Trust is the bedrock of all customer relationships.
Trust is what gives you the opportunity to talk about a new feature or product launch without coming off as “sales-y”. Trust is the motivating factor your customer needs to be honest with you that they might churn due to budget problems. Trust is how you get to push back when, for example, the customer is demanding something that is out of scope.
Building trust is not always an easy thing to do though. It doesn’t come from yet another kickoff or check-in call but from aligning on a customer journey that everyone consents to take. This involves some manual effort to start but—with the right data—scales easily.
1. Define the customer journey
Before trying to talk to customers, you need to understand what they will go through—as in, their journey with your solution.
Nikola pointed out three specific phases to pay attention to. First is the contract start date, understanding what starting the journey looks like (or should look like) with your company. Then comes adoption and getting their team fully onboarded (whatever that means for your solution), and ensuring your new customers actually use the platform to help solve their problems (a.k.a. adoption). After that comes renewal—ensuring that the platform provides its stated value—and expansion, as you prove your platform can overdeliver on value.
“This sets the anchor of the touchpoints that your customer success teams are going to have with your customers,” said Nikola. “And also allows you to figure out what narratives you should be building for across each of these touchpoints.”
2. Tell your customer journey story
Every company has a start, adoption, usage, renewal, and expansion journey. The next step is to tell your unique story—explaining how things are not necessarily different but how they are tailored to customer needs. Every customer is a unique and beautiful snowflake after all 😉
“You don't have to have this totally defined,” said Nikola. “You may just start with one stage, but it's good to take a step back and look at holistically what are the different touchpoints in the journey and which we are going to be using some sort of data-driven content.”
As you craft the narrative, Nikola cautioned CS leaders to keep three things in mind:
- Never forget about the customer: while this might seem obvious, it can be easy to focus on the product and what you want customers to do rather than focusing on your customer as humans with needs.
- Narratives should build on one another: something from your kickoff should flow through and set up the narrative of expansion down the line. While it doesn’t need to be a direct connection all the time, each narrative needs to be part of a larger story.
- Get both internal and external feedback: often CSMs will validate the story with their customer—this is important. But it’s also critical to get internal feedback from your colleagues because they might have a different perspective on how customers can get value from your solution.
“Get not just feedback from the people that you're presenting to, but also get internal feedback from other folks on your team,” said Nikola. “They may think about it a little bit differently, and it's always great to get that perspective”
3. Determine what data you need
Telling a story with data only makes sense if the data is timely, relevant to the customer, and indicative of the customer achieving success at a given journey step. Nikola likens data to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—he calls it the Matik Hierarchy of Data.
The bottom of the pillar—corresponding with the contract start phase—leverages account data. This is information about who is joining the platform, the company use case, and other notes from either sales or CSM kickoffs.
The middle pillar—corresponding to the adoption and usage phase—focuses on usage data. This information helps tell a story about how the customer is actually using the platform and what value might either be already present or is on the way.
The top pillar—focusing on renewals—is about return on investment. Here, you analyze the account data against the usage data to see if the customer is getting the outcomes that motivated them to purchase. If they are, a renewal should be relatively easy to secure. If not, the CSM might have to intervene.
As you move to conversations around expansion, you need benchmarking data beyond an individual hierarchy. This information comes from looking across different customers’ hierarchies to help an individual understand how they are performing relative to their peers, to set KPIs, and to industry best practices.
“Showing data for the sake of showing data obviously is not the end goal,” said Nikola. “We want to be able to show them a comparison.”
4. Scale up your storytelling with content
Ok. So you have a customer journey (or multiple, depending on your product’s use cases), a narrative for each journey, and you know the data points. Now is the time to scale it up. That’s where content comes in.
Your biggest leverage to scale customer journey storytelling is content—you can make it once and share it many times, augmenting with the human touch as needed for individual customer needs. The simple rule here is anything you repeat frequently or anything that happens across your customer base should become content. This might be written, audio, video, screen shares, or a mix, depending on the information you are trying to communicate.
As you build out content, Nikola said to watch out for three key challenges:
Quality assurance: the stories you tell and the data you show must be consistent.
“Ensure that you do have some quality checks in place because that is one way to lose trust is when you show one data point and then you follow it up the second time and it doesn't match,” said Nikola.
Feedback loops: content, like software, is iterative. You will need to continually publish new content and review or edit previous content to ensure consistency and quality.
“Content is very similar to building software,” said Nikola. “It should be iterative and [you should] get feedback constantly.”
Distribution: on top of any marketing or SEO strategy you might have, content needs to be easily accessible internally so CSMs can quickly understand what content is available and grab it at a moment’s notice to send to a client (or automate through a playbook).
Stories create shared beliefs
When you start with the customer’s journey, you are inviting them to align with you. This is not the story of your business from your perspective—it’s the story of your business as a part of your customer’s life. In short, it’s about them; you’re a supporting character. When you build a journey and get alignment, you create a strong shared belief. This is what ultimately builds trust—you’ve shown them you are there for them, believe in them, and are capable of helping them with your strong suit.
“The hope at the end of this is to ultimately influence those business outcomes, whether it is expansion, whether it is renewals and cross-sells, sharing this data and packaging it into content that is more consumable for your customers will hopefully lead to those types of business outcomes while at the same time making your CMS look like heroes and analysts to be more strategic with their customers,” said Nikola.
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