The Impact of Your Words w/ Linda Matthews

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This is a podcast episode titled, The Impact of Your Words w/ Linda Matthews. The summary for this episode is: <p>This week Linda Matthews, mentor and coach who does customer success freelance work, is here today to discuss communication and how your words are impactful.</p><p><br></p><p>If you want to join the discussion with thousands of other customer success leaders, join Gain Grow Retain: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p><p><br></p><p>This podcast is brought to you by Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach...</p><p>Jay Nathan: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Jeff Breunsbach: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p>
How words matter - Communication and transparency
02:03 MIN
Revisiting fundamentals
01:05 MIN
Being impactful, and making a connection
01:30 MIN
Key insights to having an effective escalation management process
01:00 MIN
Having an executive sponsor program
02:32 MIN

Jeff: Welcome back to another episode of Gain, Grow, Retain. So today I've got Linda Matthews, who is a seasoned customer success leader, been in the technology and SaaS industry for such a long time. Linda, I know you're up in the New England area right now. You said it's getting a little bit of sunshine, feeling a little bit nice. I was up there two weeks ago and I have to say, I'm quite jealous of your summers up there.

Linda Matthews: They're not quite as warm as you guys have down there. So beautiful day out today. I'm excited to join you and have a conversation today.

Jeff: Well, I always like to start with a couple of fun questions and hopefully catch you a little off guard, but just some icebreakers like, hey, how can we get to know Linda real quick? So right off the bat, this is one that I've always used. I don't know why, but it's just something that, near and dear to my heart. If you're in the morning making breakfast, what's your favorite fruit?

Linda Matthews: Oh, cantaloupe, is that a fruit?

Jeff: I think it is.

Linda Matthews: I'm going to go with cantaloupe.

Jeff: You're the first one. I try and keep at least a mental note of ones that people say. You're the first one that says cantaloupe. We've had a lot of your traditional pineapple, strawberries. Nobody's said blueberries. We had a lot of mangoes, but cantaloupe is is the first one and very underrated.

Linda Matthews: They're a pretty consistent item on any brunch buffets. So it's usually a good, safe choice. It's one of those I love where you can cut it up and then just put it in the fridge and you've got fresh stuff ready to go.

Jeff: I like it. That is, I like the good, safe choice which is if you're out and about. Awesome. Well, we are in the midst of summer right now. Like I said, I feel like it was beautiful, great up in the New England area. So if you're planning your perfect weekends, what does a Friday night look like? Or what does a Sunday morning? Pick one of those or pick anything in between. But if you had to describe something for your perfect summer night up there, what's it look like?

Linda Matthews: It's really all about friends. That can take place with just a great small dinner party outside. We've got a fire pit. Particularly as what we've all lived through in the last year and a half, I actually have a group of small friends. There's 12 of us. We call ourselves the Covert Kiki. We had dinner three nights a week during the pandemic, because we all just rotated between houses and were safe. So that's really about friends. Then the exercise part and the good weather is the golf. So those would be the bookends to the weekend.

Jeff: I love it. You might've stolen my great weekend too. If I could play some golf and then hang out with some friends. I actually have, three of my best friends from college have just moved back to Charleston. We all went to school in Charleston, they moved away. They each had a mid mid- life crisis, as I like to say, and they said," Why am I not back living in Charleston, amongst friends?" So they moved back. So I've been trying to do the same thing this year. Just like you mentioned, we've been trying to do a lot of dinner parties, hang out, just spend time together, because we haven't had the chance to do it.

Linda Matthews: It's a great thing.

Jeff: Well, I think the fun part about today's conversation is I think the two topics that we're going to touch on most, really navigate beyond just customer success. Obviously I think we're going to talk about some of the context in a light of customer success, in being customer facing, dealing with customers. But I do think if you're listening to this, send this to your product leaders, send this to your marketing leaders. I think there's going to be some nuggets here. Really the first topic I wanted to dive into is just this concept of a words matter. I think I have been customer facing at least in my career for a large portion of it. I've always been cognizant of how do you approach a conversation? Verbally, what are you saying? If you're in a meeting room, you have to look at your nonverbal cues as well. Outside of just even being words. But now I think it's also translating into the written form because we're now looking at everything from emails, to in product notifications, to communities and other things that are written now are becoming so critical. So I'm curious for you when you think about words, how words matter, what is the first thing that comes to mind for you? Or how did you approach that, I guess, throughout your career and making sure your teams were thinking about this and being cognizant of it?

