Customer experience is one of the key revenue drivers for businesses. According to a study by PWC, 86% of people are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.

Part of providing a great experience lies in managing realistic customer expectations. Overpromise and underdeliver, and you may find yourself without repeat custom and a very damaged reputation.

Mike Lee, Director of Customer Success at PublicInput led an insightful panel discussion at The SaaS Metrics Summit outlining how to fix this very issue.

Mike was joined by:  

  • Rebecca Nerad, Vice President of Customer Success at E2open
  • Jason Noble, Vice President of Global Customer Success at Vinli Inc
  • Kalyn Lewis, Head of Customer Success at Visme
  • Rupal Nishar, AVP, Customer Success at Netomi

The panel discussed a variety of key points, including:

  • The importance of the customer journey when setting expectations
  • How updating the customer journey changes expectations
  • Building trust and the importance of apologies
  • The tools you should use to set expectations internally

Plus more!

Q: How important is the customer journey to setting expectations?

Rebecca: It's fundamental that we understand this step in the customer journey. Part of that is, so we know who is responsible for delivering success, for communication, and for the relationship with the customer at those different phases.

At my company, after we've sold, there's an engagement with the professional services team, and then later it would transition to support and to customer success. We need to be clear about who plays what roles in that.

We need to make sure that the right expectations are set for the customer during that time. I firmly believe a CSM, where possible, should be assigned as early as possible in that cycle, we need to be aware and understand why the customer buys the solution.

Now, the expectation is that the CSM is learning and asking questions, by the time they become more responsible for that relationship, they have been engaged in participating throughout.

Jason: I think I'm going to echo a lot of what you said there, Rebecca. The customer success team should even be there as part of some sales calls, particularly for your bigger customers. Your customer success team can bring advocacy to life, they bring your case studies to life. I think it is ultimately part of the customer journey.

I'd also argue that you should always be revising and consistently working on your customer journey. It’s something that’s ever-changing, it doesn't stay static. As you start evolving as a business, you start evolving your customer journey - I think that's super, super important.

One of the key things with a customer journey is knowing who the right people that deal with that part of the journey are and who has that responsibility.

When it comes to customer experience, consistency is key. Each part of the process isn’t just a handover. It's not passing from one to the other. It's a transition. But what are their expectations? What are their goals? What are the outcomes they're looking for? And how do they want to achieve those? I think those are equally important to talk about.

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Q: When you update the journey, what does that do to expectations?

Caitlin: It’s an evolving piece, especially if your product is evolving. There isn't necessarily always that one size fits all approach to every customer, either. They each have their own goals, their own key to success. Being a part of the sales cycle really is definitely key.  

Customer success needs a seat at the table during the sales process. In the past, I've done a poor job of managing expectations. When it happens, you know it. We all know it, whether you go out of scope, or you start offering something that's technically out of scope.

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I think we have all overextended ourselves in customer success at times. There’s also the inverse, where you fall short. You also have to consider: why did I go beyond scope? Is there something here that might be universally impactful to our journey going forward?  

Rebecca: Absolutely, Caitlin, we have to set those boundaries. There are times when we have to push back on the customer. We have to push back internally, it's one of the challenging and amazing things about this role.

I like to say sometimes it’s good cop, bad cop, but that role changes toward one direction or the other. It all starts with understanding customers' expectations in the first place. Also, it’s about being able to fairly represent what we think would be the right final result for them.

Jason: It's so important that we as the customer success team are the facilitators between the good and the bad. But managing the expectations is the hardest thing, there are times when we want to go above and beyond and deliver exceptional results, but sometimes you have to say no to customers, and that can be challenging.

Rupal: This reminds me of a quote by George Shaw, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It is absolutely critical to make sure that you're setting the right expectations, and that the right framework is in place. When you need to push back on the customer, you absolutely should push back. At the end of the day, setting those expectations correctly will drive that customer to success.

Q: What happens when we overpromise or under-deliver? How do we fix that?

Rupal: I don't think you overpromise on your under delivery. I think you promise as accurately as you can. Step number one is always to take ownership when there has been a misstep. When you think about it, expectations are why customers work with us.

The single most important thing that you need with a customer is their trust. I think there is almost a rhythm to how you operate if there is trust between the customer and yourself and the organization. Not taking ownership after a misstep has the potential to break trust.

Rebecca: Fundamentally, it is about trust, right? That's what we need to have for our ongoing relationships with our customers. When we miss, we need to decide, what do we want to reveal? What do we want to share or not share with the customer about information? That's difficult.  

At the end of the day, we have to be honest enough to get through the difficult news. That starts with resetting the expectations, falling on our sword, and saying sorry.

Jason: I think for me, it's aligned with what you guys have just said. You apologize quickly.

If there's been a problem, you take ownership of it and take responsibility, and then find the solution. You really have to have that open and honest conversation with the customer. Once trust has been regained, then you can find a solution.

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Q: What kind of authority should the CSM have when it comes to setting expectations?

Jason: I think a lot of it does depend on your organization, on the way that you're structured and on your customers. The question of authority is a fascinating one because I think, at times, you perhaps don't have it. I don't think you necessarily need it.

I think a lot of what we do is about diplomacy, and it's about making sure we're doing the right thing for the customer, and it's trying to get that mission and message across to the business, and if Customer Support knows that, if they're trying to do the right thing by the customer, you don't need authority to do it.

Rupal: I think even in the absence of authority as leaders, CSMs need to be empowered enough to drive change both internally and speak for the customer; f they are not empowered, I don't think they can have the sort of change a CS organization is expected to have.

I've seen it over and over again in different organizations across the industry, CSMs aren't able to effectively drive change because they run into roadblocks - they don’t have the authority to drive change.

Q: What tools do you use to set expectations internally within an organization?

Rebecca: It's all about consistency - I think that maps very closely with expectations.

In the short term, you’re only as good as your intensity.

We see that all the time with CSMs, we're very intense and follow up in the moment.

In the long term, you are only as good as your consistency, that's where we build trust, by setting the expectations and keeping them consistent. That’s the hard part.

Caitlin: Honesty and trust is key. Honesty doesn't necessarily have to come with a thorn. Honesty doesn't have to hurt. I think there’s such a thing as healthy conflict, and we don’t need to be afraid of conflict when you approach it from a sense that it's a healthy thing that just disarms you.

When you're disarmed, that's when you can have those honest conversations, find your allies, internally and externally, build those relationships and get close to them, from there, everyone has a better chance of being on the same page.

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