continue reading

Innovation, Product Strategy, Product Thoughts

Ideas are a Dime a Dozen

I know: ideas are a dime a dozen (or perhaps cheaper with inflation these days). Yet the process of creating, nurturing, and executing on ideas is one of the most critical tasks we do. Getting ideas from start to finish (from inspiration to the point of execution) faster means that you can choose from more of them and learn faster. This is a simple list to help you start this process to create ideas and then decide which ones to act on.

You might use this process to decide on a new startup or product idea, to imagine what your ideal customer might want, or simply to rank a list of initiatives you’d like to try when resources are not infinite (that is to say, you should be doing this all the time ;)

Getting started: get inspired

Getting inspired might be the hardest part to getting started with a project. There are a million and one tasks that get in your way and it’s hard to focus on the task at hand and give it the mental space it deserves.

How do you gain a sense of wonder? Start with the things that matter to you. It could be as simple as recognizing themes in what you do every day. It could be a place you love to go or an activity you engage in. Or it could be a nagging sense that you keep running into the same problem over and over.

Then draw your solutions on a clean sheet of paper. If you prefer to use a whiteboard, that’s cool too – just take a picture of each when you’re done. Just do this in a non-electronic format: doodling or drawing opens up important creative areas of your brain.

Generate Solutions

Great! Now that you’ve thought of an area where you’d like to generate ideas, make a huge list. The longer, the better. If it helps pick a ridiculous number of ideas, like 100. Creating the ideas is more important than filtering them or thinking about why they will or won’t work.

If you think of the ideal person who would benefit from this idea and why they would use it, that’s great! And if that person doesn’t come to mind, write the idea down anyway.

Capture The Ideas

Now, arrange these ideas into a format that makes sense for another person. A good format might be a spreadsheet where you list:

  • A short summary of the idea
  • A type of benefit (e.g. save time, organize information, gain fitness)
  • A tangible goal – this should be an expression of the benefit, e.g. “Never forget to pick the kids up from an activity again”
  • A substitute – if the person didn’t use this idea, what would they use to get this done now? (The answer might be “nothing” or “duh. This is obvious”)
  • How frequently does the person do this activity?
  • Do they spend any money on this task now?
  • A ranking of 1 (Love It!), 2 (ok), or 3 (this idea is on the list but I don’t like it right now)

Note: use a list to organize your thinking 

Capturing the ideas is mostly an exercise to help you make a first cut and see if the ideas you generated previously resonate with you. Keeping them on the list even if they are sort of lame is important to remind you of your prior thinking.

Now, Sift the Ideas and Rank

There is a sad truth: you cannot complete all of your ideas in the time you have available. What you should do at this point is pick the best ones and start the process of really working on them to see whether they are good enough in the real world to pursue.

First, check the ideas that you said were really awesome and pick the top 5 or 10. If you only have a few top ideas or if you have a lot, find the one you like least in this group and move it to a “2 – ok”. Now take one of the ideas in the OK group and figure out a way to love that idea and move it up to “1- love it!”

Get Stuff Done

Now, go act on one of the best ideas. Get something done, go and do work for a limited amount of time, and then come back to your idea list. Knowing how long you’ll need to try to get results really depends upon the tangible goal.

Your interim goal might be conversation-based and should be quantified, like talk to 20 customers and get feedback using a 6 question survey that I need to design. And to get to that goal you might have to identify a larger input goal, like contact enough customers to generate 20 conversations in 7 days.

When you generate results from testing your initial ideas, you’ll have better feedback to evaluate whether they are immediate successes or need additional feedback. And that process of iterating through your ideas will also inform your opinion on whether this is a “good idea” or whether it should be stacked lower on your idea list.

Generating, refining, and testing your ideas is a practice and a skill. Improving your idea process is critical to being a better decision-maker – and fun too!

Customer Experience, Customer Service, Customer Strategy

How do you define Customer Service?

Photo by Reynermedia -
Photo by Reynermedia –

What is Customer Service? It doesn’t look like this any more.

I often get asked whether I’m in Customer Service, even though my company uses the term “Customer Success” to define our interactions with customers. Customer Success is Not Customer Service, though it often has responsibility for Customer Service. Think of Customer Success as active and customer service as reactive; or think of customer service as a small piece of what goes on in the customer’s experience.

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Visualizing the customer’s journey may help: from the point that customer starts thinking they have a problem they might need to solve to the end point of on boarding as a customer, the customer is on a journey to investigate, educate, evaluate, and then decide on a solution that meets their needs.

So what is Customer Service, really? If you think of the raw definition of service you’ll probably think of words like “Help”, “Support”, “FAQs”, and “Answers”. You might have – depending upon how old you are – a mental picture of the ways in which you might get support, ranging from an in-person kiosk to a toll-free phone number to an email or web form queue to an instant response that you get from an SMS query. But key to all of these metaphors or methods for getting support is the idea that you have a finite need that can be served by a person or by a system (if you prefer self-service, which many do) and that at the end of that process you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether you received good service or not.

