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Operationalizing Customer Success, Part 2: Customer Obsession During Moments of Truth

By Amy Downs September 26, 2016

CEO Jim Smith feels a familiar twinge of nervousness as he heads into the boardroom. Pitching to investors has never been his favorite part of the job, but he focuses on positive thinking.

“Who wouldn’t want to invest in this incredible company?”

He sits down, dials into his conferencing bridge and joins the meeting. A moment later, the investor’s face pops up on the screen – his bright yellow tie dazzling in high definition.

Jim smiles and takes a deep breath.

 “Mike, it’s great to see you aga-“

Suddenly, a dark screen.

Panicked and confused, Jim attempts to restart the meeting, but to no avail. He runs down the hallway and bursts into the office of Darryl, IT Administrator Extraordinaire. Jim frantically explains his urgent situation, and Darryl jumps into action. After a few minutes of troubleshooting, however, he delivers to Jim some discouraging news: their service provider is experiencing problems, and his investor meeting can’t restart.

Although it’s of little consolation to him, Jim isn’t alone in his frustration today. In the world of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), a service-impacting event usually affects multiple users at the exact same time. And that means many unhappy users – all at once.

Predictably, recovering from such an event takes a lot of time and energy.

A test of Customer Obsession

Thankfully, service-impacting events are a rarity at Lifesize. But as for any service provider, incidents happen, and they’ve taught us a thing or two about Customer Obsession. In particular, it has shown us that while it’s easy to be customer obsessed when everything is going right, it’s when things go wrong that our commitment to customers is truly tested.

In my experience, an incident like this is where the rubber meets the road; you have an opportunity to either come out shining or end up face-to-face with your shortcomings. I call this a “Moment of Truth.” And to navigate through it successfully, it’s critical to be fully prepared when an unplanned incident materializes.

At Lifesize, we’ve operationalized rapid recovery during these events with an emergency response strategy that relies on effective communication processes and systems. It’s also critical that we address the “human” element during any crisis situation.

“Block and tackle” with processes and systems

For our customers, a service-impacting event could easily mean the interruption of an important boardroom meeting (like in Jim’s case), which makes time-to-support critical. That’s why we’ve developed (and regularly practice) a full-blown escalation procedure that maps out internal and external communication from start to finish.

Step one is to essentially “block and tackle.” Four things have to happen:

  1. Our CloudOps team notices an interruption and contacts our Customer Support team.
  2. Customer Support then updates our status Web page to let customers know about the issues.
  3. Customer Success Advocates contact major customers to let them know about the incident personally.
  4. While Steps one to three occur, we are escalating internally. Within 20 minutes of the initial alert, communication about the service interruption travels from CloudOps all the way up to our CEO so that everyone is on the same page.

The key communication element that follows is a Reason for Incident (RFI) report that is issued to customers within 24 to 48 hours of the incident. If we have yet to identify root cause, this “preliminary” RFI includes the description and timeframe of the incident, the type and extent of the impact, and what corrective or preventative action has been or will be taken. Until the root cause is identified, we communicate with customers every three days. Once the cause is identified, a “final” RFI is issued.

From our experience, this type of consistent and detailed communication is essential to operationalizing response to a service-impacting incident because customers crave information, particularly during times of uncertainty.

Understand and address emotional responses

When mission-critical meetings are interrupted due to a service interruption, emotions can run high.

Let’s look at Jim and Darryl again.

Jim is frustrated because he’s just been disconnected from an important investor meeting. Darryl is panicked, fearing that he needs to fix the problem or risk losing his job. Eager to resolve the issue and save the day, Darryl jumps on a call with a Customer Support specialist – his anxiety (and irritation) through the roof.

How our team handles this conversation can be the difference between keeping and losing this account. That’s why we prepare our Customer Success and Support team members to ask critical questions that help us to effectively meet the emotional needs of customers like Darryl. We might ask: How exactly is this incident impacting your business today? How is this impacting you personally? How can we help you? Would your CEO like to speak with someone from our executive team or our CEO?

Understanding the emotional response from customers during a service-impacting event is essential to Customer Obsession, and it’s imperative to select the right people for the job. When hiring, look for key qualities like empathy, awareness and a positive outlook. It’s also important to choose individuals who are ready to work as a team. At Lifesize, we’ve learned that navigating these “Moments of Truth” is only successful if we band together as one team. We cannot effectively respond if we are running in different directions, and, believe me, customers are quick to notice a divided team.

As I mentioned in my previous article, our goal is to never lose a customer – not even one – and we strive to reflect that in all of our actions. Lifesize is willing to go above and beyond to keep our customer’s business for life, no matter their size. This is what Customer Obsession is all about. It’s critical to have the right systems and processes in place, but it’s even more critical, I would argue, to hire the right people for the job and empower them to create truly amazing customer experiences. When you’re facing a “Moment of Truth,” it makes all the difference.

What strategies does your Customer Support team leverage during a service-impacting event? Share your experience with me at [email protected]

Edited by Alicia Young

Chief Customer Success and Happiness Officer, Lifesize

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