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Customer Success and Customer Experience

Managing Unrealistic Expectations

Managing Unrealistic Expectations

Just as every friend group has the idealistic Charlotte, customer success managers have their unrealistic customers.

And what happens to these Charlotte Clients? Ultimately, they’ll churn when expectations aren’t met.

That’s why I decided to illustrate the strongest strategies customer success managers can implement to manage customer expectations.

Below, you’ll find ways to tame idyllic views and improve client relationships. Move over Charlotte, here comes level-headed Samantha!

Determine Your Ideal Customer

Acquiring the wrong client will kill your business’s growth and increase churn. That’s why the first step customer success managers should consider when managing unrealistic customer expectations is defining the ideal customer persona.

This may be separate from what the sales team defines as the ideal buyer persona (more on how to merge the two and tackle this issue later!), but it’s important the customer success department has a working, evolving customer persona that defines the common thread binding each successful customer together.

Coffee conversation

Analyze previous customer success stories and determine the factors that helped these customers achieve measurable results.

No one works closer with the physical customer than CSMs, so who better than you to discover the shared traits that allowed these users to achieve success?

Determining the ideal customer persona can be done many ways, as each company has a unique customer base, but here’s a rough guideline you can follow:

  1. Analyze past interactions
    • Review customer testimonials and sort through old emails. How did interactions with customers differ? Where did you make mistakes? Don’t forget your failures!
  2. Identify the shared successful traits
    • How many employees do they have? What industry/sector do they work in?
  3. Identify the shared successful use cases
    • What solution does your product or service provide for these customers? Which problem did your product or service help solve?

When you have a well-researched customer persona to work with, you can set expectations to meet (maybe match?) those of previously successful customers.

Working with this analysis, you can set achievable and measurable expectations with your future customers that are proven to work.

Nothing paves the yellow brick road to the Emerald City of Achievable Results like a working customer persona… and some Munchkins that already know the route!

Psychological Strategies for Customer Success Managers

Customer success managers can also practice psychological strategies to better manage unrealistic customer expectations.

This is the chance to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and truly understand why they are expressing such expectations and certain sentiments.

Repair center sign for customer services

Reflective Listening

One psychological strategy you can use is reflective listening. This two-pronged communication strategy requires the listener to (1) genuinely give their best attempt at understanding the speaker’s idea and (2) reiterating the idea back to the speaker, to confirm they’ve understood it correctly.

By practicing reflective listening, you’ll go a step beyond just acknowledging the customer’s position. Instead, you’ll be able to imagine yourself actually experiencing it.

  • This means less “I understand, but…” statements and run-around explanations from CSMs, and more “so what you’re saying is…” and deliverable action points.

Effective Empathetic Communication

Customer success managers can also work on practicing effective empathetic communication. By utilizing empathy, defined as the imaginative act of stepping into the shoes of another person, you can view these expectations from the customer perspective.

If you’ve ever engaged in empathetic communication, you know that it can be extremely exhaustive. It requires a CSM’s full attention and emotional presence. Can I get a shoutout to all the partners in long distance relationships out there?!

One way to practice this form of communication without depleting all of your energy reserves is to ask questions that will prompt workable answers to any apprehension, concern, or doubt customers may have.

Meg Prater, a senior staff writer at HubSpot, suggests these questions for customer success managers:

  • “I’d like to understand. Tell me more about why you’re skeptical.”
  • “What can I do to relieve your fears?”
  • “How can I help you feel comfortable enough to move forward?”

Customer success managers practicing both of these psychological strategies will move from surface-level communications, to discovering the deeply rooted concerns customers are experiencing.

These two psychological strategies are great methods for managing unrealistic customer expectations.

When using them to unearth what the customer is really asking for and understand their frustration, you can edit customer expectations in a way that will ensure they are fulfilled. All while keeping within the limitations and scope of your product!

These strategies may work when agreeing on a pricing plan, but what if your product isn’t meeting the customer’s ROI requirement? Now, that’s an entirely different subject altogether…

How Customer Success Managers Can Set Achievable Goals

Helping the customer reach their goals and achieve success is what you’re responsible for as CSM! To do this, you must make sure these goals are clearly defined and achievable.

One of the most important strategies customer success managers can implement to manage unrealistic expectations is defining measurable metrics and numerical goals early in the relationship.

people walking at a city square

Define Metrics and Numerical Targets

Rather than meet the customer’s goal to “increase organic search to their website”, set a numerical and clearly defined goal. Give the customer something firm to work with.

