Managing Difficult Customers w/ CSM Office Hours

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This is a podcast episode titled, Managing Difficult Customers w/ CSM Office Hours. The summary for this episode is: <p>A weekly segment:</p><p>CSM Office Hours</p><p>Every Tuesday. 11:30am ET.</p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p><p>--</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>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>
Thinking About the Problem From the Customer's Perspective
01:16 MIN
Be the Champion for the Customer
00:50 MIN
Empowering Your CSM
00:26 MIN

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Gain Grow Retain podcast.

Speaker 2: So I hope everybody had a great discussion on managing difficult customers. I know the group that I popped into, we had a lot of discussion, which I'm going to save for that person to share here in a couple of minutes. But if you were nominated as the... we'll call it your group lead, to share feedback. Would you mind raising your hand using the raise hand feature down under the reactions at the bottom? And I'll have each of you come off mute here in a moment and share a summary of your feedback and then maybe keep it to just a couple of minutes. And then I want to open up to the larger group discussion based on two or three key themes. So Heather, we'll definitely come back to you. I promise on that. So I'm going to call on, I saw Laura first, so Laura, if you don't mind coming off mute and maybe sharing a little bit of the feedback that your team discussed.

Laura: Yeah. So we had a great conversation. We had Tonya Hall, Lane Holt, Kimberly Berra, and Claudet Cabera Ludwig in our group. And I think we all had a lot of similar things to say. One really big takeaway was listening to the customer, kind of repeating back what you heard was the problem and really identifying okay if this is a difficult customer, why are they being difficult? What's sort of the reason behind that. Is there a legitimate reason for why they're being difficult? Is it maybe a personality thing? But apologizing if an apology is necessary for sure. And really going above and beyond to recognize if there was a mistake. Putting them in the driver's seat was another thing that came up. So giving them the agency to really ask for the solution. Say to them, and put it to them and say what can we do to make this right? And one thing that was brought up in our group as well is sometimes you need to sort of step away from that difficult conversation and give it some time. Sometimes you put that question to them and say, what can we do to make it right? And they don't yet have the answer because maybe there's still sort of high emotions or high tension from whatever that situation is. So recognizing when it's appropriate to say let's take a few days to think about how we can make this right for you. And we'll follow up on this day at this time- blocking as well. So making sure that there's very, sort of you're both aligned on what next steps are. Making sure to follow up on that conversation and give them a timeframe for when there will be a resolution. So if you say that you're going to follow up tomorrow at 10:00 AM doing that, starting to build that trust and then saying, if it's a longer term thing, we're going to have this figured out in four weeks on this date, we're going to have another call to check in and make sure that that solution worked for you and then following through with that. So those are some of the things that we talked about in our group.

Speaker 2: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you, Laura. I may circle back with you on a couple of those things. I'm going to let a couple of the other group leads share some of their feedback. But thank you. David Curry. I saw you next. What did your group discuss?

David Curry: So I am in the same group as Heather. So do you want me to go or do you want her to go?

Speaker 2: It's up to you, David. If you want Heather to lead I'm going to call her up, put her on the spot.

Heather: No David, take the stage. It's all you.

David Curry: Yeah. So we had an interesting conversation and we talked about difficult conversations with the customer. But the customer sometimes can be various teams within your own organization. And I think at CSMs, we all have to be cognizant of the fact that we work for a certain employer, but we're bound by obligation to do right by the customer. But sometimes our trickiest customers are going to be product, marketing, support, et cetera. Which you have to have difficult conversations with all in the name of service to your customer, right? But one of the recurring themes that came out of our discussion is emotional intelligence. Not taking it personal, being empathetic, having active and passive listening skills. Being able to understand the customer's pain points. And develop a plan to get them to a greener or healthier state in a relative amount of time. I think it's so easy for us to get emotionally caught up in what's going on with our customers, and vice versa, that we forget at the end of the day it's just business. This isn't personal. As I mentioned to my group ultimately when the customer comes to our organization, it's because our product, our tool solves a problem. And that moment it's not solving a problem. Whether it's product misalignment during the inaudible And there's something going on that they're not happy with. And so we need to get the emotion out of that, but yet still be able to understand what they're really hearing. And boil down to the root issue. Like what is the cause. Like follow that thread, pull that thread and get to what the actual issue is. And then from there you circle the wagons, you bring in your teams and then develop a plan to really drive for those objectives. That's going to make the customer, at least in that short interim happier, but more importantly healthier.