Linda Matthews: Yeah. It's really, as you said, it's fundamental across all groups, but if you look at the customer success realm it's not just about, oh, everything's great today. A lot of times there's challenges. So to me, the theme is about communication and transparency. It's about how can you have a very succinct, concise conversation, respecting that the customers have a lot of time. But also making sure that you're positioning things in such a way that it's leveraging your empathy and really listening to what the customer's pain is, what their challenge is. So that you can then come back into the organization internally across the groups and say," Okay guys, this is the challenge or opportunity we have. This is what I heard from the customer." And being then able to translate that internally to the team so that you can constructively come together and solve it, or develop a proposal for an opportunity. It really is a matter of... even if you think about, it's not just verbal communication, but it's also written communication. How can you ensure that what you're going back to the customer is going to be read and absorbed? The key is, is being concise. You really want to make sure that you leverage fundamental best practices of what is the ask. Great, nice to see you. What is the ask? What is the summary of the details of the issue? And this is what the recommendation is. So trying to be as succinct as possible on that is pretty important. But it's also to then understand what you say can influence other things in your relationship with that customer. It can influence the commercial activities. It can influence the product development. The reasons I say that is use an example of during the sales cycle, the customer has a perception that the solution does a certain thing. So you want to be able to listen and be empathetic, but you don't want to acknowledge that maybe your team made an error. You just want to absorb that and then take it back internally. Depending on the words you use or what you say, you could send an expectation to the customer that's like," Well, the customer success team acknowledged that we were misled on this. So I want a discount on my renewal." So tying those things together is pretty important because how the CSM will handle that conversation could impact the financials of the commercial relationship.

Jeff: Yeah. I love a couple of the points that you called out in there, one is concise. That's something that I always try and work on. You can tell verbally, I talk a lot. If you listen to this podcast, I talk too much. So that's definitely something that I've had to think about quite a bit. I do think there's certain environments I do better in. If I'm going into a customer conversation, I can really reign it back. Actually, I'm very conscious about it because one of the things I've been doing recently, and I'm curious if you've maybe seen or heard people do this, but I'm a big sports fan. I've just been fascinated with learning about the Michael Jordans and the Kobe Bryants and all the great athletes of the world who are out there achieving things. You learn and listen to some of the techniques that they have. One that I've been applying in the business world is this idea of just visualization. So before meetings, what I've started doing recently is asking myself two questions. One, how do I envision this meeting going? Can I close my eyes and really see, okay, here, we're moving in the meeting. We're moving point to point, we're going. At the end of the second question I ask myself is what do I want to feel at the end of the meeting? How do I want to feel and how do I want to make other people feel walking out of that meeting? That's just been a really powerful aspect for me to prepare for that. I think it's, again, a technique you can use. Might sound hokey, it might sound a little out there. But at the same time, I've just done this recently. Even if it's a placebo effect for me, I feel a lot better at least walking into those. Because just to your point, I think I can look and start thinking," Okay, if I'm going along in this conversation visualizing it, I can at least start to maybe prepare for things that I think might happen or the other person might say." It just helps me feel a little bit more comfortable in the moment with the things that I'm going to say. So I don't know if you've ever done techniques like that or thought about that, but that's just something I've done recently.

Linda Matthews: That's a great one. I definitely jotted that down for myself. But if you then take that as the baseline, then talk about how does that customer call go? The best practices are when you get on the call, and it should be in the meeting invite, what's the objective of the meeting? When you reach that objective, you're done. Don't let everybody keep going on and on and on. But then the customer starts to respect and understand that when they've got a meeting on their calendar with you, it's going to be concise and it's not a waste of time. So you taking that visualization of what is the goal of how you envision it to go and how do you want to feel? Well, how do you set yourself up to achieve that? Doing that, in my opinion, is that communication and setting that transparency of," Hey, I know your time's valuable. Thank you so much for this opportunity. This is what we wanted to accomplish today. Is that still what you want to accomplish?" You then tie that into, even when a customer buys your product, every single, in my opinion, quarterly management review should start with why they bought the product. And are they achieving that objective? And always making sure you go back to that and gain confirmation, I think is part of that whole communication and transparency theme as well.

