Attention Customer Success teams, it's time to embrace failure...

Adam Joseph wrote this on Jun 06

....It might be the best thing that ever happened to you.

I was recently flying across the Atlantic, via an aging British Airways 747, en route to Chicago, when I noticed just how calm the scene was. Drinks were being served, the closing credits for La La Land had just rolled and everyone was settled.

Nothing could be more different to the shambolic scene exactly two hours prior as we entered our third hour of delays sitting on the tarmac in London. Chaos was everywhere; screaming babies, worried passengers with connecting flights trying to get the attention of cabin crew, cabin crew doing their best to ignore them, little (to no) information from the flight deck, people looking at their phones for any type of update. At one point, someone read an update on the BA website saying that the flight would be leaving in 30 minutes which brought a cheer from those around. Those cheers faded to further misery when the 30 minutes came and went and still we had no idea what was going on.

The lack of information about what the problem was, how long it would take to fix and when we would finally get going was causing the mood to become dark and almost mutinous. People were on their phones, calling, emailing, “facebooking” and tweeting (me amongst them) their general displeasure about British Airways. The captain occasionally gave an apologetic update but I got the feeling that he was about in the dark as everyone else.

As I reflected from in my uncomfortable economy seat (not made for my 6 foot 3-inch frame but I blame that more on my genetics than the airline) on those recent events, what struck with me the most was that this was the moment for British Airways to shine. I wanted them to show me and my fellow passengers that they cared about us, they had our backs, they were going to make up for their lack of a functioning aircraft with superb service. Alas, this did not happen and if anything, the cabin crew made the situation worse by looking and acting more fed-up than the paying public.

It’s something we all say “mistakes happen”, and this seems like the ideal time to expand on that point. In my experience, it’s not the actual issue that will cause the most harm, it is how you deal with it that is even more important. Of course, it goes without saying that you want to do everything in your power to stop the problem from happening in the first place. However, deal with a problem the right way and you will win “fans” for life - get it wrong and your name and reputation will take a nose-dive (not sure I should be writing that on a plane but it seems apt).

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One of the most important aspects about working in Customer Success means that you are going to have to deal with issues that cause unhappiness and distress. Some will be of your own making and some will be completely unexpected and caused by others. Whether they are due to software bugs, mis-set expectations, lack of customer understanding, poor user interface or that you simply screwed up (as I have many times), customers will generally forgive most problems and judge you on how well you deal with the issue after it happens.

Here are my top 10 tips about how you can turn a negative situation into your advantage:

Honesty

Communicate in the spirit of transparency and openness. Acknowledge the issue and provide as much information as you can. If you don’t have all of the facts to hand (which is likely to happen in the early stages) then it’s better to be honest than make something up to appease the customer – it will only make the situation worse in the long-run

Take ownership

The feeling of being passed from "pillar to post" is deeply frustrating. Even if the issue is being dealt with by several people/departments, play the quarterback role and make yourself responsible for getting the relevant updates and updating the customer on the latest situation.

Be clear on the next step(s)

Ensure that the customer is aware of the actions that are happening to help bring the issue to a final resolution. You don’t necessarily have to go into all the internal operational details along the way but rather focus on the outcomes and make sure that they are time-focused and how they all play into the final resolution.

Provide constant updates

Another source of great frustration is when a customer believes that their issue has “fallen into a black hole”. One of the typical causes of this is when there is no update to report however sometimes just a short note to say that they have not been forgotten goes a long way.

Identify potential work-arounds

Whilst the root cause of an issue is being investigated you should always be creative in thinking of other ways that a customer can get to their desired outcome. Whilst these might not be viable in the long-term, a short-term fix might buy you some additional time and most importantly, keep the customer happy. Even the if customer does not want to take the short-term fix, the very fact that you are thinking this way will give you greater credibility.

Apologize

Even though Elton John sang “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, it shouldn’t be in Customer Success. A simple, sincere apology (if warranted) is an important step in helping to diffuse a negative situation.

State how this issue will not happen again

Once an issue has been resolved, share your learnings and most importantly the steps that have been taken to help ensure that the same problem will not occur again. This will go a long way to rebuilding trust and credibility.

Customer follow-up

Even after an issue has resolved, a follow-up shortly afterwards (i.e. a week) is often unexpected by a customer but will be appreciated. Especially if the customer had to contact you originally about the issue it will demonstrate that you can be proactive and not just respond to a situation.

Review your internal processes

As part of the post-mortem of any issue you should review your internal processes. Were they as streamlined as they needed to be? Were the right people working on the issue? How was communication handled? Was it always easy to get the information you needed so that you could get back to the customer? No matter how good a process is on paper there is nothing like a real customer issue to stress-test your internal processes and see where the “soft underbelly” exists that stops you quickly resolving issues.

Identify potential opportunities

Out of adversity comes hope; customer issues could herald new opportunities for your business, help strengthen your relationship and potentially lead to incremental revenue. Potentially, you could offer a higher level of service/product that offers great value to the customer at an initially reduced price. Additional training could help your customers’ knowledge of your system and help them get better value (therefore reducing the probability of churn). You could introduce senior members of your team to help expand the number of contacts at your customer. At the very least you would have built a better relationship with your contact through the on-going dialogue needed to bring an issue to a resolution.

As I started this blog talking about a movie, I thought I would end it with one. One of my favorite scenes from Apollo 13 – the true story of the failed Moon landing mission - was when a NASA Director said “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced”. Mission Controller Gene Kranz replied “With all due respect, sir, I believe that this is going to be our finest hour”. It was not the failure that the movie was about - it was about the recovery.

About the Author

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Adam Joseph is the founder of CustomerSuccessManager.com, and is passionate about all things Customer Success. He also serves as the Client Services Director at ChannelAdvisor.

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