Speaker 2: Yeah. That's awesome. David, I really like your comment about don't take it personal. And I'm actually going to pass the Baton to Susan, because I was in group with Susan. We actually talked a little bit about that as well. But I one hundred percent agree. You've got external customers, which is often where the difficulty lies, but sometimes getting even internal people to engage on those same conversations can be a challenge. So I appreciate it David. Probably be circling back on that as well. Susan, do you want to maybe pick up where David left off and share from our group?

Susan: Yeah. So my group was Shevaughn Bailey, Lisa Reger, Dylan Malloy and Hailey Miller. And we had a lot of the same conversations that Laura shared with as well. Some of the main things we talked about was really listening to the customer, empathizing with them. Not matching them at their tone. So if they come to you and they're really upset, you don't want to also have the same tone as them. Stepping back and putting yourself in their shoes to really try to understand where they're coming from. We talked a lot about doing research and finding out what is the core issue that the customer has. And sometimes that does mean that you need to go back and check with your team or do a little of your own research. So really finding out where they're at and where they're coming from. And let's see I'm looking at my notes. But yes, of course don't take it personal. And then one thing that came up in our group as well. Is inaudible the script a little bit. So one thing that I've done in the past is I've been, after a customer has shared their challenges and their difficulties. I've listened, I've apologized, I thank them. And after we've kind of gotten through what their challenge might be, I'd asked them to share with me one good thing about the service or the product. And it kind of just shifts their behavior a little bit. It pushes their mindset and takes it from a little bit more negative to a positive. And so that's what we talked about in our group. And some of the fun foods that we couldn't live without was Pizza, Steak, Tacos, Curry, Lentils, and Peanut Butter. How was that?

Speaker 2: That's awesome. Thank you, Susan. Great, great job on the recap as well. Gala. I see you. I saw you pop up pretty early. I want to give... I know you and I talk a lot.

Gala: For sure.

Speaker 2: Do you want to expand on what's been shared so far?

Gala: Definitely. We're going to give those foods a run for their money. We were all in on Mashed potatoes. Potatoes in general, Rice and Fried rice. So we really like took the two basic foods and then elaborated from there. But I had a really great conversation with Ramya, yes, Tacos for life, Nathan and Marcus. And we really focused on picking up the phone and just talking to the customer and getting away from hiding behind the computer, because often... your tone of voice to kind of reiterate what Susan said, the tonality is the difference between the email and the voice. And then also something I thought that was really interesting that Nathan brought up was, when you get an angry customer, having that gut level check of, is this someone that I really want to save or are they actually not a right fit for the organization and then determining where to go from there. And then something really interesting that Marcus mentioned was if you do feel like this is someone that you should save and you get on the phone with them. Asking them, has your use case changed from when you signed up? So if they're having a gripe about a situation or something that the product doesn't have. A feature that doesn't have. Asking them when you signed up, was that your original goal? If your goal has changed, let's realign together and then start to go towards that goal. So it just came down to using your voice. Something that we probably shy away from every once in a while, these days.

Lane: Okay. Great point. And the other piece that I heard in that is that expectation piece. A customer purchases your product for some reason, and then expectations change along the way, but no one has communicated that expectation gap. And so aligning on that Gala is a huge point. And so really glad that you brought that one up. Awesome. Cool. So... I know Jeremy is kind of doing a little bit of kiddo stuff, which is fine. Appreciate that he can do that. David. I see. You're next up on my screen with your hand raised. Do you want to talk a little bit about what your group talked through?