Jeff: I love the point you just mentioned too, which I think you said a little bit, but also, I think you're subtly talking about, which is if you're having the meeting, to really take ownership of the meeting. There's got to be the prep beforehand. You have to then command the room. I have tried to use a lot of the skills I've gained from our Gain, Grow, Retain stuff over the time to help me. How do you facilitate a meeting and get people talking? How do you not just talk the entire time of a meeting? I've now almost started thinking about how meetings are bad if I'm talking the whole time. How am I engaging in, how am I asking the right questions? Like you said, how am I navigating that? But the thing I love that you said is once we've hit the objective, we don't need to be here, theoretically, any longer. Let's give people time back. People appreciate when you do that, instead of letting other things linger," Hey, well, oh, we'll just start adding other stuff on. Oh hey, we just need to jump into this." It's just not as effective. You want to feel accomplished. So it's," Hey, we accomplished this." And I think it also, like you said, starts to set boundaries, but also starts to show how you're really trying to be a partner and not necessarily a vendor. I think sometimes you let your customer control the meeting." Oh, I scheduled this meeting with the customer. We had objectives, but I'm going to let the customer run the meeting." It's not intuitive because the customer is actually coming to that meeting expecting you to run it, expecting you to get things done and move things along. So that type of mindset, I think goes a long way.

Linda Matthews: Then it leads, I don't mean to interrupt, but then that leads into the followup.

Jeff: No, no, go.

Linda Matthews: So you have that meeting, you achieve your objective. Get your notes out within an hour, because two things. Your brain, particularly as we get older, you're not going to retain as much. Depends how you took notes. But it also is right back on their screen to say," Okay, this is what we talked about. This is what we agreed about." They can then come back to you and say," No, actually, I met this." So getting something back to them right afterwards, again, it's the fundamentals. But oftentimes I think we get so busy and we get so dragged into too many different directions, which is just part of the world. But this actually, if you can try to revisit the fundamentals, it's pretty important. One of the things that I've actually done for several years is I would give a talk at our annual kickoff meetings about words matter. I want to go back as well, because I think that's a very valuable point to make sure other groups are included. But when you talked about preparing for the meeting, if there's other team members participating that are not commonly customer facing, like engineering, like product, we want to talk to them in advance and say," Hey guys, this is what we're trying to accomplish here." Because how they approach this and what they say can impact things as well. One of the key things, and I've never known a product group that wants to over- commit on delivering, because I'll always just give you a quarter, not a date. But you also want to make sure that they have participation in the followup as well. So helping... almost the customer success team can mentor other team members as they engage with the customer. Because a bad engagement with anyone in your company is going to leave a bad taste in their mouth. It's matter of the CSM can help influence and mentor that.

Jeff: I've actually seen it almost as a negative sometimes when you hear, when you're not always trying to get other teams in front of customers. You're not always trying to just let them get full reign. But if there is the right resource, I've actually seen as a negative where people are like," Oh no, no. We can't bring in product. We don't know what they're going to say. Oh no, no, we can't bring in some of our solutions engineered. We don't know what they're going to say." whatever the negative connotation. But I think like you. How do you actually help nurture and coach that person walking into the meeting and saying," Hey, this is a great step. Now you're going to get to be customer facing a little bit more. You're going to start to be in these meetings. Here's some things to keep out for. Here's some things that are really going to matter"? And at the end of the day, the reason I say that is because I think that's how you continue to build this idea and culture around customer centricity or whichever word you want to use, word of the day choice of being customer centric. But I think at the end of the day, that's how you continue to get people wanting to think about customers, wanting to be involved with customers, learn their challenges, get in front of them as many times. That's how you get other departments who might not be as customer facing wanting to do that as if you're helping and coaching and showing them it's a positive experience. There was a team that I used to work for. Inherently every situation that they were being brought into was negative when we were bringing in product and engineering. So by and large, they just started thinking about it as a totally negative," I don't want to be in front of the customer. They're just going to yell at us. They're just going to have a bad thing." So we tried to start figuring out how to turn the tide of," Hey, how do we bring them into positive conversations where we've gotten good feedback? And how do we grab somebody and say,'Hey, we want to bring you to this meeting because they're talking about how these things have been great?'" Because you also want to, again, you want to find the balance. You don't always want to bring people into negative conversations over time.

Linda Matthews: Agreed. You could help them. Some people are great at it, but you also need to help them craft the message back. So a lot of times the negative is the customer asks for a particular feature or functionality where they're not going to get it. Because the reality is, our company's on this lane. Yes, I could deliver that for you, but I'm not going to maintain it year over year. So you're then going to be off of where we are as a company. How do you draft that message? And it gets back to the opening, what I talked about, it's communication and transparency. So the message to the customer is just that. Yes, we could do that for you. However, we don't recommend it. We're not going to be able to do it for you because of these reasons. And help them understand it. They may say," I'm going to go to somebody else." But certainly at least you're honest with them and you're not telling them," Oh yeah, it's on the roadmap." Well, is it really on the roadmap? So helping those teams craft the conversation with the customer is pretty important, particularly when you're delivering what they may perceive as bad news.

