It’s happened to all of us, both in our private lives and our professional lives.
You are in communication with someone and all of a sudden – radio silence.
Where did that person go? Why haven’t they answered you back? Did you just get ghosted by a customer?
If you are a customer success manager, part of your day-to-day work consists of achieving small wins. Part of those small wins usually includes maintaining positive and consistent customer communications. This means that your big picture customer strategy is highly dependent on your ability to accomplish your daily tasks.
But when your customer is nowhere to be found, where does that leave you?
In this article, I will discuss why customers start to disengage in the first place, what you can do to avoid it from happening in the future, and how you can re-establish communication.
Photo credit: Campaign Creators
Where Does Customer Engagement Start?
Before we start talking about re-engagement, let’s cover how we define engagement.
Where do you consider the first point of real customer engagement? If you work in SaaS, this point of contact would likely be with your sales team.
This is where the beginning of the customer lifecycle begins.
Although your sales colleagues may not be focused on solidifying the future of your customer relationship, they are responsible for the first impression this customer has on what customer experience means at your business.
This means that your customers already have a first impression of your company by the time they meet you during the handoff.
I want to point this out is for another point I will discuss later on in the article.
As you begin to learn about the goals and challenges from your customer during onboarding, you should also be making good use of this time to do two things:
- Encouraging proactive communication between you and your client.
- Identifying potential gaps or future roadblocks in your business relationship.
For point number one, this is doing yourself a future favor. From the very beginning, you want to establish that trust in communication; that it is ok for your customers to reach out to you when they need help. You want them to feel comfortable enough to the point where they feel as though they can trust you as a business partner, under any circumstance.
You can break this down into tangible data by offering NPS and customer satisfaction surveys which you can later measure against corresponding health scores. Of course, it helps to have a customer success tool to do this properly.
Why do you want to do this?
- To not be left in the dark about upcoming changes
- To develop your relationship
- To advance your communication skills as a customer success professional
- To identify and resolve any pain points
- To prevent churn
And once you have constructed your relationship in this way, it becomes easier to identify what typical engagement with your client is, what is not, and when you need to be concerned.
What’s Causing This Unresponsiveness?
What could be the root cause of your customer not responding to you? Most likely, it comes down to a few things, some of which we are all guilty.
They are buried in emails.
Most SaaS business communication still relies heavily on email, so you can best believe that you are not the only one that is sending your customer emails.
A report from Templafy found that “between 2014 and 2018, the average office worker received around 90 emails per day and sent around 40.”
That’s a lot of emails!
If you spend, on average, 1 minute solely reading each of the emails you receive, this means that you are spending 1.5 hours a day just reading emails, not even responding to them! And this doesn’t include the emails that you are busy responding to.
There have been internal changes.
SaaS businesses strive to be lean and agile. Most of the time, this means that roles and teams need to be flexible and prepared to take on new challenges that may have not been formally presented to them upon starting.
Organization restructuring is now a common occurrence for most modern businesses as they aim to remain competitive, but be aware, if budget for teams is being reevaluated, it most likely means allocated budget for products and services is also being reevaluated.
They are understaffed.
A growing business is usually tied to a growing headcount.
Growth is a good sign, right? Well, yes, but when your customers are dealing with more than they can handle and can’t get new hires onboarded quickly enough, it’s completely understandable why they can’t find the time to call you back. And who couldn’t use a little more help on their team?
They are waiting for internal feedback.
In the case where you were in the middle of a conversation, such as a renewal discussion, and your customers require feedback from legal or upper management, it is not unusual that you’ll have to wait a few days before getting a response.
I am sure you have already experienced how challenging it can be to track someone down just for a quick answer at your own business.
The only problem you can encounter here is if your customer is not prioritizing this task, leaving you stuck without answers.
They are avoiding you.
Yes, this can happen. Worst case scenario, they have some bad news that they need to share with you and haven’t found the right time to tell you. It happens!
Most times, this will not come out of the blue. If you have been maintaining consistent contact with your client, you should know the current account standing and be aware of the likely roadblocks that could arise.