David: Yeah. Thanks Lane. We had Kevin, Josh, Laurie, and Gabriel. We had, Korean barbecue was kind of a big one. And then we got into Pizza and honestly we could've spent all... We got into a heavy debate of whether Pineapple should be on Pizza and everything else. We could've gone on for the hour on this. But the topic itself as well. I think we actually kind of just started uncovering it as we got through. And we probably could have spent a lot of time on this. I'm sure. Like even just writing down notes from everyone else. We've heard four or five different groups. And there's like all different strategies. Ones that might've been kind of similar, but different from what we also experienced. So I think there's a lot of different strategy on this. Some of the ones that were different for us was... Kevin had talked about change of environment. So just simply sometimes changing the CSM or having a new person involved. Maybe they have a relationship that's sort of like tainted now. And they've got just a bad reflection of either the product or the company. And sometimes just having a change helps. And that's been something that's worked at times. Not all times. Trying not to be a hammer. In that, I think we have assumptions a lot of the times in terms of how the product might've worked for one organization because a user group or persona was defined a certain way. And then you're trying to then say, hey, this is how it should work for you we've seen this with other companies. And not understanding why there's that mismatch. So peeling back the layers and going back and starting from okay let's level set in terms of understanding exactly who we're dealing with. The user personas and make sure that the materials, the training, the delivery, the onboarding is well aligned to that. So I think just that alignment piece. And one other one that came up right at the end, was Josh mentioned this as well, was breaking into little steps too. Sometimes it's like the customer sees this giant project that just doesn't seem to have the momentum all the time of what they might like. So having like little bites and little successes along the way can get them on track to feeling like things are moving the way that they should be so that was another one. We had a lot more. But definitely all I'll leave it with those ones for now. So it was a great discussion.

Lane: Awesome. One thing that I dropped in the chat is when we change a CSM, the one thing to make sure is if this is one customer, this is one example. It doesn't define their ability to be a CSM. So helping them also remember that. Because sometimes in that a CSM can feel that way of like, oh man, I failed because I'm being taken off of this account or something like that. But if there is something systemic, making sure that that gets addressed. Really at the heart of it, usually what it is is might just not be the right fit between the two. You might have someone, a CSM who's a challenger mentality and then a customer who doesn't need that or doesn't want that. And that can be that conflict there. Awesome. Julie, I think you're rounding out the groups.

Heather: Awesome. Thanks Lane. Thanks everybody. Thanks Jeremy, as well. So I agree with what everybody has been saying. Our group was Isabel, David, Fred, Carlos, and myself. And the discussion kind of centered around recurring platform problems and how to have those tough conversations with customers. If fixes aren't always working out. Or they're having... They're saying same problems, go over and over again and keep coming back to you. So everyone had really good advice about this. So it is again that managing those expectations, being transparent in your communications and just making sure that you're checking in with them. And letting them know if there is a fix around the corner or what we're working on to solve the problem. Understanding what their impact is to their business. So how is it impacting their business? Is it immediate? Is it longterm? And are there any workarounds that you can help them to make sure that their business impact is minimized while they might be experiencing an issue? Make sure IT and security issues maybe aren't a problem. The right people are connecting. And then if you need to escalate it to leadership or offer compensation, sometimes this is the next step, if you've been having the same conversations with a problem customer, an upset customer over and over and you need to actually escalate it. And then talk about new options, if you have new things that are coming down the pipeline. Or new feature adjustments that are going to help optimize their product and bring greater value as they... You know, by remaining with you and not turning out. Then those are all things, conversations you can have with them. But again, just being really transparent in the communications. And again, speaking with empathy and honesty. And making sure that they understand that they're a priority to you and you're working with them in any way you can to make sure that you're going to continue in a successful partnership.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I really liked, I really liked that, Julie. I was just thinking about, talking to a couple of folks from, from the group. I know we have some new to being a CSM. We've got some folks on the call that are new in that CSM type role. I wonder, based on, I kind of heard some themes, empathize don't take it personally, but what would it, for those of us on the call that, have been around the block and customer success, more than once what would you offer a new CSM? It, what advice would you offer a new CSM as it relates to engaging in managing new customers or managing these difficult customers, rather. Anybody want to chime in?