Except the very idea of how to define excellent small-c customer small-s service is difficult to nail down. Is it the nature of being precise – the ability to zero in on the question you were trying to solve and to make sure you know how to ask the right question? Is the key attribute of service promptness – getting you the information you need as fast as possible and making every interaction as fast as possible? Is a key attribute of service accuracy – ensuring that you get the right answer to the question you asked? Is politeness the most important thing your service should strive to deliver? Or is it there a holistic overall description that combines these attributes so that you “know great service when you see it?”

Clearly we all have our definitions for when we have a great customer service experience — whether as a one time event or as a characteristic of a brand like Apple or Disney or American Express — and living up to that definition withconsistency and lacking in variability even when multiple team members are involved might be the clearest hallmark of great customer service. Clear policy and understandable procedure are at the core of any service team that really knows what they are doing, along with the ability to bypass the system for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? It kind of depends on the customer and the moment.

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I believe that great Customer Service (now thinking of a broader definition) is a system of ensuring a great customer experience so that any service interactions are accurate, consistent, empathetic, precise, and friendly.
In this context:

  • Accurate means the organization understands what question or questions you are asking;
  • Consistent means you get a like experience even if you ask the question to different people or through different means of contact;
  • Empathetic means the organization and the people interacting with you effectively mirror your feelings and understand or communicate how you feel in a potentially difficult situation;
  • Precise means that you get an answer that is actionable and confined to the problem you asked, unless the problem you asked requires a broader, wider answer;
  • Friendly means that when asked, you would likely recommend this organization to friends or family members who needed this service.

Note that there are some things missing in this definition. I don’t believe customer service needs to be always available – there are some businesses for which you would make a distinction and say yes, the business absolutely needs to be available (financial services and telecommunications and utilities in general), but for the most part the key item you need to communicate is when a real human is available, how to reach that human, and what other ways you might have to solve your problem during the hours no human is available.

Customer Service is the art of delivering a consistent experience to your customer so that when they ask for help that they feel you have done the best job possible in anticipating their question, understanding how to solve it, responding in a friendly and correct way with the information you need, and generally building an environment where they feel comfortable asking you the questions they need to get answered. And when things don’t go right or feel adversarial, the best Customer Service departments and companies will Do The Right Thing and act with the customer’s best interest in mind.

Except when they can’t. Because sometimes customers do not want to listen, read the policy, or admit that the deal they agreed to is different than the deal that they want right now. And in that moment Customer Service becomes a “just-the-facts-Ma’am” dialog (in the parlance of the 1950s crime drama Dragnet) where the most important aspect of serving the customer becomes sharing the facts, educating the customer on the policy, and managing to do the right thing by being empathetic to the human on the other end of the communication.

You won’t always get it right. In fact, there are some situations where you can’t get Customer Service right. But you can get it right most of the time for most of the people. And the very best organizations do an amazing job at this while helping the customer and the company to do the right thing.

Customer Strategy, Customer Success

How to Build a Great Customer Success Team

image courtesy of Gainsight
image courtesy of Gainsight

When you are building a great business (particularly a Saas business), you need to devote extra time to taking care of your customers so that they not only are satisfied at the sale, but also on an ongoing basis. A customer may join you because of clever marketing, a consultative selling process, excellent product, or empathetic service – or a combination of all of these factors. They may also want to leave for many reasons that are (at least temporarily) out of your control. Keeping the customer, understanding their needs, and communicating those ideas to the product and engineering team is the job of the Customer Success team.

So what is Customer Success, really? I believe Customer Success is a hybrid of traditional ideas for support, account management, customer on-boarding, and sales. The best Success teams work hand-in-hand with dedicated Sales, Support, and Marketing teams to guide the customer from initial awareness through consideration to trial, buying decision, on-boarding and implementation, and ongoing success.

Why call it “Customer Success” instead of Account Management, Support, or Customer Service?

These department names and functions are well-known and often misunderstood. Customer Success implies the support and service offered by traditional Customer Service teams and the speed and flexibility of Account Management and Sales. “Success” in this model does not mean that the Customer is successful all of the time – it means that we are successful in finding an amicable (and hopefully awesome) solution whenever someone needs help. It’s not just the transactional “help” of “how do I find this feature that I’m looking for” but also the consultative relationship you forge with a great salesperson and account rep who can always seem to get you what you need.

How do you build a great Customer Success Team?

It starts with a lead who has done this sort of work before. It’s often possible for a Sales Leader to move into this role if she’s had past experience supporting clients, or a Customer Service Leader to add account management to his skill set. But the best head of a Success Team is someone who has been on the front lines bridging the gap between sales and service for a while, in a variety of industries, for a variety of account sizes.