A goal of “10% increase in organic search to the company homepage” is easier to achieve, record, and analyze.

Setting numerical goals will also allow you to curb and reset unreasonable expectations.

If the customer is a SaaS startup and they want to achieve 50,000 page views by next month, this is where you may scale back and instead set a goal you know previous companies (from the ideal customer persona you’ve created!) have reached with the help of your product in the past.

After defining metrics, you can then establish a working timeline.

Define a Clear Timeline

By clearly defining how long a task will take from the moment the customer complains to when the resolution is in progress, you’ll manage expectations and fend off unwanted frustration.

Customers will know they can rely on customer success managers to support them while working within predetermined, realistic deadlines.

Customer success managers should refer to their ideal customer persona they’ve determined to set these timelines.

Historic customer data is just like failed relationships with past significant others. Use these experiences to build better relationships in the future!

Include the Customer in the Product Roadmap

Especially in B2B relationships, it’s important to keep your customers well informed and updated on the evolving product roadmap.

By actively including customers in your roadmap, they’ll see how your product is growing.

Be honest with them, explain what they’ll gain by sticking with you (new features, better UX, additional integrations…), and turn their concerns into suggestions that you can communicate to the product team as feature requests.

Make sure you’re honest with lead time, though! Engineers aren’t going to revolutionize their plan to meet a request within the week!

design on the shutter of the shop

Constant Communication

Customer success managers should ensure that their communication with the customer is always transparent.

It’s important you never keep secrets from your customer and that you own up to mistakes in the moment.

At the start of the relationship, you should set scheduled times of communication with customer. Then, increase or decrease them depending on their needs.

It’s important you deliver on this promise of availability. If your customer can trust what you’re saying, they’ll know and believe that you are doing everything possible to meet their expectations.  

This will foster a feeling of good will towards your product or service. Why is this important? Studies show that

90% of customers make buying purchases subconsciously.

Make sure the information you share is accurate to foster a feeling of goodwill! That’s why the next strategy customer success managers can implement is aligning departments, specifically sales and marketing.

Customer Success Managers and Aligning Different Teams

Customer success managers constantly advocate for breaking down workplace silos. It’s a topic often stressed by thought leaders in the field and is a trending topic for 2018.

How then, can CSMs break down silos to manage customer expectations?

Work with Sales

Remember what I said about defining your ideal customer persona? Great. Now, it’s time to present the sales team with this insight.

Share with sales your customer success stories, failures, and daily conversations you have with clients.

This way, you’ll facilitate a conversation about merging their ideal buyer persona with your ideal customer persona. Hint: they should meet somewhere in the middle.

When this one overarching persona is agreed upon, both the customer success managers and sales reps can work together to combat customer churn.

Work with Marketing

By teaming up with the marketing team, customer success managers will learn valuable information about their customers.

Find out what pages your customers have visited, what content upgrades they’ve downloaded, and what information they’ve been exposed to. This way, you can gauge how informed your customer is and what other tools you can provide them.

Syncing with the marketing team will also show you how your company is being presented to the public, and what expectation or standards have been set by advertisements and social media.

Is your marketing team setting you up to fail? Manage expectations with customers by sharing a unified company message.

Customer success managers should advocate for total alignment throughout the entire customer journey.

This includes promotion, educational content, sales activities, sales material, onboarding process, trial, implementation and integration, and support leading to renewals!

Final Thoughts

Customer success managers are required to manage customers’ expectations on a daily basis, which is hard when they’re so unrealistic.

Implementing these strategies will alleviate some of the stress CSMs face when dealing with starry-eyed clients.

  1. Determine your ideal customer
    • What traits do your previous successes share?
  2. Use psychological aids
    • Embrace reflective listening and empathetic communication
  3. Set achievable goals
    • Determine numerical targets, define a clear timeline, include customers in the product roadmap, and provide a constant channel of communication.
  4. Align different teams
    • Construct an ideal persona with the sales team
    • Gain insight from the marketing team

Managing a client’s unrealistic expectations is only one way to achieve customer success. 

With our Customer Success 101 Guide, you’ll learn how to create a successful communication feedback loop with your customers. Download our ebook and also receive a copy of The Ultimate CS Playbook and User Onboarding Guide for Customer Success Managers!

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