“Not another client!” If you are a Customer Success Manager, you may have uttered those words once or twice in your career when your manager assigned you a new client that you now need to manage. It’s the reality of being a CSM and it’s your opportunity to go out there and make them successful. It’s best to embrace this but make sure that the transition is done well. Trust is at the center of the CSM-Client relationship and if you don’t establish it early, you will have an uphill battle to gain it later.
Here are 10 things to consider when taking on a new client so you can quickly build trust:
- Establish your credentials. When you are introduced via email or in a meeting, ensure that you include a bio that highlights your strengths. For example, you have been a CSM for 5+ years, you have been at your company for 2+ years, you have worked with similar companies A, B & C and you have spent 3+ years in the same industry. This instantly builds trust before you even say a word. It follows one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of psychological influence called “authority” as you establish yourself as someone capable of helping their business. Bonus tip: If you are new to your company and just taking on new clients, don’t tell the client that you are new. Focus on your overall experience as a client-facing professional. Many new CSMs tell clients “I’ve only been here for a month” thinking the client will take pity on them and absolve them of mistakes they may make. It has the opposite effect. The client feels like they aren’t worthy enough to get your company’s top CSM and they will be skeptical of whatever you recommend. You’ve just dug a hole that you need to work out of. If the client asks you directly how long you have worked at your company, tell them the truth. That said, there is no reason to divulge this information as it can work against you.
- Try and defer the transition until you get up to speed on the client. One of the worst things you can do is to get on a call with a client with very little information to go on. It’s important that you are prepared and that you feel confident going into that first meeting. Push for the information you need before you jump on a call unless you have to. At Kustomer, our CSMs will refuse to do a transition call unless we first conduct an internal information sharing session.
- Do your research. Go beyond the notes you’ll get from the previous CSM or Services team member (if you get any). Go to the Sales rep that originally sold them if you can. Ask questions internally such as “why did they originally buy our solution?” and “what are they looking to achieve (their business outcome)?”. Look at the Support tickets to see what their recent issues and questions are. Find out if they have any feature requests that are outstanding. Know how they are using your product. Review the past email correspondence they’ve had with your company and any major milestones — past contracts, renewals, QBRs, etc. You need to put in some work here so you are prepared. It will be worth it. You should also learn about their business. Do a Google News search to see if there are any recent articles that mention them. I like to search for podcasts to see if their CEO has done any recent ones. This will often provide a lot of insight. Mentioning that you listened to the podcast and leveraging pieces of information from the podcast gives you instant props with your client as they know that you care about their business. Another good question to ask (if it isn’t clear) is “how do you make money?” or “I believe that you generate revenue this way (outline it) but it would be helpful if you could expand on this.”Bonus tip: I’ve recently mandated that all of our calls are recorded with Gong. This made CSM transitions much smoother as the new CSMs can understand the personalities and issues of our clients before they get on their first call by listening to the recently recorded calls.
- Respond to their first request as if the renewal depends on it. Clients may test you early on when you take on a new client. They may ask you a simple question over email or on the first call you have with them. How you address their first request will set the tone for the rest of the relationship. Even if they ask you when your availability is, give them multiple options and let them know how best to reach you. Respond like the renewal depends on it.
- If there are issues, call them out right away — use this technique. One of the worst things a CSM can do when taking on an account is to either ignore existing issues or make the client explain them again. That will frustrate your client and erode their trust. I use a technique from Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference called “The accusation audit.” When meeting for the first time, call out any issues that the client is having right away. That way you are telling the client that you understand some of the previous problems and you are committed to resolving them. It should let out any tension and help build an instant rapport with the client. You can do this by starting the conversation (after the intros) with “It seems that there are a number of issues that need to be addressed but you tell me if I’m missing anything. These include…” and you proceed to go through the major ones.
- Do an icebreaker. When meeting the client for the first time, ask a question such as “where would you travel if you could?” (this is very applicable during the Covid crisis). You can even relate it to their business. The goal is to learn more about them and not just make the call about business. You also want to show some vulnerability yourself to build rapport. This is a tried and tested way of establishing trust, based on Brene’s Brown’s many books including Dare to Lead.
- Focus on what you know, not what you don’t. Many CSMs get anxious when taking on a new client. They tell themselves negative stories such as “I don’t know anything about them” or “I’ve heard that they aren’t very nice and are very demanding.” Rather than focusing on what you don’t know, leverage your expertise, and focus on helping them. Be confident in your skills and leverage your past experiences. You know more than you think you do and your clients will appreciate your knowledge. Trust me. As a new CSM many years ago I didn’t know much about marketing automation. I did have some experience though in SEO and was able to help my clients in areas that were outside of our product while I got up to speed. I created an instant bond with my client. You can do the same.
- Stop telling lies so that you feel better. It seems obvious that you shouldn’t lie to your clients but you would be surprised about the number of CSMs that try and answer a question that they really don’t know just so that they don’t appear dumb in front of a client. You are actually digging a larger hole for yourself. It erodes the client’s confidence in you when you tell the client one thing and it turns out you are wrong. In these situations, simply say “I’ll get back to you on that” and then follow up promptly. If you need help from other people on your team, seek it out. Don’t be the hero.
- Reset expectations. Use this opportunity to define the different roles whether it’s a CSM and Support or a CSM and a renewals manager. Make sure the client is aware of all the resources they have access to so they don’t just rely on you. This may include a community and a training portal. In addition, define how often you will meet, what the meetings will consist of and who should be present at the meetings. This typically happens when you meet for the first time. If you’ve done your research, called out any issues, and demonstrated your expertise, your clients should be ready to follow your lead to determine the next steps to get them and keep them on track.
- Send a detailed follow up. Don’t waste a great first impression by falling down on the follow-up. Recap what was discussed and the actions and assign owners and due dates. Bonus: arrange the next meeting while you are on the call with the client. This just makes it easier and prevents any back and forth after the meeting.
Taking on new clients shouldn’t be something that CSMs fear. It’s important though to build trust with your clients and to do it early. Don’t dig holes that will take months to get out of. Establish your expertise, be prepared, be responsive, be vulnerable, be honest, set expectations, and do the work. Follow these 10 tips and they should help you on your journey. Go show your new clients what you’re made of!