Writing skills for remote asynchronous work and how you can master them

As we’ve moved to remote work, calling and virtual meetings have exploded (see chart below). Much is being done to simulate the advantages of in person meetings to get things done which is useful. But what if that gets abused? Wasted hours in meetings (virtual or physical) has become a trope for good reason. And remote work means that even more now, we can work asynchronously to accommodate private schedules. That’s where writing comes in.

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Customer Success is not about tech or human touch but about the right touch

By touch I mean the way and frequency of times a customer is touched by representatives of a company, whether by technology (think BOTS, automations, etc.) or a human. I would also argue for less touch as there is a danger of bureaucracy creeping in to this fledgling profession, which comes on top of customer touchpoints that are already cumbersome.

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Hacking humans – welcome to the new frontier

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, among others, makes a powerful commencement speech in this recent video. As a Dharma Hacker I subscribe to the view that we are hackable. It’s how its done and to what end that is important. Some more thoughts on that and the video, in addition to what I have already written.

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The power of yes and no. Saying yes to anything is very powerful. It is an empowering statement. It seems more positive than saying no. You can say yes to a request or yes to a question about an action, like, “should you do something” or “can you achieve something”? In both cases, our overpowering desire will be to say yes. But for yes to be the right answer, it needs a no. Perhaps many. You cannot say yes to everything and expect to be successful or thrive. Say no at least four times more than you say yes. In this sense, a no is just as, if not more powerful.

The innovation train and how best to lubricate the collaboration tracks

It has been almost 20 years since the birth of the social web and maybe a little less for the enterprise which caught up later. In this brave new world, especially in the enterprise, email was to be replaced in favour of tools that were simple, social and collaborative. I’ve been in the business all this time and it seems old habits die hard.

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Corona as a catalyst for teamwork customer success and AI

I wouldn’t be the first to jump on the Corona Virus bandwagon, if that’s what I was trying to. No, I’m simply observing the ways I see others doing so, with varying degrees of success, and for good and bad reasons. Mostly it’s a way to conflate the unintended impact it is having, or where it is catalysing efforts and could impact several areas I personally have an interest in.

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Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it

With the coronavirus, workplace collaboration is getting a big boost. Just check Zoom’s stock price in the last two months. Workplace collaboration is hardly new but it does have a slew of new angles, technology vendors, experts, etc. The ingredient often missing in all the hubbub (literally and in the market) are effective outcomes.

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Some interesting articles and research have just been published about this exploding market. This is where it started for me: Mapping Workplace Collaboration Startups.

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Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead

David Sacks who founded Yammer (the original enterprise social network) alongside Adam Pisoni, knows what it takes to build a business or two. He nailed it in this tweet from the other day:

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Are you a Customer Success leader? Do everything you can to remove barriers in the way of your CSM’s so they have only one thing to focus on: Customer Success

Thought Rocket: Anatomy of a Perfect Customer Success

I captured a few simple points in a video a few weeks back in a flash of contemplation (hence thought rocket). Other than capture and share it here I wanted to elaborate a little. First the video:

The first thing to say is that customer success is not an isolated event or activity and this video and its content should not be taken to mean that.

Customer success is a series of purposeful activities or events which over time lead to the customer achieving their intended outcomes.

That is my super simple definition specifically as context for this post.

The 5 points captured in the video are merely outcomes that can be captured at any given time and may characterise a single moment of success. There could be many others. These are my top five. These and the others happening repeatedly over time would constitute long term customer success. This would be the true customer success.

So now onto a wee bit of elaboration on each of the 5 points because this is a thought rocket after all and I don’t want to over think it.

1. Outcomes

Probably the most important thing about any short or long term success is that a business outcome is achieved. Of course the ideal is that it is positive and satisfies the customer but I would also say that it should be the result of purposeful intent. That means you achieved what you set out to achieve. Unintended outcomes can happen and you can even allow for those and they can be of greater consequence. But better would be those that were achieved as a result of purposeful cause and effect planning because this can lead to repeat-ability.

2. Stories

Being able to capture a success in a way that it inspires greater use, adoption, success and value creation is best. Not all successes can be made into a great story. Stories are what capture the imagination and drive greater momentum but the detail of that is for another post.

3. Reuse

If the success can be reapplied in the same area (team or department say) or ideally even more broadly (another team or even department or company) then so much the better. This again drives further use, adoption and success and is fundamentally a scale lever.

4. Measurable

The ability to quantify or qualify the success in some way greatly increases the value of the success. Nothing succeeds like tangible, measurable success. Especially if it fits in with predefined targets you intended to achieve and then you blow them out the water. I’m talking KPI’s baby 🎯 😁

5. Permanence and impact

If it succeeds in changing behaviour and sticks then so much the better. Most customer success efforts are oriented around driving a change in behaviour so that different outcomes are achieved. This is most often the promise of the new technology being sold, implemented and adopted. So this becomes “très importante”.

What else, what have I missed, what would be your top 5 – let me know in a comment if you dare 😜

Role of Self Service in Customer Success

Customer success teams were put in place in technology SaaS and subscription companies to ensure that customers are successful in their use of the technology they invested in. They have become a core part of ensuring the customer derives long-term value and ultimately stays with the vendor (in other words renews the subscription).

But has the vendor and customer become too reliant on them?

I am a customer success manager. Far be it for me to be talking myself out of a job. But actually that is the point. If I could get to it (that point) I would have done my job I think.

Especially with technology products you would think that the technology itself would play a major role in helping users use it and get value out of it. And with the advent of AI, machine learning and automation, even more so.

Enterprise technology is quite a different beast though. The complexity of organisations means that technology use and adoption is not straightforward. It’s dependent on many environmental factors. Like culture, organisational complexity and maturity, etc.

