At Relativity, we pride ourselves not only on creating comprehensive and effective software that helps our customers organize data, discover the truth, and act on it, but of the support we provide to enable our customers to extract the most value possible from that software.
Of course, the importance of having successful customer interactions is not unique to us as software developers! I have had the privilege of working with customers directly for most of the time I’ve worked at Relativity, and, after working in education and non-profits, I have come to realize that the principles of successful “customer” interactions are the same everywhere.
For example, when I worked as a classroom teacher for six years, I considered my students (and sometimes their parents!) my customers—and the content I was teaching them was my product. This perspective enabled me to consider how to provide an effective customer experience with every interaction. I would often ask myself: “What outcome are we trying to achieve?” (Answer: The student should be able to seamlessly progress to the next grade level in the subject areas.) If an issue arose, we would evaluate the issue in context of that outcome, which helped lead to productive and positive conversations.
It’s similar in businesses of all kinds. When a customer has questions, requests, or issues, they are most likely bringing them to your attention because they need to achieve certain outcomes with the product—but aren’t sure where to start or how to overcome an obstacle they’ve encountered.
With this in mind, we recently asked many of our customer “aces” across Relativity the following question: "Imagine you are giving advice to a colleague who will be joining a customer call for the first time. You don't know what the topic of the call is, but the colleague asks for your advice. What do you say?"
We were so enlightened by their feedback that we wanted to share it with you all, too. Perhaps some of this wisdom can help you put your best foot forward with your customers—internal and external—on your next interaction.
We saw many of the following tips and more in action at Relativity Fest 2022! Visit the event platform to catch up on what you missed, now through December 16. It's not too late to register for access.
Listen First, Speak Second
The first theme I noticed in our team’s advice was the “listen first, speak second” category. Understanding a customer’s request, comment, or concern can seem simple, but knowing that request, comment, or concern to the depth that the customer is feeling it requires a little more patience and questioning.
Remember, a customer is not bringing something up to you if it’s not important to them! Practice active listening to get to the heart of what they need before you start firing off suggestions—and don’t make assumptions.
"You have two ears and one mouth. Listening is a very powerful tool, and by listening more and asking the right questions, I know I have endless chances to learn how we can improve our products and services."
Michael Scorer, Senior Implementation Specialist
"I tell my colleague that we'll ask the customer how we can help them, and then listen for what they need. It's always helpful to also ask some additional scoping questions based on the customer's statements before diving into any responses to make sure we fully understand what is needed. Once we know what the customer is looking for, we can either help, or tell them that we need to do some testing or talk with our colleagues to get them the assistance they need."
Jill Ragan, Community Enablement Specialist
"Listen more than talk. Customers often speak in terms of potential solutions, but it is essential that we understand the problem they are trying to solve. Once we understand their problem, we can work with them to provide a solution and guidance to ensure they are getting the maximum possible value."
"Listen, listen, listen. When you're nervous, sometimes we tend to talk too much. Try to understand where the customer is coming from, what's important to them, why they joined a call to go over whatever the topic is. Ask open-ended questions and listen to how they respond."
"Make the customer feel heard, especially if they are sharing frustrations. Do not interject to troubleshoot; let them get the initial concerns off their chest and then proceed from there."
Karimah Campbell, Manager, Customer Success
The next group of responses fell neatly into the category of “be prepared.” At any company, you likely have people who “own” the customer relationships. Whether it’s a customer success manager, account executive, or other role, you likely have a person at your company who deeply understands this particular customer relationship and their sentiment.
These folks likely keep detailed notes about the status of this relationship. Don’t let that knowledge go to waste. Here’s some advice on being prepared for interactions before they happen.
"Come prepared with a brief agenda. If possible, ask a subject matter expert (SME) on the topic to be included for any curveball questions. Once the call is done, always, always, always send a recap summary via email to all participants following the call—the same day if possible–to make sure everyone is on the same page for next steps. Finally, do not shy away from any opportunity to participate in client calls."
