How Customer Success Managers should handle a big “Switch”

We’re confronted with change in a hundred different ways on a daily basis. A street on your morning commute is closed so you take a detour, your manager assigns you to a newly closed account, or your flight is delayed. And of course change don’t just happen to us, we also volunteer for change. Big changes are usually accompanied by optimism- you’re going to start going to the gym 5x week, sign up for an online course, or save more money for a house. Unfortunately we’re often unsuccessful in making these transformations stick. Why? Because change is hard.

The dynamics of change in our personal lives are often mirrored in our work- with the added complication that it’s usually not just one person undergoing a transition, but an entire team or organization. Companies identify a problem or an opportunity, such as improving the expense report process, and as part of the change process, buy a product to help facilitate the shift. Knowing change is hard, how can we as Customer Success Managers overcome the hurdles standing between us and sustained, long-term change? How can we help our customers make the switch?

The inspiration for this post is the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. The concepts below are drawn from the framework and case studies outlined in the book.

What makes change so hard?

Chip and Dan Heath argue that the brain has two independent systems at work at all times. First, there’s the emotional side. It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure. Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future. The authors use the analogy of our emotional side as an Elephant and our rational side as its Rider.

“When people try to change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision by the Rider. The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will sap people’s self-control. And when people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure. In other words, they’re exhausting precisely the mental muscles needed to make a big change.” — Switch

To achieve change, you’ve got to appeal to both Rider and Elephant. The Rider provides planning and direction, while the Elephant supplies the necessary energy. When Rider and Elephant aren’t in sync, change is all but impossible.

How these concepts apply to Customer Success:

  1. Direct the Rider. Streamline the process and provide clear directions
  2. Motivate the Elephant. Don’t focus on failures, look for ‘bright spots’
  3. Build habits. Put the Rider and Elephant on auto-pilot

Script the critical moves and shrink the change

Any successful change requires a translation of broad goals into specific behaviors. Customer Success Managers need to script the critical moves by providing crystal-clear directions. Collaboration with the customer is key to ensure you intimately understand their needs and how their organization works. From there, look for opportunities to customize their implementation and onboarding, highlight aspects of the product they’re more likely to find valuable, and speak in their language to remove barriers. Finally, secure buy in from the customer’s leadership team to ensure you won’t be a solitary advocate.

Once you’ve scripted the critical moves, try to shrink the change as much as possible. This doesn’t mean diminishing the task ahead of you, but making it more approachable to people who might resist a major 13 step implementation plan. Two strategies for shrinking the change: 1) limit the investment you’re asking for; 2) identify small wins that are within reach.

Find the bright spots

The authors found that people are often so focused on what’s not working that they overlook critical examples of where change is working. Ask yourself, “what’s working and how can we do more of it?” Let’s say you’re having trouble driving usage or product adoption across an organization- are there teams or individual users who are logging in regularly? What about their use case, role, or environment can be replicated on a broader scale?

Build habits

Habits let our emotional and rational systems default to auto-pilot. Creating users habits is a highly desirable but somewhat lofty goal. How can we become so engrained our customers’ lives that they don’t even stop to think about when and where they should use?

Nir Eyal, a thought leader on habit formation, argues habits are comprised of a trigger, an action, a reward, and an investment. Consider what motivates your users to use a product. Do they want to stay in touch with their customers, easily accept mobile payments, rent a bike on the go, etc? Now what kind of trigger could motivate them to use your product, or stick with your product instead of using a competitor? According to BJ Fogg successful triggers have three characteristics: “First, we notice the trigger. Second, we associate the trigger with a target behavior. Third, the trigger happens when we are both motivated and able to perform the behavior.”

Product features to help drive habit formation

Progress bars are most effective at motivating users when they show a substantial percentage of the bar filled out. Starting with a partially completed progress bar helps a user feel like they’ve already accomplished something, instead of starting from scratch. This sense of progress increases a person’s desire to complete the task at hand.

Checklists can turn complex, multistep processes — like scheduling out a month of social media content or centralizing your financial accounts — into simple, achievable tasks. Checklists work best when they live alongside your product as a present reminder of that tasks that still need to be completed.

Do you feel like you’re more prepared to help your customers make the switch?

Additional resources on the Switch book by Agile Lean Life and Sam Thomas Davies’ book summary page.