The team that Customer Success Leader builds should have Account Management and Customer Service functions – that doesn’t always mean that the person will need dedicated teams for those functions. Jason Lemkin suggests that “most SaaS companies use a rough metric of 1 Client Success Manager for every $2m in ARR.” For a smaller average deal size you might need a few more people to keep things going and it’s a good metric to use to measure team performance.

What team do you need?

Think about Lemkin’s model of client success and consider using it to plan a “Team effort” for each $1m in ARR. For your first $1m in ARR, you will probably need only two people: one who focuses on Customer Service and content for new customers, and one person who manages the on boarding and engagement of new and existing customers. As your customer base grows, use the metric of about 50-100 interactions/daily for Customer Service and 100-500 Accounts for account management to size your team.

Equip your team with tools

You’re going to need a combination of management and nurturing tools to deliver service and account management. As your service volume goes up, you’ll want either a lower-end tool like Zendesk or or a higher-end solution like Salesforce to manage your service interactions. For automatic and real-time engagement, I love Intercom – it’s a great hybrid of programmatic marketing tools and the quick touch transactional tools found in service desks.

Your goal should be “no customer left behind”

When thinking about how you manage that Customer Success team and make them a great team, consider how it feels when you get great service and know exactly who to call: it feels great. Whatever approach you use to engage customers and whatever policies you have to govern your customer interactions, the customer should be at the core of that experience. If you need to measure results (and you do), keep your eye on Net Churn. The results of keeping more people even while the top line customer growth increases really helps the team accelerate.

What results should you expect? Great customer teams are accretive to a great sales and marketing team. By keeping more customers and by helping the sales team with the critical task of expansion revenue and retention, great Customer Success teams deliver results.

Customer Success, Marketing Strategy, Product Strategy

Should you invest in Product, Sales, or Marketing?

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photo by

Imagine the sales call…

When someone calls you to discuss a product you just signed up for, how do you feel? Depending upon where you are in your buyer’s journey, you might welcome the call, feel ambivalent, or be annoyed that the company called you at all (especially if you haven’t yet given them your phone number). What often happens is a mismatch between the relationship strength — the relationship between you and the company necessary for you to have a good experience with their product — and your goals. Likewise, the transaction cost — the effort required for you to experience the product enough to know whether you’re ready to buy — may also be fundamentally misplaced.

A great (first time or otherwise) product experience matches the relationship strength needed by the typical customer. How much help will the customer need from you to get what they need from your product? This product experience also matches the transaction cost that customer expects. Is it too much work for the customer to do the work they need to do, with or without your help? Answering these two questions helps you scope your investment in your product to focus on sales, marketing, or product efforts. Is the relationship effort and cost needed small — like when you try a free product that might not bring you immediate benefit — or is it quite high? You might be auditioning to solve a pivotal problem for a large business while working on a deadline. Continue reading

Customer Experience

Infinite scroll must go

A great design for endless browsing

There’s a signature design that I am sure you’ve seen more than once today. It’s a river of information; it’s endless serotonin; it’s sort of pleasing to the eye; and then it never ends.

“Infinite scroll” as a user experience style expects that you will be spending hours in the app or web site. More importantly even if you have (almost) endless time, the UX doesn’t give you many visual clues to know “you’re done … you can start a different mode of browsing now … perhaps even blink a few times.”  

It feels awesome the first time you use Infinite Scroll. And then you start wondering: when will the page ever end? Am I missing something important at the bottom of the page? What was I doing when I started browsing? 

What might work better?

There’s another pattern you should consider using, popularized originally by Twitter. Pull-to-Refresh prompts you to “pull” the screen down to trigger a data refresh and limits the amount of information returned in any one action. “Pull-to-refresh” is a much better design pattern than infinite scroll because it does many of the same things that Infinite Scroll does well:

  • Shows you a lot of content in each “page” of views
  • Gives you access to rich cards of data 
  • Is almost-instant given a good network connection

And Pull-to-refresh as a UI pattern does a few things better, particularly:

  1. It fails gracefully with low network: it shows you that it is trying to pull your request with a visible spinner at the top of the user interface
  2. It lets you rest: no more FOMO (fear of missing out) when you’re not sure that you’ve reached the bottom of the available page
  3. Friendlier to new customers: older consumers in particular may find the concept of an unending river of information disorienting

So what? An interface is an interface.

Design is integral to the choices we make every day. The more work we do to limit cognitive load and decision making, the easier it will be to use information-rich panels in more areas of our lives.

If you disagree, go read this post on choice closure to understand the psychological importance of finishing a unit of work. Done > Perfect, even when it comes to scrolling a page.