The Rick Astley Approach To Customer Success

Ben Winn
Jan 24, 2018 · 7 min read

Six of the most important rules for Customer Success Managers (CSMs) to abide by; as described by Rick Astley.

Never gonna give you up

An account is never a lost cause. As a CSM, hopefully most of your accounts will be relatively straightforward to manage, but nothing will truly put you to the test like a high-churn-risk, high-value account. Ideally, these accounts will be few and far between (knock on wood), but they are inevitable, and rather than looking at them as huge problems, it’s important to recognize that they are really your opportunity to shine and show your team and yourself why you’ve been given these responsibilities.

My top three recommendations are:

1. Go on-site to see them in person — this will show how dedicated you are to their success and will give you better insight into what is going on.

2. Have another team member available to do occasional temperature checks — sometimes clients need to vent, but because of their relationship with you, they feel they can’t. It’s important that you truly understand how your clients are feeling so that you can determine the best approach to any given situation.

3. Change the dynamic — if the status quo is clearly not working out as intended, change something up. Maybe you change the types of reports you are sending, maybe you change the person handling the account, maybe you bring in someone from your team with more clout to show how invested you are. There are a number of ways to do this, but the bottom line is that something needs to change.

Never gonna let you down

If you tell a customer than you are going to do something by a certain date, DO THAT THING BY THAT DATE. If you don’t, you’ll not only be letting down that customer, you’ll be losing their trust, which is arguably the most critical element of the company/customer relationship. If you do know that you or your team won’t be able to get something done by a certain date (which definitely will happen at some point), there are a few things you can do to minimize any negative potential impact.

My top three recommendations are:

1. Tell the customer ASAP — you can’t shelter them from bad news, and the longer you wait to tell them, the harder it will be to overcome any subsequent difficulties.

2. Keep the customer updated — send a progress update every single day so that the customer knows you are on top of things.

3. Be honest with the customer about why the date originally given was incorrect, and what steps have been taken to try to ensure this does not happen again.

Never gonna run around and desert you

Never de-prioritize a client because a higher-value client has a problem. The day will come when you will be working on something for client A, and then client B will come along with another issue, and you will be pressured to drop what you’re doing for client A, and put all your time into client B. Tread carefully here because every client is important, especially when it comes to reviews, referrals, and long-term relationship-building. Make sure to weigh all the factors, and speak with other members of your team before determining where your resources would be best allocated.

My top three recommendations are:

1. See if there is a stop-gap you can put into place to temporarily address client B’s problem so that you can finish with client A before moving on.

2. Request additional resources from your company’s leadership — whether you need more help from developers, project managers, or you just need an intern to whom you can assign all the smaller tasks that you don’t have time to do. Make sure to explain the consequences if you are not given these resources; this may make your request more compelling.

3. Last resort — refer to my previous section “Never gonna let you down” and communicate in the best way possible to one of the clients that what they need will take longer than expected.

Never gonna make you cry

The bottom line is that as a CSM, your job is to make your clients happy. Yes, that includes delivering on results and providing a high return on investment. Even more than that, it means going the extra mile to let the client know that you genuinely care about them and want to make sure they enjoy their experience with you. It’s important to note that telling someone they are a valued customer is good, but showing someone they are a valued customer is great.

My top three recommendations are:

1. Find an excuse to send a small gift — be it sweets from a bakery, a themed gift basket, or a custom mug, mousepad, or t-shirt with an inside joke on it; sending a gift with a handwritten card is a great way to show that you care.

2. Start every call with small talk, and dear God please find a subject that is not “the weather.” As a CSM, you should have regularly scheduled check-ins with your clients, so with each call you should be learning more and more about them. Maybe you start with something simple like the weather, but then try asking about weekend or holiday plans, and eventually you’ll find out their likes and dislikes, if they have a family, what their hobbies are, and so on. As your small talk becomes more familiar, you’ll find your relationship with the client gets stronger.

3. Pass along as much positive feedback as you can. If they are getting great results with your product, congratulate them! If you are introducing them to another member of your team, introduce them in a positive light with context (i.e. :“Sam is our amazing project leader at Company X, and did you see how crazy their Q3 results were? Entirely his doing.”) Of course, you should always be genuine and honest with these remarks, but make sure you’re always keeping an eye out for opportunities to celebrate and share positive experiences.

Never gonna say goodbye

Churn is not the end. If you have done your job well, but due to powers outside of your control, the client still churns, you should be sure to do everything you can to maintain your relationship with them. Companies are always shifting and moving people around. If a client does churn, you have to become the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who pretends the break-up was mutual, but is still in love with the other person. You understand that the other person needs to have their space and that they aren’t ready for a long-term commitment yet, so your plan is to stay “just friends” until the other person realizes how big a mistake they’ve made. When they eventually beg to get back together, and you get past that tearful reunion, the relationship resumes. Hopefully this analogy makes sense, but, regardless…

My top three recommendations are:

1. Keep the client subscribed to your newsletter (if your company doesn’t have a monthly newsletter, start a monthly newsletter). If the client is willing to stay on your list, this is a sign that there could be hope down the road, and it will help to keep them informed of all the amazing things you’re doing (kind of like when exes stalk each other’s Facebook pages and Instagram profiles to see what the other is up to).

2. On your last call, ask if it would be okay to schedule a casual call in 6 months just to touch base and stay in the loop on what they and their company are up to.

3. Send thank-you cards and gifts to everyone at the company who supported you. It’s easy to feel bitter after a client has left, but you want to make sure things are ending on the best terms possible to leave the door open for future opportunities. When a company cancels its contract with a vendor, the last thing they expect is to receive thoughtful cards and gifts, so I recommend going the extra mile to surprise and delight.

Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

It should go without saying that you always treat others the way you would like to be treated. Nothing drives me crazier than when SAAS companies lie to customers to get them in the door and locked into a one or two-year contract, only to reveal then that the integration they promised doesn’t actually exist yet, or that the feature they demonstrated is actually still in beta-testing and won’t be released for another six months. When you lie to customers, you are setting yourself up for failure. When you are completely honest, you may occasionally see short-term losses, but you will always see long-term gains.

My top three recommendations are:

1. Always be honest and respectful — the client will reciprocate, you will establish a strong foundation, and your relationship will flourish.

2. Deliver, deliver, deliver — deliver what you promised, how you promised it, when you promised it. If you can, OVERdeliver. Never underdeliver, or offer up excuses.

3. Never forget that clients are all people with feelings, goals, and lives outside of work. This may seem obvious, but treat your clients like humans! Ask them how their day has been going, and genuinely listen and care. If they sound stressed, ask if there’s anything you can do to help. If they have a problem, listen, empathize, and if you can, offer a solution. Everything you are doing is for them, not for you. Don’t dominate the conversation, don’t tell them what to do, don’t treat them like robots, and don’t act like a robot yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell them about yourself, share a funny story, or seem “unprofessional.” “Unprofessional” and “informal” are two very different things, yet they are often conflated. Discover what it means to be professionally informal, and you’ll find the sweet spot.

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