Ashely Sullivan, VP Customer Solutions, Text IQ
"Read up as much about the customer as possible, on the company in general, as well as any information on their history with your organization. This way you'll naturally be able to connect with the customer regardless of the topic of the call. Don’t feel pressured to answer any questions you aren't 100 percent sure of during the call and be empowered to make notes of follow-up actions (and state them to the customer). If the call goes in an unexpectedly downward direction, utilize tools that can buy you more time to digest and compose any responses. I always keep a glass of water next to me and sometimes take a sip to process what's being discussed! And most importantly, don't take anything that is said personally; 99.99 percent of the time, it isn’t aimed directly at you!”
Chloe Crosby, Customer Success Manager
"Be prepared! The six Ps of life: Prior practice prevents piss poor performance (or whatever variation of that you have heard). Always true. No matter the topic, be sure that you prepare by speaking with people who have previous experience with the customer to better understand what to expect, from a topic perspective and a personality perspective. Understand your role on the call. Are you a key speaker or should you be in listen-only mode? Regardless of your role, listen. Customers want to feel and be heard. Listen, take notes, gain a full understanding before making assumptions. Seek understanding. Be prepared for anything. The customer can change topics when it's least expected, so be ready to pivot! The discussion can be wonderfully positive or awkwardly negative. Be honest. Do not be afraid to say that you don't know the answer to a question. Never a great result receiving incorrect info or giving incorrect info that you have to go back and correct later."
Clair Atkins, Senior Manager, Customer Enablement
"Do your research on the customer beforehand! Use the [internal roles who own the customer relationship] as your resources and pick their brains. Check [internal tools like a CRM] as additional resources about the customer. But most importantly, be yourself! Introduce yourself and your role when meeting the customer and listen to what the customer needs."
Alexi Leal, Senior Customer Success Manager
Always Follow Up
Perhaps most importantly, our team advised following up! Trust is the cornerstone of any successful customer relationship, and building that trust requires follow-through.
If you don’t know the answer when asked a question, but you find the information you need and then follow up to answer the customer, fulfill the request, or resolve the issue, the customer will gain confidence in you and in your company.
"Truly listen to any of their thoughts, concerns, and feedback and lead with empathy if there is an issue. End the call by summarizing what was discussed, next steps, and when you will be following up—and then actually follow up!"
Kristin Peter, Vice President, Global Support
"It's okay to ask follow-up questions if they say something interesting or if you're confused—customers like talking about their work and they appreciate it when we want to understand. If they ask questions, you don't have to have all the answers on the call, but be sure to follow up after."
"Elicit feedback and listen to what the customer has to say; respond by emphasizing what we do today that may address their concern, taking note of what needs to be improved, and following up with Relativity stakeholders on improvements. Then revisit the client with any improvement plans."
Remember: We Are All Human
Finally—relax! Don’t sweat it too much. Remember that we are all humans, and we all have goals and varying perspectives.
If the person you’re speaking to is a customer or prospective customer, you have some shared interests! Focus on those common interests, and you will represent your company effectively and create a positive interaction with the customer.
"Two things: First, working with customers is a team sport. Second, our clients are human beings, and the most important thing is to treat them like that. That means approaching them with listening, empathy, and kindness—to try to see things from their perspective so we can work together to solve their problems and celebrate their successes."
Sean Kelley, Customer Success Manager
"Relax! You don't know what you don't know. Customers will always ask something unexpected (they aren't trying to catch you out). Remember every customer interaction is unique, so be prepared to do some research and follow-up afterwards."
What’s Your Advice?
Since we work with this community every day, our team knows that the Relativity community is one of the friendliest and most supportive out there. So what advice would you give a colleague or peer looking to improve their approach to customer service? Join the conversation on LinkedIn or Twitter and tag @RelativityHQ to share your best tips.