The truth is, we’re just coming out of the Wild West days of customer success – and Rob Schmeltzer doesn’t mind that one bit.
Rob – who is the vice president of CS at Reciprocity, Inc., after previous stops leading customer success at Segment and DocuSign – loves that the industry’s best practices aren’t set in stone.
“I’m not disparaging other functions, but unlike sales or even marketing, where I came from and where there’s these well-defined and documented playbooks and tool sets, CS is still figuring all that out,” Rob told UpdateAI’s Josh Schachter during a recent conversation. “I think that’s one of the most fun parts about it [CS] – it’s not like there’s a well-traveled road.”
Without an antiquated and restrictive playbook in place, Rob has made it his mission to develop the best ways possible to lead CS teams. And while “CS is defined differently by different organizations,” he said, he’s come away with a few bedrock principles he believes anyone in CS should know about.
Luckily, he shared his insights with Josh – you can watch the full 30 minute conversation over at LinkedIn by clicking here, and you can read some of the key takeaways from that conversation below:
The Secret to CS: Active Listening
Rob told Josh he learned early on that being a good listener was an integral part of CS.
And, in particular, active listening – where you have readied yourself to listen and observe both the verbal and non-verbal messages your customer gives, followed by you sharing insightful feedback – is essential.
This was evident to Rob when, as he was first starting out in customer success, “Things just went sideways really fast” for one customer. It was only 30 days after they had bought the product that Rob’s company was selling, and they weren’t thrilled; the customer thought the product could do specific things that, in reality, it couldn’t.
“They were really upset and threatening to walk,” Rob remembered.
With the customer already aggravated, Rob wanted to bring the temperature of the conversation down. So he let them do most of the talking.
“I got on the phone with them and really the first thing I did was just listen,” he said. “I just let them tell me what was going on and why they were so frustrated.”
The move paid off.
“Once they had a chance to air their frustration, it just kind of cleared the air and allowed us to have a productive conversation,” Rob said.
By taking a few minutes to listen to the customer, Rob accomplished a few goals. First, the negativity permeating their conversation began to evaporate immediately. And secondly, it allowed him to focus on two questions: 1) What are they trying to do? And 2) Why were they trying to do it?
Rob was then able to put together a prioritized list of items for the customer and told them he would follow through on them within a certain timeframe. In return, the customer would commit to sticking with his company. They made an agreement, and after bringing in the Services team to help address some of the customer’s issues, Rob was able to help the customer get what they wanted out of the product.
“It made a huge payoff,” Rob said. The customer turned into a “raving fan” who eventually increased their business with his company threefold.
Since then, Rob said he’s routinely used the old “You have two ears and one mouth…” phrase – enough to make his kids roll their eyes whenever they hear it, he joked. But he’s seen firsthand how well it applies to CS.
Rob’s 3 Key CS Qualities
You have a consistent desire to learn new things and find out why something happened. If you’re innately curious, you have a head start when it comes to CS. This pays dividends when helping customers troubleshoot their issues; by asking good questions, you give yourself a better chance of getting important information – and then finding a solution.
2. Someone Who Is Customer-Centric
Being customer-centric means always putting the customer first. That requires empathy and the ability to put yourself in their shoes. By doing so, you get a better understanding of their business and the challenges they face. This is critical, because it allows you to be proactive and, in many instances, tackle issues before the customer has alerted you to them.
3. Being a Problem Solver
Lastly, people with an inherent drive to find solutions are often tailor-made for customer success. As Rob put it, someone who asks themselves “Well, if that’s what they’re trying to do, how do I solve that?’” If that’s on your mind when you’re talking to customers, you have the right mindset for CS.
How To Successfully Transition into a Leadership Role
One thing Josh particularly wanted to hear from Rob is the advice he’d give to someone who is upleveling their career.
Rob said when it comes to making that transition into a leadership role, it’s about “How do you help your team raise their performance?” If this were basketball, you’re the point guard now – the Magic Johnson running the show and making sure others are performing at their best. Your first priority should be on making the team more effective and efficient.
The second aspect to consider when you make your transition, Rob said, is how CS is impacting the overall business.
That means being mindful of key metrics, including their leading and lagging indicators, and whether they’re successfully driving the overall business or not. Once you have a good view of the company from all angles, you’ll be better able to see how CS can help the company reach its goals.