Jeff: That's such a good point. The other piece that I was just sitting here and thinking about too, is you mentioned, obviously, the written side of things and how again doing the fundamentals definitely matters. But then also making sure when you think about the written part of what you're doing, how that can really impact things that you're doing as well. I've over the years, started to subscribe to this mindset of also just writing like you talk. I think sometimes we try to make things sound... the corporate speak, or we make it seem much more polished. Again, I think we're now learning, as you look at it, we're in the business of creating relationships. We're in the business of trying to further what we're doing with not only customers, but vendors, coworkers, anybody who's in this realm. I think what the last year has taught us is we need connection more than ever. So one of the ways I've continued to think about that quite a bit is am I writing it like I would talk? Am I reading it back and it sounds robotic and I would never really say that? Then I need to change it. I think you can strike a balance between making sure you're staying professional, but also making it conversational and approachable. Those are the two things that come to mind for me. So I'm curious if you've consciously thought about that. As you think about how you're writing things and playing them back for customers or even team members, if that's something that you've thought about in your career?

Linda Matthews: It's definitely. I'm still a big believer in having a colleague read something before I send it, particularly if it's a difficult topic or something that could influence a huge upsell. What that does is gives you an extra set of eyes against it. While they know me and my communication style, they can also understand, okay, am I being concise enough, but describing it sufficiently? So when I think about what are the best practices? Talked a little bit about the meeting invite as well. You really want the summary of the topic or issue, what is the ask? Why did you send them this correspondence and what are you asking them to do with it? Is it just FYI? Which I'm not a big fan of, but sometimes you have to do that. So what is the ask? And what's the timing? Listen, this is what we would like from you. We would like you to prioritize the top 20 support cases you have open so we can make sure we're focused on that appropriately. So what is the ask? And I need that by Friday. Or whatever it is, or can you provide this to me by Friday? So really do that. But I'm also a big believer, if you're more than two or three times back on an email, you should pick up the phone. Say," Can we just talk about this?" Then when you do talk about it, then you stay on that same chain and you reply all, and you say," Great, thanks for the call. This is what we agreed." A lot of times I think, particularly because we're now in this world of more remote than ever, that too many emails are going back and forth. I feel sometimes people lose that opportunity of just picking up the phone. It usually can be a lot faster.

Jeff: Yeah. Going back to your point, too, about the meeting prep. One thing that I've tried to do much more of in recent times, just because again, the sheer amount of meetings that people want to put on calendars, is I go through and I try and think about the two things for me that are critical. One is the type of meeting. I actually have three types of meetings that I typically try and put into a calendar invite. So one is what I call an informational meeting. I think it was just like you mentioned, it's an FYI." Hey, I don't really want to hold this meeting, but I just have to make sure that the information is coming across, that you have it." The second type of meeting that I think about is what I call alignment, which means," Hey, I'm going to read out some information, but really this is much more of a dialogue back and forth. We need to make sure we're on the same page and that we're moving forward in the same direction." Then the third type of meeting I think of is a decision meeting where we're coming together to the table and we are making a decision. There's going to be a concrete action. There's going to be something that really is impactful to what we're doing. So I've tried to go through... I'm a little bit of a hypocrite. I don't do this every... I need to get better, but I try and do that quite a bit because I've also just found how people find it helpful coming into the meeting already understanding," Okay, am I going to have to be off of mute, on video, totally locked into this? Is this going to be much more of a informational piece? Hey, I have to go pick up my daughter. Can I actually just be listening?" And it's an informational meeting. So that type of thing to me has also been extremely helpful in the preparation of it. Then the second thing I'll do in that after the type of meeting is, like you just said, clearly articulate... and unless I've talked to them ahead of time, I'll put it as," Hey, what do I expect to accomplish out of this?" I put the word I for a specific reason, because it's still my interpretation. If we've talked about it, then I'll put," What do we hope to accomplish?" And that's a small attention to detail, but that's just something that it reminded me of earlier when you were talking about that words matter. Because if I word it as I, it's," Hey, we haven't talked about this yet. This is what I expect. And I'm probably going to ask it at the beginning,'Hey, are these the right things that we should accomplish today?' If we've talked about it ahead of time, I'm going to breeze by that. We're already going to have a breezed by that aspect of it."

