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Building Next-Level Discovery Skills That Drive Retention and Growth

A great customer experience starts with an effective discovery session, and this post will teach you how.
Patrick Icasas
April 1, 2022

As a Customer Success professional, it’s your job to master the art and science of discovery to create meaningful customer experiences. Your discovery skills can mean the difference between significant growth and significant churn. 

In this article, we share our effective discovery framework to help you take your discovery skills to the next level. We covered this in our recent online workshop Next-Level Skills That Drive Retention & Growth featuring our Director of Customer Success Siobhan Alexander, and have included the key topics below, including:

  • Importance of discovery
  • Active listening strategies
  • An effective discovery framework
  • Leveraging the 5 Whys

Why is discovery important to CS?

Discovery involves examining things from different perspectives and uncovering something new along the way.

This concept is important to CS because it allows us to dig deeper into the customer's experience — drawing out ideas, challenges, and opportunities that we can’t otherwise see at surface-level.

Good discovery also allows us to:

  • identify potential risks
  • avoid misalignments, missed opportunities, and churn
  • come up with creative solutions to challenges
  • build relationships with our customers
  • advocate for opportunities
  • build trust

What’s great about discovery is that it doesn’t just benefit the customer — it also opens channels for personal learning and growth for CS teams. Sure, it might involve asking difficult questions or navigating tricky conversations, but at the end of the day, a strong set of discovery skills can help you gain confidence in your ability as a CS professional.

So, how do you do discovery the right way?

It All Starts With Active Listening

If you’ve been in CS for a while, you’ve probably heard the phrase “active listening” a bunch of times. The concept behind this term is deceptively simple: listen first, then speak. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Active listening is the core of our discovery framework, and we can break it down into the following parts:

1. Being observant

Being alert and mentally present for the conversation allows you to focus on what the customer is saying — or, in most cases, what they’re not saying. By closely observing your customer, you can take note of verbal and non-verbal cues, as well as the client’s overall mood and behavior.

2. Open-ended dialogue

Asking open-ended questions helps the client expound on certain points and ideas. It lets you uncover important information like their values, goals, pain points, challenges, and preferences.

When done right, creating open-ended dialogue can also be a great opportunity for constructive feedback.

3. Curiosity

Coming from a place of genuine curiosity creates a lot of opportunities during discovery. In many cases, curiosity can help you discover surprising details about your customer.

Be empathetic. Try to see things from their point of view and ask questions rooted in genuine interest.

4. Breaking it down

This aspect of active listening involves breaking big concepts into smaller pieces so you can understand them better. This works well when trying to solve problems or getting to the bottom of pain points and hesitations.

The trick to breaking it down is in asking specific questions and encouraging the customer to cite concrete examples.

5. Watching subtle cues

Actions speak louder than words. As mentioned earlier, communication is more than what a person is saying — feelings and ideas can also be conveyed through word choice, tone of voice, and body language. Active listening involves watching out for these subtle cues.

6. Checking in and rephrasing

This element of active listening helps you align with the client. By checking in and rephrasing what they’re saying, you’re establishing that you understand their concerns. This tells your customer that you’re on the same page and are eager to come up with creative solutions together.

Applying Active Listening Through Catalyst’s Discovery Framework

Now that we’ve established what active listening is, we’re going to apply that to our discovery framework. This framework serves as our guide in navigating discovery conversations.

Our discovery framework is made up of four major pillars:

1. Who are you speaking to?

We can’t stress this enough: you won’t be able to ask relevant discovery questions if you don’t know who you’re speaking to in the first place. To truly connect with your customer and have a meaningful discovery conversation, it’s vital that you determine your customer personas first.

For example, here at Catalyst, we’ve got three personas:

  • Executives and VPs of Customer Success
  • CS Managers and Directors
  • CSMs

Each persona has a different set of goals, pain points, needs, and concerns. By categorizing our customers into these profiles, we’re able to focus on specific scenarios and challenges that are relevant to their roles.

2. How are you asking?

Your delivery can make or break your discovery call. While it’s important to know what information you want to get from a certain customer, knowing how to get that information is another skill altogether.

To do this right, you have to make discovery a conversation, not an interrogation. Your role as a CSM is to make your customer comfortable in sharing their thoughts and concerns.

Focus on asking insightful and varied questions. Depending on your objective, you can ask leading, open-ended, or close-ended questions. You can also craft your questions around technical, business, process-related, or personal aspects.

3. What are you asking?

You'll also want to be objective when doing discovery calls. As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to identify the type of information you want to get from a customer. Consider focusing on the following:

  • Current Situation - how do they do things today? 
  • Problem - what are they looking to improve?
  • Impact - quantify & qualify the current problem
  • Ideal Solution - what is the customer’s ideal situation?
  • Benefit - quantify and qualify the positive impact of working towards the ideal solution

4. Digging in below the surface

The last piece of the framework involves digging through the symptoms and uncovering the root cause of the problem by asking “why” 5 times.

By sifting through their thought patterns and getting over assumptions, the 5 Why's technique allows you to come up with solutions that truly address the root cause of the problem.

Practice Time!

Like many things in life, the only way to get better at discovery is through practice. Grab a partner and practice your discovery skills with this short exercise:

  1. Pick a topic — make sure that it’s not business-related!
  2. Partner 1 starts talking about the topic 
  3. Partner 2 can only ask why questions until they’re 5 questions deep.
  4. Take turns doing this until you’re both confident with your skills.

The challenge is to make your why’s sound as natural as possible. Remember: discovery is both an art and a science, so do it with both objectivity and finesse!

Take things to the next level with this Murder Churn Mystery game

If you want to take things to the next level, we’ve prepared a fun mystery scavenger hunt for you to play. The goal is to “save the customer” from hanging up. Grab the instructions here and see if your team can get through the murder churn mystery.

Discovery Plays An Integral Part in Customer Success

Developing discovery skills takes a lot of practice and patience. The first few calls may feel awkward or stilted, but as long as you keep at it, you’ll learn how to be more comfortable in navigating these conversations.

Listen proactively, come from a place of genuine care, and have fun practicing. You’ll be a pro in no time!

If you want more insights and tips, then watch the Next-level Discovery Skills That Drive Retention & Growth recording at this link.

Better relationships. Less churn.

What’s not to love? Try Catalyst today.
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