In a previous post, I talked about two tactics I use when I’m working outside of my usual timezone to minimise impact on our customers.As a follow-up, I wanted to relate someone else’s experiences too. And who better to speak to than Danny Mulcahy from Buffer. Danny works specifically with Buffer’s largest customers, and is typically based in the UK.
Danny is currently taking advantage of Buffer’s “Work wherever you’re happiest” policy by participating in a WY_CO (formerly known as We Roam) programme which takes him around the world for a year. When we spoke, Danny was in Cambodia, which is quite a few time zones away from his typical UK workday.
Initially, Danny was working the local business hours, but he soon realised that this was unfair on his teammates. He quickly adjusted his timetable to make sure to align it with his customers, and to avoid adding more stress for his colleagues.
As a result, Danny has shifted his working hours to be closer to UK business hours. He uses the early afternoons to support other, non-business customers. He’s also sending proactive “yearly check-in” emails later in his day, to try and catch their inboxes during his customer’s normal working hours, as opposed to in the middle of the night.
His advice for you, if you’re working outside of your typical hours, is to take advantage of being time-shifted. Have your rest periods earlier in the day, sleep in later, have a long lunch, or sunbathe by the pool during sunny hours! You can also use morning hours to go to visit museums and gallerieswhile they’re open.
I’ve learned the hard way that a new contact in a customer that you manage can be a pretty big shift in how they use your product. That new contact will often come to the role with a different set of habits and expectations. They will often not know how to use your product or service, and will lack context on how their company has implemented your product.
If you’re not aware of a change in contact, or if they don’t know who you are or how to take advantage of your product, then that’s going to increase the likelihood of this customer leaving.
The solution to this is to make sure that you’re aware of any changes to your customer contacts. If you have a product which has user roles (Billing Owner, Administrator and End User, for example) then you could use that to define who your contact is.
If you’re in a smaller company, with more limited resources and less internal tooling, then it can be useful to learn how to run your own queries against your product’s database. While this can have a steep learning curve, it does mean you can ask questions on your own time, without needing to involve any other colleagues.
From this, you can then ask a question such as “List the Billing Owners for companies I manage”, or “List the Administrators in companies I manage”. Check this list once a month, or once a week.
If you spot a change, then this is a key time to email that new person, introduce yourself and your role, and suggest a time to speak. You could even send them a video to say hello!
When deciding which specific customers you should work with, I’ll often recommend that you work with customers within two hours of your timezone. That allows for the best availability for email responses, and also gives the most overlap for scheduling calls.
However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll always be working from that exact timezone. Between visiting family in New Zealand, working from our offices on the West Coast of the US, and Expensify’s Offshore trips to exciting locations, I’ve often been working outside of my typical timezone. While I’m there, it’s pretty terrible to need to be working all night (hey, Thailand), or to need to be available extremely early in the morning for calls with customers in Europe (I’m looking at you, San Francisco and Portland).
So, how do you avoid messing up your sleep patterns, while also being available to customers? There’s two specific approaches that I recommend. First and foremost, replace live, synchronous calls with videos to explain complex topics. I’ve already talk about the value of video in this post. They’re a key approach to making sure that customers maintain the emotional relationship with you while you’re on a different working schedule. That will reduce dramatically the amount of live calls you need to do with a specific customer.
The second approach is to batch the time that you spend responding to customer emails as close as possible to overlapping with your customers’ timezones. During that time period, focus on responding to those customers, and avoid working on complex projects or investigations. In most cases, a short “Hey, I’m looking into this for you and will be able to give you an update within the next day” is a great way to give your customer confidence that you’ve received their message and are on the path to identifying a specific problem.
So, those two approaches again are:
Use video in place for live calls
Batch your emails to give the most overlap, and minimise deep work during that period
In The Guide to SaaS Customer Management, I talk about more detailed processes that can be used when managing relationships with customers. This includes customer health scores, support platforms which route messages to you, and automated messaging campaigns.
But really, they’re all tools that allow you to scale the support that you’re giving to customers, and how customer success interacts with your high-value customers.
If today is the first day that your company is starting to managing relationships with high-value customers, then honestly that is all just icing on the cake. The starting point is really much simpler than that.
Do you have an email client? Do you have a list of your customers, and how much they’ve paid you in the last 12 months? Good – that is all that you need to start to manage customers.
