One of the most grateful things in my career is getting to work in a customer-facing role, which taught me many life skills I wouldn’t have otherwise learned in any other job. Well, if I have to choose one single key skill, it would be tactful communication.
Although many words and phrases can all convey the same message (objectively), some words and phrases are just much more pleasant to the ears — or eyes, when typing out a professional email.
I’d like to share some learnings on specific ways to craft a message that could change the dynamics of a conversation, and eventually, the relationship, especially in a professional setting.
Some of these words or phrases might be familiar or even commonly used by experienced professionals, but most who are still early in their career would find them useful.
Also, a quick Google search shows that most customer success phrases to use are mostly just to diffuse the situation, not so much of solving a problem at hand or even turning the tables. These words and phrases made a difference to me, and I hope they would to you as well.
Giving a discount
Customer success sometimes involve sales opportunities to get a small commission or require negotiation to retain the customer. For instance, when a contract is near its end, most customers would request some form of loyalty discount.
In most companies, or agencies in my case, would have a “ sauce policy “ so the customer success rep (or client success manager) has room to maneouvre for retention purposes.
I realised the word “discount” can be seen as something that can be easily thrown around and that the service provider has an obligation to give 10% off or a free month.
When we turn it around and say, “we don’t give discounts, but I’ve negotiated with our management to share the costs with you this time around,” it becomes a favour on our part.
The key here is to position the discount or offer as a special and exclusive favour, not our obligation. That would significantly increase the value of that gesture, and they might not even ask for discounts in the future, which expands the profit margins of the company.
By the way, this phrase can be used as a sales tactic as well, which starts the working relationship on the right foot in positioning the company as standing by its pricing, communicating the value of the company’s services.
Anyone in a project or account management role would know that following up on outstanding items with clients and customers takes up probably 80% of our time.
However, I realised that following up has no value at all, especially if that’s the only thing I ever do for a specific client. At some point, the client might just treat me as a reminder tool that creates more problems than solutions.
80% of the time, the client needs help and guidance on the outstanding matters, and sometimes they might just require me to point them in a direction. Also, giving specific directions and even examples of what they’ll need to provide gave me a lot of success.
One specific opener I use is, “are you facing any issues on X? Are you perhaps stuck on stage Y? That’s where most people have problems. Here’s how you can fix it.”
By saying the above, it becomes clear that I’m not just a “reminder”, but I gave them some guidance to reaching the destination easier by showing specific care and advice. That’s not what most client success or customer service reps would do, which makes the experience stand out.
Requiring deadline extensions shouldn’t happen too often, but when they do, giving the clients a heads-up plus an explanation is important to maintaining the trust and sense of reliability. Even then, obviously it wouldn’t sit nice with the client.
Too much explanation can be seen as coming up with excuses or even forgetting the deadline. Conversely, if I explain too little, it would seem like deadlines are loose with them, which would be the last thing I want to deal with later on.
I always start with some form of interim update to assure the client that I’m on top of the task. The interim update cannot be something they already know or is too superficial, that would come off as just patronising them.
For some context, client success almost never involve execution work on the project itself. Yes, there is project management, strategising, and overseeing among others, not so much hands-on work.
With that in mind, it’s sometimes hard for client success reps to give specific answers or updates until they get it from the operations team.
That said, a big picture overview and update on the specific steps we’re taking, which sometimes can be reiterated from previous correspondences, can give them the assurance we’re on the right track — we just need more time.
It’s the same concept of why delivery tracking services tend to give you many interim updates so you know the parcel is “always moving” from one spot to another, and not tucked away forgotten.
We all can accept that delays happen in our day-to-day lives because of a myriad of reasons — a status update is just what we need most of the time.
Becoming a better person
Serving customers and clients can be a thankless job, and I’ve grown to accept that. Some wouldn’t appreciate me regardless how much effort I’ve put in, and that’s just how life works.
Nevertheless, I still put my very best into serving every client under our portfolio because they paid for a service and it’s also to my best interests that I do what I can to help them achieve their business goals. Successes usually don’t only benefit one party.
When I eventually walk away from a client success role, I’ll be grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from serving dozens of businesses in my career as a client success rep, or in some agencies, an account management position.
Originally published at https://vancewong.com on November 22, 2020.