Six best practices for expectations management in Customer Success

TLDR: The role of Customer Success might be one of the most connected and inter-dependent jobs in your company. In addition to working with your customers’ people, you have lots of internal stakeholders to work with too. Including executives, sales teams, marketing teams, finance teams, product teams and support teams.

With so many people involved and so much communication flying around, the art of expectations management becomes an essential tool for survival and success in the role.  I’d like to share our six best practices from many years of managing many relationships.

1. Consistency & timeliness

  • Regular communications beat sporadic ones. A clue to a problem in your current situation: somebody requests an update that you didn’t otherwise plan for
  • Consistent updates beat variable ones. Suggestion: find out what people want to be kept informed about, and make this the basis of the regular flow of communication

2. The power of “no”

Some of us hate to say no.  Yet it’s powerful when used appropriately:

  • “No” is required to build trust and credibility.  Saying “yes” to everything creates skepticism that you’ll deliver everything, and rightly so
  • If you like to under-promise and over-deliver, “no” is part of how you do it
  • Be careful to say “no” for a reason. Try using “no, because…” to justify your position, and negotiate if needed

3. Timely follow through

The longer somebody waits on us, the more likely they are to believe something’s gone wrong:

  • Any commitment should be met in days, ideally 1-3. Suggestion: if a commitment takes longer, de-construct the deliverable and commit to interim steps that last 1-3 days (e.g an update call to share progress, or an interim deliverable)
  • “Constant improvement beats delayed perfection”

4. Bad news must travel the fastest

Take a cue from the professionals who do crisis communications:

  • Be pro-active and control the message. Bad news + delay = elevated emotions by other parties

5. Active listening

Active listening is a way to assure the other party that they are being heard and understood:

  • Play the message back before responding. Suggestion: a person says something. Instead of responding, first play back what you heard: “what I heard you say was….”. And, use the word “because”. An example: “What I heard you say is that item #2 is most important, because you committed this to a customer”. Once you have confirmation, then respond.

6. Document the plan

Artifacts have a powerful way of aligning expectations.  Feedback is often easier to get by having someone react to something that’s written or visual (versus verbal only):

  • Write down and share information so that expectations and deadlines can be easily referenced later
  • Prior documentation can be excellent way to review progress and get credit for commitments you delivered on

2 thoughts on “Six best practices for expectations management in Customer Success

  1. Love what you say about commitments and that “Constant improvement beats delayed perfection”. My company is in the process of rolling out Net Promoter System as a our key metric for measuring loyalty. To me the critical piece is demonstrating listening and the survey is just the tool to enable you to hear what your customers are saying. The key is to listen, react and demonstrate this consistently … great post. Thank you

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