Better to know sooner rather than later so that you can assess the situation and decide how you can both move forward.
What Can You Do? Re-Engaging Unresponsive Customers
So what can you do when a customer has seemingly “gone dark” and there is no more communication between you and them?
Don’t despair! All hope is not lost. But this doesn’t mean you have to take drastic measures just to trigger a reaction from your customer.
Here are a few simple ways you can try to re-ignite the spark and increase customer loyalty without sounding too desperate or needy.
As it is with any relationship, if the communication is no longer consistent, you need to understand why.
It doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong. More often than not, it has nothing to do with you or your business.
However, the best way to get to the bottom of this mystery is to do some detective work and revisit your customer’s past interactions with your business.
One good place to start is to check your CRM. See what kind of interactions were taking place from the beginning and try to understand if anything has changed with customer goals and customer communication since they started with you. Why did they want to work with you in the first place?
You can also connect with your sales team and see if they can recall anything that might be able to help you piece together why they are no longer responsive. This is why I mentioned earlier in the article that sales is actually the customers first point of contact with your company, which is why it is extremely important for you to know what kind of interaction they experienced.
And as a customer success manager, you should also examine your own communications with your client. Review your emails, notes from meetings, and other documentation that you shared with your client.
Was there a question you forgot to answer? Was there a misunderstanding about who would own the next steps? Did you forget about a phone call?
These are simple examples of everyday occurrences, and hey, we’re all human. But if you made a mistake, you need to own up to it immediately.
2. Go Above and Beyond, Even with the Simple Stuff
If you have established weekly/biweekly/monthly/quarterly meetings with your clients, you can already check this off as a small win.
What you have to remember is that your client also has these recurring meetings with other vendors. In fact, they could very likely have days filled with back-to-back meetings and this could be one of the reasons why they are not able to respond to your emails.
Knowing that you are one of many people that they are in continuous contact with means that you need to utilize this time to the fullest.
Have your customers leave meetings with you feeling confident, positive, and appreciated, no matter the circumstance. This is just one of the few ways you show your true value in your product and your partnership.
You can even do this with simple phone calls. By organizing your calls in a more structured manner, you are showing the customer that you are prepared for the meeting and that you care about the outcome.
Here’s an example of how you can structure your meetings over the phone:
- First, do your research (leverage your data).
- Start with a friendly/personal conversation.
- Set goals and expectations for the call:
- Lead the conversation and framework in a polite manner
- Announce you will own the follow-up once you agree on the next steps
- Let them know the estimated time frame for the conversation
- Ask them to be in front of a computer if you need to show any material.
- Offer compliments to the customer / their company on performance or other.
- Remind them how long they have been a customer.
- Present your material and refer back to the goals.
- Ask if they have any questions.
- Summarize the conversation and remind them they don’t have to write anything down, you’ll send a follow-up.
- End on a positive note!
3. Rebuild the Relationship
Maybe you need to rethink and rebuild. Perhaps there was a call that left a bad taste in everyone’s’ mouths, or there was something that didn’t get resolved on time for whatever reason.
Perhaps it had nothing to do with you or your relationship as a customer success manager, but it still affected the way you do business with your client.
One of the biggest battles for customer success teams is to own the full relationship representative of the business, meaning that they are also involved and mainly responsible whenever anything happens with the product, billing, invoicing, contracts, support tickets, and much more.
By taking full ownership of your client relationships and avoiding a “that’s not my job” attitude, you can approach any situation with a forward-thinking and future-oriented spirit which most customers appreciate.
4. Establish Different Communication Methods
Let’s face it, face-to-face is probably the best way to have a conversation.
While I wouldn’t advise showing up unannounced at your customer’s office in a limo holding roses and blasting music (a la Richard Gere), meeting in person is really the most optimal way to reconnect with your customer.
And since 93% of all communication is nonverbal, it goes to show that a lot will be said during these meetings!
Ask your customer to meet for coffee or lunch, invite them over to your office for the day, or simply ask if you could spend an hour at their office to discuss their account.