Linda Matthews: I would enhance that approach by saying, particularly because of the struggles everyone's having of to balance everything." Hey, if anybody," particularly for the informational meeting," If anybody's participating, but you're going to be remote and you may be a bit distracted because you're driving, I can record it. Just please raise your hand if you'd like me to record it." That way it gives somebody the confidence to say," Okay, I missed a couple minutes there, but I really want to understand what was happening. And I know it was recorded. So I have the confidence to be able to take care of a matter, it might be making sure I'm getting my child to school, but not missing a key point of the teamwork."

Jeff: Yeah. That's such a good point. There's been a couple of areas, too. We have an internal community for our teams to go get engaged in. So there's even oftentimes where people will say," Hey, I'm actually just going to go ahead and cancel the meeting just because I wanted to inaudible about this. So I recorded something, here's the deck." Then they post it on a chain inside of the community and say," Hey, can we go?" And we actually have, you can look at stats about how many people have actually watched it. So you can actually go back and say," Okay, Hey, I noticed that everybody watched this. Just wanted to make sure it comes across." But that's, to your point, trying to think about ways also just how to get rid of Zoom fatigue. Might be that way. Just,"Hey, we don't even need to be on the Zoom. I'm just going to record this and you all just give me some feedback if we need it."

Linda Matthews: Yep, exactly. And this is probably a topic for another day, but I also think about how do you fundamentally manage your day because of the distractions? And by distractions, I mean, you want to be concentrating on something. Oh, but I just heard a Slack come in, or I want to do this, but I heard a text come in. So that's also something. I do think it'd be a fascinating conversation for another day of how do you balance that and how do you put parameters on it with your colleagues to say," Okay, response time is expected to be this on Slack, unless it's an emergency channel"? So those things are a whole other gamut of distractions in how do you stay productive?

Jeff: Oh my gosh. I would love that. I've tried so many... I'm a really big tinkerer, even in my life, to try and find what's going to work for me? How do I do this? So yes. I actually think we should really do that. I think that would be a good one. We could even make it probably like a quick hit, 10 or 15 minute version of a condensed podcast. Talk about the ways that we've done that before.

Linda Matthews: I think customers are starting to use Slack with because with their vendors. So all of that is just a different realm of how do you stay focused, which would be a great topic. So obviously, you can tell how excited I would get about this stuff.

Jeff: Oh my gosh. Yeah. That's cool. Now you have me thinking about all these things. Should we talk about that right now? Or do you want to get more prepared?

Linda Matthews: I would love to drive into the escalation point.

Jeff: Let's do it. So the second topic that we were touching on is words matter. We're trying to make sure you know that at the end of the day, we're paying attention to detail. We're thinking about both written and verbal communication, and that we're trying to be concise. We're trying to be effective. We're trying to be straightforward and drive transparency with customers. I think one of the perfect places to do that is in escalation management. I think it's something that everybody goes through. I feel like everybody probably is either rolling their eyes or has been there right now in that situation. So for you, what are some of the keys to making sure that you have effective escalation management in place, and then we can dive into some of those areas?

Linda Matthews: Yeah. There's a couple of things I would say, because I do think that the concise communication written and verbal ties right into this topic, as it does many. But there's a couple things I would say in escalation management. The first is making sure you have a governance model in place. So when you are talking to your customers, every single management meeting, QBR, EBR, or whatever you call them, you have the slide every single time." Here's our chain of command of how you get, and here's a cell phone number of the CEO. If you're not getting what you need from this group, this is where you can escalate to." So I think making sure that they always have access to that, because if something goes wrong, they're going to quickly start to press some buttons and are they pressing the right ones? But if you ingrain that, in that it's always available to them, it shows two things. Number one, it truly shows them the clear path of escalation within the management chain. Number two, it shows that we care and we're saying," Listen, we expect you're going to get what you want from every level of the organization. But if you don't, here's the path to go." So that would be one of the key things I think. Then it can lead into other things, but I'll let you go ahead and comment.