David: Mutual accountability? Prescriptive process seems to, seems to be one.

Speaker 2: Claudet. I see you nodding your head. Was there something, did you have something you want to add?

Claudet: I think... Get a start and look back at the process of where this customer goes through. Is it there? Are they, where's the flag for them to be able to say, we're having a little bit of challenge here on some things, like, is it in the first occurrence? Is it the second occurrence I've been in this situation where the process is, you're getting that escalation at the third occurrence. Okay. That's the ideal process. But unfortunately they went through the occurrence seven times already and it's all blown out of proportion and no one communicated and no one was really someone was trying to redefine the process before that, before it got to your level. So I think in, in an obviously everything else that goes with processes, standardizing things helps mitigate some of the escalation, but it's about communication and everybody being on board and understanding that process.

Speaker 2: Yep. Communication, communication, communication. So like that, Nathan, what do you have on, on your mind?

Nathan: Yeah, I think something that I've always taken into the customer support and customer success industry, it's something that I would pass on to any CSM would be one you're not alone, right? This is normal. And two, whatever anger or frustration the other customer is expressing to either your support teams or to you probably has some pain or frustration, that's pretty easily explainable. And so the easiest that you can do is just relate as a human would relate to anyone who's in pain and just start there. Right. And once you kind of set that level expectation of, I'm here with you. Talk to me, share with me, you can really kind of start building those bridges if you haven't built them before. Right. If you're not already, thick as thieves with that person or that point of contact, that's frustrated, like it's a great way to start off. So for new CSMs taken on difficult accounts, I would just say, it's okay, it's normal. And also go ahead and just get to the base level of the pain for them and then take it from their perspective, right? Listen to them and make sure that you're coming alongside them and saying, yep, I hear you on a human to human level. And then let's fix the problem. Right? If you jump straight to it, let's fix the problem. Or you know, too quickly what's going to happen is they're going to feel like you're just trying to shut them up or put a bandaid on it and move on. And you really want to slow down enough to say this matters, right? This is causing you XYZ frustrations or pain on a daily basis or monthly basis or quarterly basis. Let's take that time to actually listen really well, so that'd be my recommendation.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I love that. It's normal. Unfortunately, I hate that we have to say that it's normal, but you're right. You know, all of us, at some point in our careers are going to deal with somebody who's difficult in our personal life or in our professional life. So I think it was, was it David Curry that mentioned you don't take it personally, that's resonated in my career for sure. So I appreciate, that reminder, Nathan and Anastasia, I'm really glad to see your hand raised cause I was going to call on you anyway. So the floor is yours.

Anastasia: Two things. I think I put it in the chat, but I think the important is to note what went wrong, but it's not, should not be the focus of a discussion. You should be able to help them move the path forward and find a solution. The other piece that when you take on a difficult client or difficult problem or project or whatever the situation may be, it's important to be that champion for the customer, especially if you're inheriting somebody as maybe new, or if the CSM changed. It's important to realize that you have the ability to turn this around. So that means following up with them, that means asking the right questions. It means understanding their business goals so you can help them solve a problem and then be their champion in the company and find those quick solutions and make sure you keep tabs on it.

Speaker 2: Yeah, that's awesome. No, thank you for that Anastasia. Actually, there was a question that Lisa brought up in our group and looking around the grid here for, for, for where she is. I don't know if she, she dropped, oh, there you are. Lisa around recurrent customers who are reoccuringly difficult. And if, and does, is there a point in which say enough is enough with a difficult customer. And I'd be curious if anybody on the call today has worked with a difficult customer to the point where the company is having to make a decision as to, does maintaining the difficulty of this relationship, make business sense for both us, as the partner, but also for them as a vendor and using our, our technology. I see some shaking heads, but anybody want to try to tackle that question with our last few minutes here? Anybody walked through that example where they said enough is enough.

