Why Customer Success Teams need to establish a feedback culture

It’s a typical Thursday at 2pm, which means you’re dialing in to your standing client call with ABC Corp. The call kicks off with the expected pleasantries, and you suggest diving into the agreed upon agenda. Your contact at ABC Corp cuts you off- “I think there’s something more pressing we need to discuss. We won’t be renewing when our current contract ends in September.” You’re blindsided by the cancellation and left flabbergasted as to where things went wrong.

Cut to your quarterly review 2 months later. Your performance has been solid by your assessment, and you expect the conversation to be a bit routine. Your manager clears her throat. “While you excelled in Q2, we really saw a drop in your performance this quarter. In particular, it was concerning that you didn’t anticipate ABC Corp’s intention to cancel.” This is the first you’ve heard about this cancellation reflecting poorly on you. When it happened back in August it didn’t seem like a big deal. Your manager has never directly broached the topic outside of asking you to complete a cancellation feedback template. You’re taken aback and realize your manager has been sitting on this feedback for months- why didn’t she say something sooner?

Unfortunately both of these scenarios are based on my personal experiences and I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end in each. I’ve been cancelled on and cancelled; I’ve received delayed feedback and given it. It truthfully sucks to be on either side of the table- the singular feeling you’re left with is one of disappointment. As a CSM you wish you could have proactively addressed issues that led to a customer wanting to cancel; as the customer you just want a product and service that works and would prefer to not have to look elsewhere to find it. The individual contributor feels hurt and slightly betrayed that they didn’t receive negative feedback until it had grown into a more serious performance concern; the manager has to consider if the core issue is the CSM or their own lack of coaching. Feedback is the solution to all sides of this equation.

Customer Feedback

One of the key ways to get ahead of unexpected cancellations is gather honest feedback from customers. Receiving negative feedback is hard, but so is giving it. Customer Success teams need to create situations and environments where customers feel comfortable giving an honest assessment of their product and the relationship.

Ways Customer Success teams can solicit feedback:

Business Reviews

  • Formal business reviews should be collaborative and dynamic. In addition to your day to day contacts, the customer’s executive stakeholder should also be in attendance. Reviews always include a look at the state of the business to date, but the majority of the meeting should focus on what’s next- including honest feedback on what it’s going to take to achieve those goals together

Customer advisory boards

  • Getting your customers together creates dialogue across departments, as well as among customers themselves. These conversations are a chance to establish broader alignment on pain points, opportunities, and priorities across your customer base

Surveys

  • People often have an easier time being honest responding when responding to a survey than they would filling in a blank feedback form. While NPS, everyone’s go-to survey, can provide high-level insights, it lacks specific details around the state of the partnership. Good surveys challenge the recipient- done well they’re a chance to ask questions you wouldn’t normally get an honest response to on say a weekly call

Manager Feedback

It makes sense why our customers shy away from giving feedback- it can feel awkward, like they’re overstepping, or that it won’t be acted on. We can’t allow our internal teams to be blocked by these same barriers. Why is it that providing consistent feedback can sometimes feel harder than giving someone a bad review, or even worse, letting them go? Managers of Customer Success teams need to learn to give immediate, clear, and consistent feedback.

Ways Managers of Customer Success teams can solicit feedback:

Impromptu feedback

  • The quarterly performance review setting described in the scenario above is familiar to most people, but feedback doesn’t have to be so formal. Don’t discount the value of quick, but specific feedback. Impromptu feedback is something you can squeeze in between meetings in 3 minutes or less, using one of these easy tactics

Formal reviews

  • That being said, setting aside dedicated time for reviews can be a helpful way to give structured evaluations. Reviews should ideally be used to as a chance to start a dialogue, not a one-way conversation led by the manager. Managers should be prepared and receptive to a response

Skip level meetings

  • A skip level meeting is one where a manager’s manager meets with employees to discuss department concerns, obstacles, opportunities for improvement, etc. with a focus on maintaining and/or improving overall communication. These can be helpful to get feedback on the manager that employees aren’t comfortable delivering directly

Surveys

  • Surveys are valuable tools for internal feedback for the same reasons they work with customers. They can be team specific, or part of a broader company-wide effort to gauge happiness and engagement

The best way to get good at giving feedback is to start by soliciting it from others. If you’re interested in diving deeper into the world of feedback, I recommend reading Radical Candor, which changed the way I think about the topic.