More Will Be Revealed OR Thoughts On Engaging the Less-Engaging Customer

More Will Be Revealed OR Thoughts On Engaging the Less-Engaging Customer

From this XKCD comic

I recently received a very blunt and critical email from a customer. He was unhappy about a marketing email we sent out and critical of the company in general. Now, as Customer Success Lead, I work at the intersection of customer support, user experience, and customer development with some sales and marketing responsibilities rolled up there too (because hey we’re a startup!), but despite my many hats, I’ve become much more accustomed to dealing with feature requests and suggestions (thoughts on that here ) and not as adept at taking outright criticism. Fortunately, I’m familiar enough with customer development methodology at this point to know that there is often more beneath the surface of a simple user comment or request. So in this case, I responded to the customer by:

1) Showing appreciation for the feedback
2) Revealing the assumptions that were at play internally when we created the marketing email (e.g. People hate receiving “salesy” marketing emails and would prefer informative ones instead)
3) Conveying what response we’d hoped to receive with the email (e.g. We were looking to start a larger a dialogue about the business/process of software development)
4) Asking what sort of emails/communication the user *does* like to receive from a company like ours.

Much to my surprise, the user responded rather quickly and with a markedly changed tone, offering considerably more constructive feedback. Despite the fact that he claimed to hate the email, I ultimately got the dialogue I was looking for!

As I settle into my position, I am experiencing ever more of these sorts of exchanges — ones with biting and “off the cuff” beginnings that eventually finish as thoughtful conversations, full of great and useful ideas. While certain customers can come off as blunt, cynical, or entitled upon first contact, those same customers can also (with further engagement) prove to be highly intelligent, creative, and thoughtful. Even after several years of working alongside software developers, project managers, and tech leads, I am still learning valuable lessons about how to engage and turn an unpleasant exchange if not into something pleasant than at least into something productive. Recent lessons include:

Meet Users Where They Are
Whenever possible, it is useful to thank the person for taking the time out of their day to reach out you. They could have kept their opinion to themselves and honestly many users do. So this could be the viewpoint of scores more who just couldn’t be bothered to write you.

Affirm the person’s opinion. That is what they think and they have a right to think that way. You just want to know, “OK. So, what else?”

Customer Success Not “Happiness”
As I mentioned in a previous post, while we are working to build solutions that serve an ever growing number of users, we don’t need to blindly accommodate or people-please. We will never make all the users happy and that shouldn’t be our goal.

Be Introspective
What is your company doing? Are you accomplishing what you set out to accomplish or is this critique hitting a sore spot and reminding you of something you realize you need to fix/do/be? I find it is crucial to internally be honest about your company and your competitors, especially those who might be doing a better job than you at providing the same sort of product or service. It can also sometimes be beneficial to remind customers that you are aware of your competitors and know that Brand X does this better than we do at the moment.

Customer Success is not just about fixing the brokenness, it’s about learning what is still/already working…even if it is a competitor’s product or service or even a user’s hack.

It’s Not Me, It’s You
Sometimes people are grumpy or don’t know what they want or just want to vent. Listen politely, ask questions as you can, but don’t feel that you need to do or fix anything right away. While you are not there to be anyone’s therapist, if you *can* connect to the person and their frustrations you will gain valuable insight into the work and personal challenges some users may be facing.

Zero Tolerance For Abuse
All this having been said, it is important that your company not tolerate abuse. If a person is being offensive, hurtful, or threatening, you should have every right to walk away. While engaging the less-engaging among your user base can be useful it is not always useful.

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