Jeff: I love that example so much, because again, I can think of many scenarios on my hands where a customer gets frustrated and all they do is just start firing off emails to anybody that they pretty much met before in the organization. So all of a sudden, you've got your director of professional services involved. You've got your director of customer experience, your customer success leader, your support leader. Everyone's getting involved. Then everyone thinks it's a fire, which arguably it is. But everyone starts to think it's a fire. Now you've got really high paying resources that you are getting involved in this. Maybe like you said, there was already a path for us to handle these types of things. But now everybody, it's thrown off their day. They're all worked up about it. So even just putting it in front of them to say," Hey, let's reinforce this. But if you need anything and you can't get it, X, Y, and Z, here are the right steps to take. You will effectively get the right response. It might not be the response you want, but you're going to get a response from that." So I love that example so much.

Linda Matthews: Yeah. But then that ties into how do you manage an escalation that comes in? In my world, the CSM owns is on- point to coordinate the internal resources. Not to designate who in engineering fixes it, but to say," You know what engineering? I want you focused on the issue. I will help set the cadence and communication with the customer and the management of that customer." So you've got the defined escalation process. That's great. That's what the customer sees as far as who they call. But then internally, how do you do that? That's really an important element to make sure that you're not crossing wires. You've got a single theme and a single communication channel back to the customer. That's where the CSM plays a great role to say," You know what? Listen, we've got a team coordinated internally that's looking at this. I don't have an answer for you, but I will call you within an hour and give you an update on where we are." So you set an expectation, because one of the important things is the customer reaches out. You want to acknowledge that you've heard them, get all the information necessary to help troubleshoot, but also ensure that they understand what should they expect. You don't want them to think it went into a black hole, like," Well, it's quiet. Nobody's calling me. What's going on?" Because they're going to then go up that chain and say," I don't know what's happening." So you really want to make sure you set the expectation of," This is what we need to do to troubleshoot this. We need to recreate the problem first and we can't recreate it right now. That's what the team's trying to do. We'll give you a call in two hours, four hours," depends on the severity of the issue. If it's a a mission critical app and something's down, that should be an hourly update. Or it could be an active Zoom call that you leave on and people dial in and out as they have updates. So those are some of the best practices internally of," Hey, as a CSM, I will own the customer communication on this as far as coordination. I'm going to need you to participate and provide the detail." But then by creating that coordination point, the customer knows exactly what they're going to hear as far as updates, and then when. I think that's one of the key things.

Jeff: I love that. I love your point too, just that the CSM can play a great role in doing that, in coordinating things internally, and then being the point person and getting back. We had an escalation recently. Our CSM did a great job of doing that. Again, this is a situation where the customer reached out to actually multiple people around the organization because they didn't know the right path. So that's something we have to work on. But the CSM did wrangle everybody and say," Hey, I've got a meeting for all of us for 15 minutes. It's scheduled for tomorrow. Anything that you want to include in that, just send it to me ahead of time. I'm going to start consolidating everything." It was a really nice job, though, of wrangling the cats, because we all wanted to help. We all of a sudden, all want to jump in. And did a really nice job of just becoming that single point of contact where it's," Hey, you're getting the communication through me." At that point it's a really good thing because it's consistent. And it's also going to be the same person that they've dealt with before, and you're going to have somebody who's talking to you in the same way over and over consistently. The second thing I was going to mention too, that when you start thinking about escalation points, and something that maybe I've noticed a little bit in my career too, is sometimes I think are maybe an executive's first thing is," Hey, I'll just jump on a call with that troubled customer one- on- one." Really that's not necessarily what the customer always wants. The customer doesn't really want to spend time with you because you're not really going to solve the problem in the here and now. You're just going to talk to them, appease them. So really, going back to what you said, the customer really wants to see action and wants to see things that are happening and make sure that they're just feeling heard and addressed. So I also think that's another reason, probably back to your first point, about making sure you have the right escalation path, because sometimes you're going to have an overzealous executive or CEO who," I'll just get on the call." Then all of a sudden they're on the call and the customer isn't feeling any better because it's just like," Hey, thanks for the call. But this isn't really helping and you're not really telling me what sort of action is going to be driven from this."

