How to Build Customer Relationships That Will Survive (Almost) Anything

A strong customer relationship can survive fair weather or foul. Find out how.
Patrick Icasas
March 24, 2021
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Today’s customer relationships are very fragile. 

Subscription-based services make it relatively easy for customers to cut their ties with a platform or service at the first sign of trouble, and there are loads of competitors ready to jump in and take over. 

But customers don’t always tell you when there’s trouble. According to studies, only 1 in 26 unhappy customers will actually complain. In other words, your first and only warning may be when they miss their renewal date. 

So how can a CSM prevent this from happening? How will you be able to predict and prevent people from churning out?

Relationships. 

A strong customer relationship is your best tool as a CSM. It opens lines of communication and increases loyalty to you and your organization. It increases your standing with the customer and unlocks opportunities you’d never have enjoyed before. And best of all, it helps keep customers from churning out. 

So how do you get one of those? Is it as simple as sending them a meme?

Nope. It requires quite a bit more than that. We’ve listed them below:

1. Assign a consistent point of contact

It’s easier for a customer to bond with a CSM if they know the CSM is going to be around for a long time. It establishes a sense of permanence and consistency, which will help cement the relationship further. 

A single point of contact also helps make it easier for the customer to get support. They don’t have to explain the same issues to different customer service people; the customer success manager will know the account’s history and the goals of their implementation. 

2. Develop good rapport

Rapport is essential to building customer relationships--whether you’re a CSM, a sales person, or an account manager. 

As former FBI Special Agent Jack Schafer puts it, building rapport is like growing a bank account. The more rapport you build, the more money you put in the “relationship bank.” If you ask them for something, or a serious incident happens, and there’s not enough “money” in the “bank,” the interaction will yield a negative result. 

Simply put, the customer won’t respond well. They might ignore your request. They might get mad. They might even cancel altogether. 

On the other hand, a customer that gets along with you will be willing to give you more, and forgive you if you over-ask. 

3. Exceed expectations (in a good way)

Think about the last time you received a bonus item from a store or were given a free coffee by your favorite barista. Wasn’t that a pleasant and memorable surprise?

You love it when people go the extra mile to give you a good experience, and your own customers do too. 

You don’t have to give your customers something material. You can exceed expectations in other ways. For instance, you can be super-organized and give the customer comprehensive onboarding documentation. You can reach out to them proactively and check on their needs.

Even the simple act of responding in a timely manner will impress. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to nag my CSM for information that they promised to get me

4. Take criticism with grace

No relationship is perfect, not even in customer success. 

Maybe the customer doesn’t like the latest product update. Maybe the system crashed and they lost their data. Maybe the customer had a bad day. 

The customer will be angry at some point. They will have things to say, and they won’t be good. 

But just remember: they’re not mad at you

Don’t take things personally. Don’t fire back at the customer. Keep a cool head, acknowledge their concerns, and write everything down. They will respect your professionalism and will adore you if you can take their criticism and channel it into positive change.

Which brings me to my next point: 

5. Have your customer’s back

When things go wrong, customers want help from someone who can “get things done.” They want someone who is “on their side.” 

As a CSM, you’re in a position to be that person for your customer. You get to be the hero that swoops in. The person that goes to bat for them. The one with the answers. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to take the customer’s side all the time, though. Remember, you’re still a company employee, and despite what you may have heard, the customer is not always right.

What the customer really wants is a CSM who can advocate for them internally. They want you to understand their point of view and communicate their concerns to the right team. They will accept a “no” if they can trust that you did everything you could on their behalf. 

And when you get them a “yes,” you’ll sprout wings and a halo and forever be their guardian angel. 

6. Stay in touch 

Half of a relationship is showing up in the first place. 

Don’t expect to grow a strong customer relationship if you only call at renewal time. We joke about this in The Unicornian, but it’s funny because it’s true. Far too many CSM’s take a laissez-faire attitude to customer outreach, yet act surprised when their retention numbers drop. 

A relationship that only happens once a year is no relationship at all. 

Be proactive and contact your customers often. Get on a video call, don’t email--especially when you’re giving good news. The human contact will help the customer see you as more than just a name in their inbox. Find good excuses to reach out and milk every minute by building rapport and providing value. 

7. Have a good product

This is one of the most important factors in a customer relationship, and yet it’s the one most out of the CSM’s control. It doesn’t matter how great a customer success manager you are; if your product stinks, most of your customers are going to be angry ones. 

Fortunately, CSM’s still have a card to play. Record any and all feature requests that your customer makes and forward them to the product team. The majority of your feature requests will be challenged, but you can increase your chances by providing the dev team with details and specifics. 

And when a feature request does make it through to production, reach out to your customer and celebrate the victory together. 

At the end of the day…

With the right amount of rapport, diplomacy, and face-time, CSM’s can build customer relationships strong enough to survive… well… a lot. 

It would be best if you didn’t actually have to put that to the test, of course. But at least you’ll be able to enjoy a little more leeway if the shit does hit the fan.

But that’s not going to happen. 

Right?

Better relationships. Less churn.

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