Seriously, stop while you’re ahead. You don’t need anything more than an email client and your list. That’s it. Start from there, and research how the first customer on your list uses your product. Then send them an email, say hello and suggest some specific ways that they can use your product better. Ask them if they’d like to speak in more detail, and suggest a time for a call.
That’s it. Don’t start with anything fancy, and don’t lock yourself into anything long-term. As you iterate on working with your high-value customers this minimal investment will make it as easy as possible to make process changes.
I talk a lot about methods of building relationships with our customers in Expensify. We’re keen on doing on-site visits to customers, but that can be too expensive to be worth the time. In my experience managing customers, only a small proportion were close enough for me to visit. So, while on-site trips are expensive and effective, is the only other choice to send emails back and forth?
Not necessarily – why not use videos to engage with customers? Videos can be very quick to create, and can be used to engage in complex topics, while also bringing the emotional engagement that we all crave. With a little practice, you can create short, snappy videos that will make sure that your customers hear and see you.
Wistia, the video hosting company (who are also an Expensify customer), are also deeply invested in using video to engage with their customers. They talk in a lot more detail about why video is so effective at building trust and familiarity in a post that includes both research and tactics.
To get started with making snappy videos to engage with customers, you’ll need:
A list of the points you’d like to cover in the video
A tool to capture your webcam’s video, and record your screen (I like Screenflow)
A quiet location to record your video and audio – check the background for anything peculiar, make sure the lighting isn’t making you look to awful, and try and minimise background noise
Somewhere to host your videos (I like Wistia, who again are an Expensify customer)
So, the next time that you are considering whether to send a lengthy email, or to schedule a live call or on-site, why not consider creating a short video instead? You might find that it’s a really effective way of engaging that customer, and guiding them through a complex topic.
So, here’s a sad truth: your customers don’t care.
They don’t care about your personal life, your individual challenges, and when another customer has been rude to you.
Your customers have the same shit in their lives, and hey, they could be going through far worse.
Cast your mind back to a time where someone was rude to you during a service interaction. How did that feel to you? How did you explain their behaviour?
It sucks, doesn’t it? No one likes it when people don’t treat them with the dignity and respect they think they deserve.
You need to make sure you are not letting your own emotions impact on your customers’ experiences.
That’s the aim here. How do you get there? Here’s some steps that I’ve found useful.
1. If you feel like a customer is being rude to you, take a few minutes before replying. Then, start reading back through the full conversation again, and try and get a better feeling for the customer. One great idea (which I stole from a colleague – thanks Katie!) is to look them up on their company website or LinkedIn. Find a photo of the person you’re emailing, and remember: they are human.
2. If that’s not enough, then pass the conversation to someone else. They won’t have the emotional link to the conversation, and will be able to engage better. This doesn’t have to be an “escalation”; ask a peer to take your place.
3. Before a call with a customer, take some time to take a few deep breaths, ground yourself, and consider your current mood. What do you feel that might impact on how you’re going to work with this customer? What can you do now to reduce the impact of this on your customer?
4. When things get tough and you feel like you’re going to start snapping and being impatient, take a break. There’s always time to step away and do a short meditation. I’m a big fan of Headspace’s SOS meditations for a brief break. You’ll be able to avoid letting your life have a negative impact on your customers.
5. Finally, if you continue to experience challenges with working with one specific customer, talk to your manager or team lead. Passing off to a new primary contact can be a great approach, and can reset the relationship. This allows the new contact to start afresh, and to set their own boundaries.
So, there you go. Remember, this is not about restricting how you can feel. The aim isn’t to prevent you from having powerful and human interactions with customers. The goal here is to make sure that you are having consistent, positive and productive interactions.
While you may know and understand your own company’s values and culture, it’s unlikely that you have spent time trying to understand your customer’s culture and values.
Within Expensify, for example, understanding our culture helps us to make better decisions about our product, recruiting employees, creating our office spaces, and every other area of our business.
And yet, we make recommendations to our customers without understanding their company.
So, try and tease out what their company values, and identify their goals. Do they need to drive down costs, and can you support your customer to see where their money is being spent? Do they place huge value on the language they use, and can you make sure that this is reflected in our product? Do they thrive to create a great new hire experience, and can you support that?