Linda Matthews: Exactly. If you then tie into what the process is, and I'm not a fan of the word playbook, and I know it's all over the place, and I know a lot of the conversations on LinkedIn have been musing on that. But one of the key elements is if you have an executive sponsor program or exec connect, and if you don't I recommend you think about it, is you then say," Okay, within my organization, who's the executive that's on point that already has had conversations?" And then you make sure that the internal updates include that executive. You may want that executive just to lob a text in or a call in and say," Hey, I want to let you know I'm aware of it. I'm monitoring it with a team. If you need anything else, please reach out. But I'm confident that the team has it." So you want to leverage that from both ends, from that perspective. Then the other element, and I'm stepping back a little bit to earlier, is when you're talking to a customer, particularly as a CSM you get introduced, how do you want to communicate with me? That's a question you want to ask your customer. Do you prefer a phone call? Do you prefer email? Do you prefer a text? Because that way you understand how they like to be communicated with. Then therefore, when you know that, that's part of the guidance you give to your executive. If they don't mind texts and they prefer texts, the CEO can text them and say," Listen, this is John. I just want to let you know, I know what's going on." That's it. So setting an expectation on communication with your customers is how do you like to be communicated with? And it's a question we often don't ask. But then we find out what is their preference? If they're not at their desk a lot so they'd prefer a text, it's a great question to uncover and help you build a relationship with that customer that you're dealing with on a daily basis or weekly basis.

Jeff: Yeah. That also sets guidelines, too. Just for one of the questions I'm always asked too is," Hey, we're outside of business hours and something happens critical for one of your systems. Are you the type of person that you want me to alert you even if you can't do anything about it? Or are you going to be thinking about that all night and that was a bad crosstalk? Or do you want me to send you an email? That's just going to hit your inbox an hour before your day starts and you can start to get a jump on it then?" So I love the point about asking some of those questions. It's really funny too. I've found recently that asking some of those questions actually catches customers off guard because they're not asked those enough almost. It's not really common. So it's like a question that sometimes they're like," Oh I've never been asked that before." So it actually is just another way, too, just to show," Hey we're thinking ahead here. We're trying to be really cognizant of this partnership." And it's also going to make them think about their other vendors." Hey, how come they're not doing this with me?" That's another little differentiator that you can throw in there is," Hey, we're starting to establish some cadences and some different things that you might not get with another vendor if you were potentially going to leave us in the future." That's the type of thing that maybe sits in their mind a little bit longer.

Linda Matthews: Yeah, exactly. It's an interesting thing. It's changed a little bit in the last few years, but it was hard to get their cell phone numbers. There's some people that are very quiet in how they manage and they don't want their cell phone out there. But this also gives you a little bit more of a data point and say," Okay, they're willing to take a call on their cell." So it's also valuable then to make sure you've got it in your, whatever CRM system you use, that it's there in record. But at the same time, then you can share with them how you like to be communicated with. The reality is, is it depends on what your offering is as far as what your CSM for. Is it a product that's mission critical that it can go down 24/ 7 over the weekend? So you in turn have to understand what is your role and responsibility, and therefore share information. If I know I'm going to be on an airplane and we're doing a big release or something, then I would maybe say," Hey, this is my boss's number if you need to reach them because I'm going to be out." So it creates a great back and forth dialogue from that perspective.

Jeff: Yeah, definitely. That's another topic for another day. But that point you just made about understanding the type of products that you have. Some of those questions, I think sometimes people might forget to ask those as they're actually applying for jobs or getting into... all of a sudden, you get a job, you're excited about it. And then they're like," Hey we've got a pretty mission critical software here. You're not going to have to work every weekend, but there might be a situation where you have to get..." and all of a sudden you're caught off guard by that. So I was going to say, that's another topic for another day where, are you asking the right questions about the type of product you're getting into? Because that might dictate some of the hours you work. Or for instance, we've got an office over in Australia. They're part of our team. Every week we're spending time doing stuff with them and it's like, hey, that means we have to be on a little bit after our hours. Their hours on, and those are types of things you'd ask as part of that interview process.

Linda Matthews: It is. I heard this the other day, actually, when I was talking to CEO of a small company. It's not about the work- life balance. It's about the work- life harmony. I really liked that. It's about making sure when you join an organization, you need to understand everybody typically is all in. I'm not saying anyone isn't, but your life is different if it's a mission critical product. If it's running their revenue streams and it's a coffee chain and the something breaks, you can guarantee that their CIO is going to be on the phone with somebody real quick.

Jeff: I actually heard that as well. The work- life harmony, I heard... Jeff Bezos had a good talk a number of years ago at some Washington event that was reported. He was talking about that. He said," I don't really believe in work- life balance," And talked about how it can't be a hard stop between the two. What he said is, he goes," I want to make sure that I'm enjoying what I'm doing. That I feel like I've got time where I can do both, and that I can set the appropriate boundaries at the appropriate times and navigate through life." So I agree. I love that concept too. Well, one last question that I just wanted to throw out there, too. We're talking about escalation management. One thing I think I've seen teams struggle with or think about quite a bit is internal communication around some of this escalation. You've got email, you have phones, you've got text messages, you have Slack, you might have an internal community. So I'm curious if you've had to think through some of that as well. What are the right or effective ways to communicate internally? And what are some of the best practices that you've seen?