Laura: Yeah. So have been in this situation with a client before. And I think one tough thing because business never wants to say, sure, we're going to willingly cancel a contract and lose that recurring revenue, even if it is difficult for the CS team. I think in our case, the combination that made it kind of a not an argument, but what made it worth it is that the customer was only very difficult, but also was not paying on time. And so it was sort of a pain point across the entire company. It started out with poor sales and CS alignment. They were sold on, a product and maybe weren't really the best fit. And I think that's kind of the easiest, difficult customer to get rid of because it's not just about, it's not just about them being difficult, but it's also, they have sort of legitimate reasons for some of the concerns that they're bringing up. They probably should not have been a client in the first place. We really are not the best fit for their problem. We're not providing them with the solution that they really need. And so in that case, I think it, it really came to a head because they weren't paying their, they weren't paying their invoices, but certainly was kind of an ongoing conversation for about a year before we finally sort of cut the cord with them, had a call between our CEO and their CEO, and ultimately it ended up being fine, but, but I think that's what we really needed was them not paying their bills. I'd be curious to hear if anyone actually had a difficult client where just the CS team saying, hey, this is a difficult client we've been dealing with these things that was enough to sort of cancel the contract.

Speaker 2: Laura, that's certainly welcome to open the floor. The comment I was going to add on that is, I, I think you hit on that. You hit on a piece, right? It was an across organizational decision to, it wasn't just CS acting in a vacuum or, sales acting in a vacuum. But there was, every part of the business was being impacted from the misalignment of technology to extra resources, having to be thrown at the customer to the customer, not, not paying. So we, we talked a little bit about this too, as to, there, there is a line between, when is the challenge, when is a challenging customer, just a challenging customer. And it's unique situation versus those that, that there's been misalignment since day one and you're in, I think I referenced it as a lump of coal, right? You've inherited a lump of coal. And what do you do with that? So, there's a fine line of, but ultimately I would say it's as a CSM and the CSMs on this call, right, we are the face of the company for those accounts. But it's really about you advocating for that customer, either positively or negatively to say, hey, this, I'm dealing with this, the day- to- day leadership, I need you to back me up on this and asking for that leadership support, you should not be, CSM should not be acting in a volume, especially dealing with, those ultra difficult or even, borderline abusive type customers where nothing you ever do is going to, is going to be right. So I think you bring up a really good point. Unfortunately, I have not had a personal example of actually firing a customer, but I agree. I think being able to hit on it cross- functionally is, is a big thing. So Lane, was there anything you wanted to add before we wrap us up? Cause I want to make sure we get everybody out on time.

Lane: I just had one note, but I know Lisa has her hand, has been trying to raise their hand. So I'll go very quickly. One of the things that I found most empowering with the organizations that I work with is to empower your CSMs, to let them know that one, you have their back and two, that you will not stand for a customer being disrespectful or treating them with malice or not with integrity as with being able to empower your CSM, to say, I am not comfortable in this situation and let your CSM also escalate and have that path forward as well.

Speaker 2: That's awesome. That's great. Well, Lane, thank you for that. Again, make sure you give a Lane huge kudos for helping co- host today, especially when my kids came in. So thank you for that. Appreciate all the feedback I really do. It's a great discussion today. I'm looking forward to getting the notes from the call input into Gain Grow Retain, so we can obviously continue the conversation there. And if anybody's interested in, replacing me up here as the talking head of office hours, feel free to reach out to me. You know, Lane is a Testament to that. So, but with that, I'll get you all out of here on time. Please take a moment to provide feedback so that we can continue to make this better for y'all and have a great rest of your... have a great rest of your week, hope we'll see y'all Thursday.

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.


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