Let’s take an example, shall we? Buffer is a well-known company. Apart from their products, the Buffer is well-known for their radical transparency. They publish their salaries and equity earnings, talk in detail about their processes, and show revenue online.
Buffer became an Expensify customer via a happy coincidence. One of their Happiness Heroes, Dave, joined the London Support Breakfast. After jokingly pitching Expensify (I do this in every cafe), he started using the product as a free user.
We’ve designed Expensify to be sticky, and to have a bottom-up adoption model. With Dave as a free user, Expensify spread to the rest of Buffer, and Dave put me in touch with their finance team. During the setup process, we identified a cost of switching to Expensify.
Before Expensify, the process of getting paid back for spend was: spend money, email the finance team, and get paid back. Archaic af, right? True, but it was also simple. There was a bonus: due to their transparency, the email address acted as a distribution group. So, when you emailed an expense claim in, everyone in the company saw that claim.
The theory was that by being open, Bufferoos were being provided with context on how much they should spend, and what was acceptable. By switching to Expensify, they were losing that transparency, and thus losing a little bit of their culture.
By understanding Buffer’s culture and values, we understood this cost. We can also think through creative solutions to this problem. In this case, there’s a role in Expensify that will allow people read-only access to all reports. By putting all employees in this role, you can give everyone access to all reports. The result is that Buffer can keep their transparency.
Understanding the value of transparency in Buffer allows me to give them a better experience with Expensify. A better experience means more value, and more value means a customer for a longer period of time.
So, take the time to understand your customer’s values and culture. Here are some specific starting questions that you can use:
When new hires start, what is the story that you tell them about your company?
What’s the most important thing for employees to learn about working on your team when they start?
Do you have an underlying and general framework for making decisions that will impact on other employees?
What would you say differentiates between the values at your company, compared with your competitors?
Are there differences in the values that your team has, compared to other teams in your company?
I’ve been building relationships with our customers in Expensify for around 3 years.
It’s been an interesting experience, and one in which I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned from our customers, my colleagues, and my peers in the customer success community (especially the Support Driven Slack community). My experience on the Support Breakfast podcast has shown me the benefits of “thinking out loud”. It’s challenged me to reconsider a lot of the beliefs I’ve held, and improved how I think about support. My aim for this blog is to take a critical look at how I manage customers, and see what works well and what works poorly.
My primary focus is going to be on business-to-business, software-as-a-service (SaaS) relationships with high-value customers. Your mileage may vary, and leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback.
So, onwards! I’ll make my first post pretty general: do’s and don’ts for building and sustaining relationships with your customers.
Here’s a few “don’t”s to get you started:
Don’t forget that your customer deals with more products or services than only yours. Except in the largest of our customers, Expensify is one of a suite of products they use. Stay humble about this, and realise that your customer might not be an expert: that’s your job.
Don’t forget that the person you’re speaking to has their own relationships. They have a boss, and colleagues, and pressures that you’re not aware of. You should take as many opportunities as possible to make them seem like a wizard. So, try and tease out what their company values. Do they need to drive down costs, and can you support your customer to see where their money is going? Does their company place value on the language they use, and can you make sure that your product or service reflects that language? Do they thrive to create a great new hire experience, and can you support that? Find something that will get your customer noticed, and help them do that.
Don’t forget that your customer may have interactions with your colleagues. Let these relationships develop, and don’t try and force your colleagues to use your style.
And here’s some “Do”s :
Do set expectations for what you will and will not do in a work relationship. Be clear, honest, and consistent.
Do set boundaries around communication and availability. Don’t work Wednesday mornings? Highlight that fact early, and suggest how the customer can best work within that boundary.
Do be flexible if the customer expresses concerns over this. If you have have a team, then define a criteria for when you will and will not reassign customers. If you don’t have a team, then consider whether your boundaries are worth losing customers. That’s your choice to make, and be confident in that decision. Explain this to your customer and respect them if they decide to leave as a result.
Ultimately, don’t forget: people pay you money to achieve some aim or goal. People have a destination, and you need to help people get there.
In the case of Expensify, people pay us so that their employees are happier by being paid back faster. You will not have a positive relationship with someone if they’re aren’t getting any value.
