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 email@example.com 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.
So, the big news in the Farrell-Pendergrast household is that I resigned from Positive Care Ireland and Resiflex a few weeks ago. I’ve been keeping it quiet until we had some more details nailed-down, but it’s all set now and my last day is Friday August 8th.
The primary motivation for this is that I’ve been working in the same place, with the same wonderful people, for more or less 7 years now and decided it was time to get out and about a little bit and see a little more of the world.
I was really pleased to be offered a position as a ‘salesperson extraordinaire’ (their words!) with Expensify a few weeks ago, which I happily accepted. My start date is 11th August. I’ve been using Expensify for a little over two years, to help to manage my company expenses in PCI and Resiflex, and I really look forward to the opportunity to work with them (they’ve been absolutely lovely so far).
My first month with Expensify will be based in the US of A, mostly in San Francisco. If that’s where you are, email me and we’ll grab a drink some time. My second month with Expensify will be spent in Portugal, which I’m really looking forward to (same offer of emailing me if that’s where you are). I spent two weeks there about 7 years ago and really enjoyed it. After that, I’m back to London full-time.
It’s been an incredible adventure over the last 7 years, and huge thanks to everyone in Positive Care Ireland and Resiflex for making it so great.