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You Don't Want Happy Customers

engaged customers

Last month I attended a customer success meet-up in Palo Alto, Calif. At the event, there was a lot of discussion about how to “make customers happy.” I left thinking, “Do we really want happy customers?” While happy customers sound like a nice idea, engaged customers are more important to your success.

According to Merriam-Webster, happy means "enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment.” Wouldn’t it be fabulous to create a killer product, deliver it to customers, and then everyone feels happy? The assumption is that happy customers result in all sorts of good outcomes, such as easy implementations, reduced support tickets, and of course less churn. The happy customer theory appeals because it should make your life easier, and that you can be happy as well.

There is a happiness craze, illustrated by the 23,000 books available on Amazon in the 'self-help' genre on the subject of happiness. While the focus of these books is primarily personal happiness, the craze highlights the elusive pursuit of contentedness and well-being in our culture. Yet, aiming for happy customers sets you up for failure. This is because ongoing customer happiness is unattainable and unsustainable.

The definition of engaged is "involved in activity," which is exactly where to focus your efforts. Engaged customers are more successful than happy customers. This is because they attend Webinars and take training. Engaged customers meet their Customer Success Managers (CSMs) regularly. Engaged customers log support tickets because they actually use your product. Engaged customers also complain and challenge you. This is important, because they want you and your product to be better, so they can be better as well.

When I built a CSM program at a company, I reached out to customers to listen to their needs. One of the sales reps told me, “Don’t ask customers that they think, you’ll just open a can of worms.” He was right, but the “can of worms” is customer engagement. Happiness studies reveal that when negative events happen to you, immediate happiness decreases. Yet, despite this decrease, there is an increase in the amount of meaning in your life. This means that negative feedback and stressful interactions are necessary because difficulties and obstacles keep you striving to improve. So, how does this relate to customer success? Those complaining customers are actually good for you. They are engaged, and they challenge you to be better. While happy customers leave you alone, they don’t grow with you. They might be nice and friendly, but they don’t push you to innovate. An internal champion might cheer for you, but they don’t demonstrate the huge impact you have on their success.

You get engaged customers through two methods: design thinking and an orchestrated onboarding journey.

  1. Design thinking. Don’t use hope as a strategy to engage customers, instead, leverage design thinking. Design thinking simply means listening to your customers. Find out what they want and need before you build customer-facing programs and services. Find out what their desired business outcomes are so you can partner to reach them. It is especially valuable to learn from your successful, green accounts. Explore what’s unique about how they implement and use your product. Then, share these best practices with all your customers.

  2. Orchestrated Onboarding. You can’t afford to expect customers to figure your product out on their own. While you might think you want happy customers who leave you alone in those first 90 days, you are wrong. Without guiding and involving customers through a successful onboarding, you might find renewal likelihood dropping to as low as 10%. It’s critical to connect with new customers immediately. Start the relationship right with a handoff call, then guide customers along an orchestrated onboarding journey, which includes milestones, timelines and deliverables to reach in the first 90 days, and to keep your customers accountable.

Stop striving for happy customers. Your harshest critics might actually be your most engaged and loyal customers – and far more valuable than your happiest ones – so dive into those challenging relationships. Partner with customers to innovate and to grow, and leverage challenging encounters to make you both better. Proactively engaging customers with design thinking and an orchestrated onboarding journey leads to both of your success.

Engagement is the sign of a true relationship, and relationships are the key to customer success.



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