As I write this, I’m sitting in Dublin Airport. I’m waiting to go back to London, after an incredible week in Ireland. It’s been exhausting, and frustrating at times, but I could not have handled being away during the final week. Canvassing kept me sane: it gave me the opportunity to talk to people, to listen to their concerns and, in some cases, to change their minds. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’m avoiding any updates from the count, as it’s difficult enough to hold back the tears of joy.
The achievement of Marriage Equality in Ireland is a milestone that, for me and my family, has been decades coming. My involvement really started in November 2006, with the episode of Would You Believe (‘Mums the word’) that documented our family. In that time, I’ve had the privilege to talk about our family, and to describe my experiences, in dozens of interviews, events, academic research and individual conversations. At times, it has felt incredibly frustrating. As I’ve mentioned before, I felt like in every discussion about civil partnership, the Child and Family Relationships Act and Marriage Equality, opponents would talk about me (and people like me), and never with me. That was what culminated in me spending the week in Ireland; I think I would have found it a lot more difficult to sit in my new home in London, instead of being in Dublin surrounded by friends, family, and incredible people.
Bernadette, Ann, Daragh and I are a family. We are small but mightily proud of it, and it’s an incredible feeling to know you have recognised this. I know that my children (should we choose to have any) will not have to fight to have the relationship with their grandparents recognised. I know that my amazing friends now have the option to marry the person they love and build a life and family with them. We have made history, not just in Ireland, but around the world, by being the first country to introduce marriage equality through a popular vote.
I was in the bizarre situation that my relationship with Alana was able to be recognised by marriage at really any point (no matter how brief) in the eight years we’ve been together, but that my parents’ (of 35 years) was not. Today, we have corrected this inequality. That will make my own wedding day far more special, as the institution will no longer exclude the people I love the most.
We will look back at this in years to come, and I hope we’ll be able to forget the difficult parts of the campaign, and remember the amazing moments: The individuals getting involved in any sort of campaign for their first time; the mother who showed me photos of her son’s civil partnership; the man whose sister was getting married in October (and it was purely a case of whether that wedding was taking place at home, or abroad); the man who exclaimed “fuck yes I’m voting yes”.
For those who did get involved for the first time, don’t let this be the last time you get out to talk to people. There are so many ways in which we can make life for people in Ireland and around the world better, and Marriage Equality is just the start.
To round-off, I’d like to thank a long list of people (in no particular order). These are the people who have made life amazing, in a variety of ways.
Alana, who is my best friend. I think we may have run out of excuses for not planning the wedding now.
Ann and Bern, who are the greatest parents I could ever hope for.
Daragh. We are simultaneously so similar, and so different, and I love you for that.
The Mannings and Pendergrasts in Ireland and around the world.
The Farrells, who cajoled Portaloise to get out and vote yes.
My many amazing friends who never blinked twice at me having two mammies (in particular, Michael Pidgeon, who was my canvassing buddy for many days).
Gloria, Dublin’s Lesbian and Gay Choir and my many wonderful gay uncles and lesbian aunties who have been amazing inspirations as they fall in love and start their own families. I can’t name one person without needing to name you all.
Moninne Griffith (I am in awe and admiration at what you can achieve), Andrew Hyland and Grainne Healy of Marriage Equality.
Sandra Gowen, Tiernan Brady, Odhran Allen and Brian Sheehan of GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.
Walter Jayawardene and Mark Kelly of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).
The ICCL, GLEN and Marriage Equality pooled resources to create Yes Equality, which brought us this progress.
Those people who attended the Constitutional Convention in April of 2013, where it was determined to propose this constitutional change, for listening to Claire and myself tell the story of our lives.
My current colleagues in Expensify for allowing me the flexibility in the last week, and my former colleagues in Positive Care Ireland for their support while I still lived in Ireland.
Anna Nolan for starting this journey with the documentary about our family.
Everyone who has invited me to tell my story on TV, radio, newspapers, and blog posts over the years.
All of the people who have invited me to speak at conferences and events, for academic research or other research or projects.
Una Mullally for having the strength to be open about her life in so many ways.
Rory O’Neill, for bringing the character of Panti to life in a way that inspires me so much.
All of the other inspiring young people (children of same-sex couples) who have been involved via Voices of Children, and Irish Elliot who conducted that research.
But most of all, everyone who voted #yesequality. It is exclusively through the aggregate of individual decisions, and actions, that the referendum on marriage equality passed so successfully.
ps: if I haven’t mentioned you explicitly, I love you.