“Ignorance is bliss.”

Or so they say.

BUT, if you are responsible for the health and well being of your customers, ignorance is simply inexcusable.

As a Customer Success Manager, it’s your job to have your finger on the pulse of your customer’s needs, wants, and desires. You MUST know the ins-and-outs of their business as it relates to your products and services. You need to know what their goals, objectives, and success measures are; and you need to be able to anticipate how, when, and where these might change, and why.

Yes, being the point person for your customers is a multifaceted job.

You need to be one part subject matter expert, one part trusted advisor, one part advocate, and one part fortune-teller. Some might call this a Kung Fu Master Jedi Knight in Shining Armor (KFMJKISA for all you acronym lovers – you’re welcome).

Granted, try as we might, balls occasionally get dropped. We can misread a situation, miss an opportunity to be a hero, or offer poor advice.

I never said it was easy to be a KFMJKISA, did I? However, what we can always do is:

  1. Listen intently
  2. Ask questions

These two simple things give us the opportunity to keep our customers on track. By listening and asking questions, we learn. Learning is knowledge, and knowledge is power, and power is what we need to do our job — delivering value.

A powerful CSM can knock down obstacles, vanquish fires (or avoid them), and take their customers on epic journeys… all the way to the magical land of upgrades and renewals!

But what happens when you don’t listen or ask questions?

Pull up a chair, it’s story time.

Many years ago, I had a client that happened to be one of the biggest companies in the world. This company resold our SaaS product to one the largest companies in the United States.

Need I say that this was a high visibility account?

Fortunately for me, I had an excellent relationship with my counterpart (we’ll call him Jose1). Jose and I got along famously. He was from a small midwestern town and was such a down to earth guy. Talking to Jose was one of my favorite parts of the week.

We’d spend 45 minutes of our allotted hour just chatting about anything and everything. We’d cover topics like family, hobbies, sports, weekend plans, and stories about our past. I’ll always remember when Jose would ask me to ‘hold on’ so he could kiss his wife goodbye and wish her a good day. Sometimes they’d even exchange some light-hearted banter.

Yep, we had a bond, and boy did I have one happy customer on my hands!

Or so I thought.

Ever walk into a lion’s den?

Looking back, I forget the specifics of the incident. Suffice it to say that our Ops team did not accurately communicate the timing of planned maintenance, and the subsequent downtime interfered with my customer’s production environment.

Jose told me that not only was his boss very unhappy, so too was their very large and important client.

My company had some explaining to do, and I was the guy responsible for pulling together a meeting with my internal team, Jose and Jose’s boss (we’ll call him Greg2). This meeting was expected to be contentious, but we knew we screwed up, and upon taking our much-deserved lumps from Greg, we’d put a plan in place to ensure this breakdown didn’t happen again, and we’d be on the road to recovery.

The attendees from my side are irrelevant, save for the fact that I had a brand new boss.

This was the first time I met my new boss as he just happened to be visiting from corporate. I assured him that I had a fantastic relationship with Jose and yes, his boss Greg would be upset, but overall, we were doing a great job and their satisfaction level was high.

Low and behold, the call started pretty much as I expected. Greg ripped into us over the issue. We explained ourselves, fell on our sword, and committed to putting a plan in place to avoid this type of gaffe moving forward.

Just as we were taking a deep breath and getting ready to end the call, Greg angrily said:

“… I have more things I want to discuss.”

My new boss and others in the room shot me a glance that cut me like a knife.

Greg proceeded to hammer home a list of 10 things we were doing poorly, and I’ll never forget how impassioned he was. Greg delivered his list like a preacher would a sermon. If this were a political speech, it would be one of those thought-provoking declarations taught at higher learning institutions for generations to come.

He dressed us down so surgically that I could have sworn he rehearsed for hours.

When he was done, my boss was so angry that he could barely make eye contact with me. I felt like I was hit by a truck. Did my dear, dear friend Jose hang me out to dry?

Why would he do this? We had an epic bromance. I was shattered.

The best excuse I could muster was, “I talk to Jose all the time. He’s never mentioned any of those things. I’m just as surprised as you to hear that list.”

I slinked out of the room and went back to my desk… to call Jose.

I cut right to the chase, “Jose, that was a long list of issues, and today was the first time I heard about them. Why didn’t you mention those things to me before?”

His reply became one of my most valued lessons:

“… because I didn’t want to upset you.”

I was floored. Hit by a truck carrying other trucks.

He went on to tell me that he enjoyed our relationship so much that he didn’t want to mention anything negative.

Never assume. Always ask.

At first, I was upset with him for staying mum and walking me into a lion’s den. Then, I took a step back and looked inward.

This was just as much my fault because I NEVER ASKED Jose how things were going. I never asked him if there were any issues. I never asked if we were doing a good job or if there was anything he needed from us.

Nope, I assumed all customers would simply sound off if they were unhappy. I figured they would speak up and ask for help if they were struggling or dissatisfied.

I learned the hard way — assumption is a cardinal CSM sin.

From that day forward, I’ve always made it a point to ask customers about their experience.

  • How are we doing as a partner?
  • Are they satisfied with our products and services?
  • Any needs that aren’t being met?

Not doing so is ignorant, and ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is soul-crushing.

It’s also unbecoming of a true KFMJKISA.

Re-post of my guest blog written for Natero

1Name inspired by Jose Gonzalez, while listening to Heartbeats

2Name inspired by Greg Laswell, while listening to Comes and Goes In Waves