Before I get into the article, I want to simply say Black Lives Matter and please do not just say it, show it. Show up. Raise awareness. Raise money. Say something. Do something.
My last article on this site is dated February 20, 2019. Since then, I have received a promotion, had my second son, finished our basement in our newly purchased house, fixed the damages from the flood to our newly finished basement, and seen the world turned upside down. I would have assumed my first article coming back would have been around returning to work after paternity leave, which I did in March. Then I would have assumed that it would be about Customer Success in the “new normal” of COVID. Instead, I write this on June 3rd, with protests across the country around the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. It has been a time for action, despite any pandemic. In the past week I, like many of you, have raised money, attended protests, had difficult conversations with individuals navigating their own biases, reached out to those we love, lost hours of sleep and had a breakdown. Then maybe you, as I have done, look at your calendar and realize, “I have a call with a customer?! With everything going on, how do I even begin to navigate this conversation?”
Moments like these are an opportunity to step up the true partner we are as customer success professionals. Below are the steps I have taken in my calls to help set the stage for an honest and effective conversation:
Know Yourself: With everything going on, how are you doing? Mentally? Physically? When times are hard, how do you tend to react? What are your triggers?
These are all things you need to do a mental check on before every call. If we do not, there may be a moment in the conversation that catches you off guard and potentially goes very south. A bit about me, in addition to my job in Customer Success, I am the North American Regional co-lead for LinkedIn’s Hispanic/Latin Inclusion Group and was in the office only seven days between paternity leave and work from home orders. I say this because between COVID-19, a three-year-old, a baby, my work, creating a balanced schedule between my and my wife’s work, the pieces mentioned above on getting involved, and Employee Resource Group lead meetings on how we can help support our black colleagues and be an example of showing up as allies the way we should have all along, my mind is preoccupied. If I do not do these mental checks to understand where I’m truly at, I am at risk of not being authentic, phoning it in, reacting the wrong way to something, or being distracted, which can be detrimental to the relationship we work to build.
Be Honest: The best way to make a connection is to show yourself and allow them to do the same.
Once you self-assess, you need to let the other person on the call in. Today, I was in a large meeting discussing the current state of America, and I left the call feeling defeated. Immediately after the call, I had a check-in with a client I am covering for during someone’s maternity leave. This was an individual I had only spoken to once before. However, I knew that if I tried to put on a smile (we’re all turning those cameras on now, right?) and faked it, she would have seen right through me. I decided to be honest. I let her know this week has been incredibly hard for me, I just got out of a meeting that played with my head a bit and I apologize if I seem a bit distracted. This did two things: it brought her to my headspace and it gave her the opportunity to do the same, which she did and helped humanize the entire conversation.
Assess: Is right now the right time for this conversation?
We are all going through something. Every single person right now. Sometimes, what is happening to us needs a distraction and luckily, work can be that distraction. Sometimes, we need to focus on that thing. You’ve thought about your current state, you have shared it and seen a glimpse into the other person’s life on the other camera. Is now the right time to talk? There is nothing wrong with giving someone an out. If it’s taken, great. The conversation will be more productive in the future when you both are fully present. If it’s not, that’s great to. Before getting into the heart of the call you’ve already established a connection, allowing you to speak more candid if necessary and being a true partner.
What is the product of this as it relates to Customer Success? Stronger relationships between you and your customers, built through honesty, compassion and trust. These things are needed so much in the world right now. Let’s lean into them as the corner stone of our society and our partnerships. Stay safe and continue doing something.
Colin Espinales is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Senior Customer Success Manager for Global Accounts and the North American Regional Lead for the Hispanics of LinkedIn Alliance (HOLA) at LinkedIn.