More often than not, they will say yes.
Most likely, your customers’ inbox is clunky and cluttered with various requests. This is why for most, it is not the most practical way to get a quick answer.
Although not everyone is a phone person, having a phone call seems to still be the quickest way to get answers when you need them.
Not only is it quicker, but phone calls are also more effective in delivering the “personal” touch which written form often lacks.
Generally speaking, phone calls are also still the most effective way to have deeper discussions. People feel they can speak freely without constantly worrying about grammar and permanent association with their words.
So even if you aren’t a fan, pick up the phone and give it a try.
Almost everyone who works in IT uses some form of social media for personal or professional use.
If it is appropriate, connect with them on social media channels like Linkedin.
One way you can make contact with your customer without being too over the top is by sharing content with them on social media.
Connect with your marketing team and have them follow and like and retweet your customer’s company posts from your company account. Share these posts with your clients online to show them that you and your business support them from every angle.
This is just one example of a way to interact professionally on social media. You can also send them a direct message and see if they are more responsive this way. This method is albeit admittedly a bit more “forward”, so I would not recommend starting with this approach unless you believe it is appropriate.
Consider Cultural Differences
Everyone responds differently to different communication methods – some people strictly prefer email/phone etc, but what about the differences you have culturally?
With the rise of remote workers, we are now in contact with more people from around the globe than ever before.
As we continue to connect, we sometimes forget that not everyone may understand things exactly the way we do.
For example, cultural complexity speaker Erin Meyer discusses her experiences with being an American public speaker in Japan.
She presented her material and asked the Japanese audience if they had any questions. No one responded. Her colleague then asked the audience the question again, but this time examined each person in the crowd. He then identified someone who looked eager to speak.
In fact, this person did want to speak and was happy that he was called on. Erin learned that in Japanese culture there is a saying called Kuuki Yomenai (空気読よめない), which roughly translates to not being able to read the air or the atmosphere.
By “reading the air”, her colleague was able to check each person to see if they looked interested in asking a question even though they were permitted to ask questions. Sometimes words and meanings are often misconstrued depending on cultural understanding.
Another way you can spark the conversation is by bringing up things not necessarily related to the matter at hand.
For example, invite them to a webinar or an event that would be of particular interest to them. Inform them of new product releases and offer to personally show them how the new features work with their use case and what the benefits for them will be.
These extra “offerings” may seem like small gestures, but they actually have a much bigger impact on your customer than just a regular check-in call or email.
This is how you can effectively show the customer that you care without actually telling them that you do.
5. Find a New Champion
At any point, new management could be introduced (on your side or the client’s side), your main contact could leave the company, or worst case scenario, your client’s business has no more funds.
There are usually warning signs leading up to this point which you need to be hyper-aware of.
Constantly rescheduling calls, avoiding answering renewal-related questions, and showing no interest in any additional products or services from your business are all suspicious.
In general, you have your champion, but it is best practice to have at least two customer contacts that you maintain good relations with. Because if you are not physically present at your clients’ business all the time, you can never really know exactly what the present situation in the office may be.
There are other ways you can take the temperature of your clients’ business without having to be there physically or virtually.
For instance, stay up to date with what they are working on: what new products they have announced and what are their plans for the future? You could even join quarterly earnings calls if they are publicly available and you are really keen.
Being in the know with your clients as much as possible allows you to be one step ahead of any potential rifts in relations and ensures that you always have a champion to work with.
Resuscitating your Customer Relationships
CSMs are customer-centric by nature, which makes them the best candidates for the job when it comes to customer relationships.
But perhaps this is why customer success teams are so hyper-aware of their customer engagement.
More often than not, if you have waited until your customer disengages to the point of silent treatment, the chances are that you have waited too long to act.
One of your main jobs as a customer success professional is to identify situations before they arise. Maybe you are no clairvoyant, but if you set proper communication expectations from the very beginning, you can anticipate the warning signs long before anything happens.
If you are interested in learning more about proactive customer success strategy, feel free to check out Userlane’s Ultimate Customer Success Playbook.
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