Factors that technology is not good at dealing with but humans are. These have to be factored in, so to speak, in terms of how you ensure use and value creation of a technology in an organisational context. So I don’t see human effort going away anytime soon.

Still, lets look at how technology can and should help to alleviate burdensome tasks best left to machines.

In my mind, a lot of the help technology provides is ultimately geared towards the user being able to self help or serve. And its not just about the end user but also those responsible for end user adoption – the people customer success managers typically work with. I’ll call them adoption managers for sake of clarity. They are typically the ones served by Customer Success Managers most directly but as you will see in the next section, I certainly am driven to make them as self sufficient as possible too.

Technology’s role

By this I mean two things:

  1. What role the technology itself provides with things like built in help and support from onboarding guides to a help manual that can be contextualised with key features as well as be generally available to users.
  2. What role any other technology provides to support the end users and adoption managers. For example, as part of recent hackathon efforts at Microsoft where I currently work, the team and I all won first at a local UK level and then at a global level, for a solution intended to support customer success managers and adoption managers. We called the solution Journey because that is what adoption typically is. Here are a couple of slides from our pitch deck which hopefully explain:

The origins of the idea and also current manual efforts are documented in this post I shared on LinkedIn: Co-owning success with Office 365 customers

Validation has come from winning the hackathon awards (at the global level we won in a field of over 24 000 competitors and 5 000 entries). We also received solid validation from customers we are working with on the current manual efforts mentioned and all new customers we introduce it to.

So it seems there is appetite for this gap in the market. You can watch a very short demo of what we pitched and won with and answer 3 short questions in a follow up survey here if you like – it would help with further validation.

AI and Automation

According to a study on Customer Service trends:

The future of customer service is about giving customers more control and better access to operations, so they can build their own experiences in real time. To do this, in addition to investing and moving customer service to cloud-based operations, they focus in on how to work better with automation.

I am totally in agreement with this as I wrote in this post: The Future of Customer Success is Not Human. Even though the context of the study above covers customer service trends which is very different to customer success, it is still broadly applicable. The domain is the same.

I think these activities are going to continue to expand in use and value, especially to alleviate customer success manager efforts where they are overloaded and too much is expected of them and where bureaucracy has crept in.

Technology can help reduce bureaucracy

In the post where I wrote that the future of customer success is not human, I quoted a study on bureaucracy. It has customer service, in which again I would suggest customer success falls, at the top of the rankings of roles and fields where bureaucracy has crept in (list of rankings pasted again here). Being a practitioner I would concur with that and the point I made then and again now is that technology can help avoid this.

Of course a large portion of the problem stems from overzealous management ptractices which is not something technology can help with. But by and learge I see it as a valuable counterbalance.

What needs for human intervention will never go away?

Assuming that technology can take up a lot of slack and reduce bureaucracy, what does this leave the customer success manager and those responsible for adoption to do?

Well it will be to focus on those intractable problems that I mentioned earlier technology will not be able to help us with and will become increasingly needed. Thorny problems and challenges that can be overcome to improve the customer experience. Those that require and will take imagination, creativity and innovation and will focus on the challenging art of managing people.

I have two separate posts on these topics that elaborate on that if interested.

How the specialist engages with work

Choose it, don’t let it choose you.

Engage in the process of engaging.

Don’t just say yes to what is thrown at you from team mates, bosses, customers, random approaches from the web and social media.

Be discriminating or become a generalist. Be focused or fail, as in Warren Buffet’s 5/25 Rule

Arrogant you might think but being a slave to whim serves nobody well.

Work is everywhere but you need to hire the right work.

To become a master of your work, you need to turn things around, you need to reverse roles in the working relationship.

You do not need work that does not serve your specialism, help you grow or that will detract from you achieving your outcomes or helping others achieve theirs.

You are happy to help those that know what they want and are interested in becoming a beneficiary of your talents according to your rules of engagement.

You are the specialist, if even to just the people who are less experienced than you. They are currently unable to get to their desired destination by themselves; otherwise, they would already be there.

If you’re going to responsibly take care of them and the job to be done, you need to be in control.

This happens through a conversation, which has several parts:

Help them to articulate the pain.

What problem needs solving, what outcome needs achieving. Get to the root of the challenge. Every time they lay out a problem or goal, ask yourself why. What’s the heart of the situation? Don’t rule out emotion, it’s not all logic and they aren’t logical until it comes time to justify a close.

Determine your ability to solve the pain.

You cannot just look at this in terms of your capability to provide a solution, you need to look at this in terms of productivity. Do you have the time, would you do a good job compared to other options, what influence do the strategic and growth drivers bring, etc. Add any criteria you want but prioritise. If the answer is no, respectfully decline. If yes, move on.

Inspire them with alternative realities.

How good can this possibly be? In your experience, what should this look like? Paint that picture for them, the one that replaces their pain with a better situation. By asking yourself what could be at the heart of their issue, you’re able to address that here as well.

Recommend the problems which should be addressed as part of the bigger picture.

Note, I did not say to solve their problems. That is part of an execution effort you and they will have to invest time, effort and possibly money into. It is to be determined at a later stage. Articulate which points need to be fixed in order to provide the solution and bring their alternate reality to life.

Encourage them with past stories.

Everyone feels like their problem is big and unique until they hear about others you’ve worked with who are on the journey with your solutions making progress. People need social validation through peers. Connect people on reference calls. This requires you to build customer advocates with activities and programs.

Get to a mutual close.

A simple question creates a fork in the road. “Would you like help with this approach I’ve suggested?” Ask it, and then wait for the answer. A non answer or a no is perfectly acceptable and allows all concerned to move forward. An unequivocal yes requires more work. That is for another post.

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