Managing customer relationships in the hybrid working era

July 9, 2021
June 26, 2023
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Saying the customer success rulebook has been ripped up is a massive understatement. In the past couple of years, it’s been torn to shreds, those shreds have burnt to a crisp, and the water poured on the ashes has extinguished any hope of reading the CS rules we once followed blindly.

That’s a slight exaggeration, but it is fair to say that customer success really has changed for good. We’re no longer sitting next to each other every single day, the same can be said for the customers we’re managing, and it’s brought a less formal feeling to how we interact. Which is just a small piece of the hybrid working puzzle.

Our customer success team could tell you all about that! So, we decided to ask them all about that. From how they’ve overcome the challenges of hybrid working to creating thriving relationships in this new setting, here’s what our CS team have to say on hybrid working.

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The challenges of working as a hybrid customer success team: Conquering collaboration and communication

Let’s talk about the three Cs: Communication, collaboration and culture. They’re hardly challenges exclusive to customer success, but the ante’s really upped when you’re on the frontline and dealing with customers. If we’re not on the same page and keeping each other in the loop, it can have a negative impact on the customer experiences! And without our customers, there’s not much for us to hang our hats on.

So, how do we make sure our communications strategy is more sophisticated than two cups tied together with a piece of string? By using the technology and tools at our disposal. Flora Sanders, Customer Success Executive, highlighted that idea in the team’s three-part approach to great communication:

  • The CS Slack channel: “which allows us to shoot questions at each other if we are unsure of anything.”
  • Frequent stand-up meetings: “where we discuss our tasks for the week and get feedback on projects.”
  • Brainstorming meetings: “where we bounce ideas off each other, and regroup/realign our focus.”

And that communication frequency, both online and in real life, is something Alfie Gardner, Customer Success Manager at HowNow, believes helps the team overcome another hurdle. It empowers people to provide “on the spot customer conversation feedback and giving people the option to have open discussions/share ideas.”

Alfie also flagged the challenge of having “the chance to share best practices and everyday routines that make people more productive”, and that’s where HowNow enters the equation! It’s important that hybrid teams have one place for shared knowledge so that regardless of where they’re working they’ve got consistent access to consistent information. HowNow is that one place, whether they’re just quick responses sent through Slack or detailed advice on managing relationships, they can all be saved, shared and searched for in one place.

So, what happens when you neglect those regular check-ins? As Jack Fielding, Customer Success Executive at HowNow, points out, it might prevent you from nipping issues in the bud. This may mean dealing with something far more challenging later on: “[One challenge] is around not knowing when you’re doing something wrong – until it causes a larger problem and escalates.”

Building culture as a remote customer success team

Hands up if this sounds familiar: “You don’t always know what people are up to and how they feel”. That point from Lulu Dermeche, Head of Customer Success at HowNow, might feel like one of those remote issues that’s remedied by a return to the office in some capacity, but it’s not that simple.

Days in the office might end up with eye-wateringly busy calendars, back-to-back meetings that tick off everything that works better in person. So unless you’re heading out for some lunch or post-work drinks, you still won’t know how people are doing and if they’re struggling.

Whether you’ve already established a culture or not, it’s important to understand how that works in the hybrid environment and shape it accordingly.

As Jack put it, “good management, carefully planned face-to-face interactions and moments of quality social time when you do meet are most important”, and that aspect of quality time together was backed by the love for our team socials. Flora sums it up perfectly:

“We have had online socials with activities like a cook-a-long, facial night and many, many quizzes. Now that restrictions have loosened we have had a few IRL socials, which have been a great way to get to know everyone.”

Even on the days where we’re not in the office together, we’re bonding as a team! Our Monday morning meets “are a great way to build a sense of community and bond as a team.”

While the Friday retrospectives give everyone a chance to share wins, lessons learnt and what we need help with. Flora adds that “these are a great way to build morale and celebrate/share each others’ successes, but also help each other and learn from each other”. She even had special praise for a member of the HowNow sales team: “I love hearing Nikita’s quotes of the week!” – perhaps the next post from the team will be a list of Nikita’s wise words.

How CS teams can support their hybrid working clients

Working in CS these days must feel like one big hybrid juggling act! Not only do they have their own concerns around the shift to this new work arrangement, they have to consider how they’re supporting clients who are working and learning in distributed, remote and hybrid settings. Ultimately, it comes back to knowing your clients and offering the right support, as Jack explains nicely:

“Frequent contact at the start and an open offer for how much they need from then on. The beauty of hybrid working is it caters not only for those who like the every day touch, but also those who need a little more space to be their most efficient.”

Alfie adds to that by highlighting how we need to keep communication clear, concise and regular – without becoming too much: “By keeping people aligned in simple and constructive streams with regular (not too regular!) discussions and working yourself into their day-to-day to ensure that we’re always adding value – that’s what we want to achieve!”

For some more practical advice, we can turn back to Flora, who suggests using a project management tool to “assign clients to tasks and leave feedback – it speeds up the process and they feel more supported.”

Flora also flags the need to set expectations and agendas before meetings, here’s how she manages that:

  • Send an invite with the call agenda.
  • Explain those agenda items on the call and demo certain things where needed.
  • Set time for a Q&A session.
  • Establish tasks to be completed before the next call.

“It means everyone is at the most productive E.G. they have done their homework and upskilled themselves prior to the call” but at the same time, you need to be empathetic and understanding “if they aren’t able to meet timelines set. Everyone is dealing with a global pandemic and working flexibly and remotely, so people need to be cut some slack.”

How to manage customer relationships when client numbers are growing

It’s a humble brag, but we’ve welcomed a lot of new companies to the HowNow community in the last year or so! And that means managing relationships effectively when customer numbers are growing at speed. Here are some quickfire suggestions from the team when it comes to keeping smiles on customers faces and on top of that fast pace.

  • Allow yourself at least 10/15 minutes before each call to read through your notes and stay up to date with where customers are in terms of progress.
  • The small talk at the start of calls and any contact you have on Intercom is crucial in building up a rapport.
  • Reach out on LinkedIn and show your human side!
  • Show appreciation for people’s time. The world is in an unusual place, and we need to be respectful of the toll it can take.
  • Cross-functional collaboration to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Don’t rush. A slightly delayed SLA is better than everyone getting a quick response that’s less thought through.
  • Get ahead of the hiring curve and prevent the bottleneck of not having enough staff.

Supporting distributed teams and those based all over the world

Those quickfire tips were good, right? How about a few more on how you can manage relationships across continents and timezones!? We’re lucky to be working with forward-thinking companies all over the world, but it adds an extra consideration for our customer success team.

  • Make a note of where they are in the world so that, before calls, you can refresh yourself and won’t have to keep asking them!
  • Keep up to date with current affairs so that you can ask questions at the start and show interest.
  • Find a time that suits both sides for face-to-face calls.
  • Send over personalised demos to explain features so that fewer real-time calls have to take place, but the clients are still getting the support they need and love.
  • If you can’t be there immediately, make sure you have processes in place to help when you’re not available. It’s about effectively managing expectations and making sure there’s a wealth of support where needed.
  • Create project boards to make sure that asynchronous work is happening.
  • Build a support centre so strong and inclusive that users can generally find whatever answer they need.

Want to know more about the HowNow team? Learn about our story and people here.