No one likes to see an email come in from a customer that is unsatisfied - especially when it has been escalated to the higher-ups on the customer side. For small, growing companies where customer happiness and retention is vital to their business, these types of situations can lead to a fire drills that require involving multiple resources, including your own executives. And the follow up calls with these customers are not the most pleasant since they were prompted by some frustration.
But there is a silver lining that may get lost in the scramble to address the customer’s issue. When a customer involves their executives, it means it has been escalated but it also means you now have a chance to engage personally with those decision makers at your customer’s company. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not how you want to get their attention but when you have it, it’s a great opportunity to show them how much you care about their success. Your goal should not just be to resolve the issue at hand but to also form a good relationship with those executives.
Here are two easy things you can do when these situations arise that can help you use these instances as opportunities to build stronger relationships with your customers.
Expand the conversation
Executives are always thinking about the big picture and will want to make sure that there is a plan for long-term success outside of the issue at hand. One of the first things you should do in these instances is expand the conversation beyond the initial issue. A conversation with the customer about what other frustrations or challenges they have can give you useful insight. What I’ve found is that sometimes other frustrations can be are easily solved with some education around your current product features, or will be solved by an future planned release. Even if the issues aren’t easy to solve, they still provide your company with great information you can use to make your customers - and your company - successful. By expanding the conversation, you are giving your customer’s executives a chance to talk about their longer-term goals and make the conversation more strategic rather than purely tactical.
Get your executive team involved
It’s likely that these situations will also require you to bring in the right mixture of experts and decision makers on your end to help with the customer issue. Typically all parties get on a call to discuss the issues at hand, which is very helpful, but I always recommend connecting your our own executive team directly with the customer executive team, especially if there isn’t a prior relationship. That way you can establish trust between leadership on both sides and hopefully turn this into the start a longer-term relationship. That can go a long way into making future group conversations more reasonable and productive. When there are requests from the customer that we can’t meet (or at least not in the near term), that trust will be critical. As a Customer Success team you also benefit when your own executive team is involved in these customer conversations as those discussions can influence decisions on what to prioritize for R&D, and ultimately make customers happier.
We all strive to never have an unsatisfied customer, but in these unavoidable situations it’s good to look at them with some positive perspective. Of course, not every escalation will lead to a perfect outcome, but by viewing it as an opportunity, you give yourself a chance to make a lasting impression on your customer and learn more about how you can provide even better service for them in the future.