Getting started with building and sustaining relationships with your customers

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.
What do I know about relationships?
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 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.
Mario eating a mushroom
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.

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