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The Modern Marketing Blog covers the latest in marketing strategy, technology, and innovation.

Unintentional Traps We Set for Customer Success

There exists probably no more despised phrase in the Customer Success lexicon than “one throat to choke”. Ironically, it’s often used in a positive, inspirational way, as in, “This is critical. You’re our best and we need to prevent that customer from defecting. We’re going to give them one throat to choke. You.”

As if what customers really desire is to commit an act of murder. They don’t. What they really want is for the products to work and that they live up to even half the sales and marketing hype that they bought into. So if customers are reacting with annoyance and rage, and threatening to leave, offering them up a sacrificial lamb wrapped in a superman cape is not going to deliver any long-term benefits to anyone. In fact, it likely makes things worse because it deflects energy away from working on the real solution. At this point in the evolution of the tech business, hearing the phrase “one throat to choke” should be a signal to pull the ripcord on the commercial relationship because it’s likely already lost. 

Seriously, whoever thought it was a good idea to immediately disable the value of a customer-facing person by positioning them as a customer’s object of scorn and as a locus of rage, instead of positioning them as one half of a relationship of business equals, should be, well, throttled. That imbalance, one so emblematic of a reactive strategy, is what I refer to when talking about traps for Customer Success.

A proactive strategy that involves understanding the customer’s business goals and building a plan to systematically drive customer effort towards achieving those goals is a far better approach. It requires significant initial upfront work when setting up the Customer Success practice (really difficult to retrofit afterwards so a big caution there) and while it’s obviously better for the customer it’s also better for those poor individuals who are tired of having their worn out throats choked. Who wouldn’t be happier, more content, and enjoy a high degree of gratification and career confidence if they were able to focus on delivering a customer’s desired outcomes? 

What’s the only thing stopping this from happening across our industry? This is going to sound harsh but it boils down to poor leadership. See this post I wrote after I attended the CS100 Summit 2018 for my thoughts on leadership’s role in changing the paradigm.

I’ll close with a story. Remember that last episode of Breaking Bad, called Felina, in which the Jessie character is working in a woodshop? The viewer immediately sees he’s focused on the delicate, final assembly of a beautifully crafted wooden box he built himself. We know he’s built it because his hands are shown conducting that final assembly process and because of the tools arrayed on the bench and on the wall behind him. As he bends to admire its exquisite grain and smoothness of surface, we assume he created it for a child or a lover. 

It must be the warm light of the scene that triggers the viewer’s confusion. Confusion that’s actually a welcome respite from binge watching the violent series because the mood of the entire scene is so incongruent with the mood of all the episodes of the previous five seasons. And because we are confused we’re surprised when forced to face the reality that the scene is a dream and Jessie wakes from his delusion to find he is still shackled, still held hostage, in the meth lab belonging to the latest vile gang (this one American as opposed to the previous Mexican one) that has intersected with his young, unfortunate life. The scene concludes with our depressed reaction as we realize Jessie, the volatile acolyte of the series’ lead character, Walter White, will spend his remaining days and years (depending on the good graces of his “hosts”) being forced to cook that exceedingly rare blue 98%-pure meth, the coveted substance, a proxy for all that’s wrong with our world, and that’s driven the Breaking Bad story for five seasons.

Think of Jessie’s daydream the next time you have the urge to take short cuts around the design of customer engagement. Your CSMs want to be Jessie in the daydream, creating something good and enduring.

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