Linda Matthews: Yeah. I think that most recently in the last few years, I think a Slack channel dedicated to the issue is the most effective. The assumption with that is that Slack has permeated the organization. So it's used by engineering, support, customer success management. So I think that's an important thing of making sure that if you do choose that method, that the whole company's bought in on it, because you can't just use a fun new chat bot that's somebody picked up because they think it's fun. If half the group isn't on, it doesn't matter. So the most effective I've seen of late is really leveraging that Slack side of it. It's more real time. But then from there, putting that content into written communication on an email summary to then say," Okay, this is what I'm going to send to the customer. Does everyone agree with this?" You can cut and paste it back in, but moving that to email gives you a little bit more of a trail of confirmation that everyone agreed to what you're communicating. So I think Slack is good for the team working on the issue. And then migrate the key data points out of that into an email that would get sent back out, confirmed internally, sent back out to the customer and includes CCs of the customer management as well as us as a company.

Jeff: Yep. I love that example. I love the point too, about taking the critical information and then playing it back internally via an email first. Then what I like to do too is," Hey, just give me a quick reply to this if you've read it and make sure you agree." Just like you said. At the end of the day, you're just wanting to make sure," Hey, are we all on the same page? We all agree to this messaging? Because this is going to go out and we're going to have to sit behind this. This is going to have to be something that we stand behind. We don't want to say the wrong thing." So I just think that coordination internally matters.

Linda Matthews: One of the keys with that is you have to understand everyone's not technical in the audience who's going to be reading this. So everyone knows me, I'm not overly technical, but I'm going to repeat it back to you to make sure I'm saying it correctly and that the customer can understand it. So I think that's also key is you've got varying levels of technical skill if it's a technical issue. So you want to make sure that it's written and stating correctly as well.

Jeff: Oh, this is awesome. Well, Linda, this has been fun. So we talked about how words matter, making sure you've got attention to detail, verbal and written matter conciseness. Then really trying to think through, at the end of the day, what's the right communication channel with customers and how are you effectively doing that? Then we moved into escalation management. I think a couple of the things that stood out to me, just making sure that you're defining that escalation process back to customers regularly. Trying to make sure and reinforce," Hey, here are the steps to go," so that when something does happen, they're not causing fires all around the business for you. I think the other two things that just stood out for me is just thinking about an executive program. It's not all about that executive has to be clued into every little thing that's happening. But have they had enough conversations to establish a relationship that they can rely upon during these types of moments? Then I think just being a CSM, being a really great quarterback during these types of situations. Hey, can I gather everyone internally? Can I get the right messaging? And then can I be that single point of contact to drive consistency and clarity for the customers through that? So I've had fun. I think there's so many good, actionable pieces, which I always love when we do podcasts like that, that people can hopefully get out of here. So Linda, this was fun. Now we'd love to make sure that people can find you, connect with you and hear more about this, or even get other tips and tricks and things that you've done in your career. Where can they find you?

Linda Matthews: No, listen, that's super. I'm on LinkedIn, Linda D. Matthews. You're also welcome to send me an email at Lindadmatthews @ comcast. net. I thrive on this. I'm very passionate about it, as a lot of my former team members and colleagues know. To this day, I still do a lot of mentorship with folks I used to work with, or even some new folks I've been introduced to. So always love chatting about everything customer success, and really appreciate it. I enjoyed the conversation today. So thank you.

Jeff: I think we're going to have to have you back, because I think we teed up two other topics to talk about. The productivity and how do you establish your day to day working cadence? That one to me is, we're going to have to do it, because I have learned so many tips and tricks over the years. But I am always curious about what other people do. So I think I have something to learn from you. So if I can coax you back, I would love to do that one.

Linda Matthews: Be happy to.

Jeff: Awesome. Alrighty, thanks Linda. We'll see you soon.

Linda Matthews: Cheers. Thanks.

Speaker 3: Hey, guys. Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the Gain, Grow, Retain podcast. If you liked what you heard, please take a moment and share the podcast with your friends and colleagues and subscribe. We really appreciate it. Talk to you soon.


This week Linda Matthews, mentor and coach who does customer success freelance work, is here today to discuss communication and how your words are impactful.

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