06.30.20168 min read

Is Your Customer Success Team Minding the Relationship Gaps? 3 Factors to Watch

According to a recent article on Theorem, “Consumer researchers say many companies don’t understand customer relationships and manage them unevenly, which leads to problems that damage the long-term relationship with customers.”

Relational intelligence

The authors of a Harvard Business Review research report entitled "Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships" say that many company employees lack relational intelligence, meaning that they do not fully understand and adapt to “the variety of relationships customers can have with a firm and don’t know how to reinforce or change those connections.” In fact, in the research analysis of consumer relationships within the United States across, more than 200 brands in 11 industries, the authors identified 29 distinct types of relationships.

Understand the true relationship status

As customer success teams know all too well, relationship types can be positive or negative, distant or intimate, and intense or weak, communicative or noncommunicative, and so on. Your CSM team has customers with various needs that may even change on a daily or weekly basis.

Before companies can improve how they engage with customers—both existing and prospective ones—they need to understand their customers, but most importantly, need to understand their behavior patterns. What if the customer isn’t happy—how will your CSM know? What do they really think about your product or service? Would they tell your CSM or an executive if they weren’t happy?

Three factors to mind the relationship gap

Customer success teams should monitor the following three factors of each customer relationship carefully in order to determine if a relationship gap could exist between what appears to be true and what actually is true.

Here are three factors to consider to eliminate relationship gaps:

1. The customer—what do they think about the product?

While it may seem to be the most obvious sign, often times the straightforward questions of “what do you think of the product or service?” or “how could we improve upon your experience with our company?” go unasked. A CSM might assume that if a customer is responding to them and is engaged in the relationship, they are happy with the product or service. Make sure you truly understand where the customer stands with the value and ROI of your product/service.

Mind the gap: Just because a customer responds quickly and has a good relationship with the CSM doesn’t mean that they are necessarily happy with the product or service. For example, the customer may have KPIs or goals directly tied to the success of your product or service in their organization or department, so the customer will respond and will be engaged because their own success depends on it. But are there aspects of the product or service that could be improved? Without asking the customer (or multiple stakeholders across the company), this could be a missed opportunity that could create relationship risk—a gap.

2. Product usage—are they using the product or service? How much?

Monitoring product usage is a strategy customer success teams use to gauge product engagement, stickiness, and indication of value. Product usage helps your customer success managers know how often clients are logging into your product or using your service, how engaged the users are in your product, how many team members are using your product, and so on. These usage metrics are incredibly helpful indicators of how the relationship is going.

Product usage is an incredible indicator of not only how effective your product or service is to the customer, but also how “sticky” your product is to the customer organization. For instance, if a customer is using your product daily and has hundreds of users engaged in frequent activity, then it’s more difficult for them to transition vendors.

Mind the gap: While product usage paints a great story of engagement, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. What if your product or service is absolutely fundamental to the company’s success? If it is, then they really have no choice but to use it. For example, a CRM is critical to a sales team. If your company sells a CRM product, your customers will use it—period. But what is the rest of the story? How much value is the product driving?

3. The CSM—the CSM’s relationship with the customer

CSMs that are in-tune with customers are able to ask straightforward questions because they have built a rapport of trust with their customer. In turn, when a customer has a problem or needs assistance, they look to the CSM for guidance or help. The CSM’s personal relationship with the customer—both the day-to-day contacts as well as other stakeholders—can either be incredibly beneficial to understanding the customer needs or can be misleading if the relationship isn’t strong.

Mind the gap: While a CSM with strong customer rapport and a solid foundation across the entire organization is able to ask straightforward questions, what about CSMs they don’t have that relationship? Will customers be honest in their reply or will they be wary of how the CSM will respond? Has the customer and the CSM been working together long enough that trust exists between both parties?

The relationship gap model and three example scenarios

The relationship gap model takes the three factors above and places them on a scale of customer happiness. The goal is that your CSM team works to eliminate the gaps that may occur between the perceived happiness of your clients, your product, and CSMs. The diagram below is an example of a strong customer relationship with satisfaction and happiness located on the left of the scale for each of the three factors.


Download Image

Because a customer relationship is constantly in motion and satisfaction, I’ve provided three scenarios that highlight how relationship gaps may occur and how using the relationship gap model will help your CSM team develop a strong game plan to decrease the gaps.

Scenario 1


Download Image

Scenario 1: Your customer says they are happy with your product, but their product usage is down. Even though they tell your CSM they are happy with your product. There is a relationship gap. The next actions and strategies of the CSM should be to understand why they are not using the product. This will help to shorten the relationship gap and decrease risk.

Scenario 2


Download Image

Scenario 2: Your customer is using the core sticky features of your product. You find out after a phone call that your product is not meeting the needs of your customer. Now your CSM also knows the status of the relationship. There is a gap and the next actions should be to understand your customers' challenges and resolve their concerns.

Scenario 3


Download Image

Scenario 3: You customer is using your product. Your CSM feels like they are happy with your product and service. This same client just responded poorly to an NPS survey. What’s next? There is definitely a gap. Time to dive in and seek understanding.

You’ll find many more scenarios as you use the three factors and happiness scales of the relationship gap model. Using this simple model your CSM team can navigate and build strong relationships with your customer base.

Is your CSM team minding the relationship gap?

The best way to identify relationship gaps with customers is to build transparency throughout the entire customer lifecycle. If a customer feels confident in the relationship and knows that the CSM is looking out for their company’s best interest, then the customer is much more likely to be open in their dialogue about what’s working and what could be improved. The transparency between the customer and the CSM is critical for long-term success, so how are you equipping your customer success team with the tools they need to beware of the potential relationship gaps?

This article originally appeared in The ClientSuccess Customer Success Blog.

This article was written by Burke Alder from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Customer Surveys - Download Now
Was this post helpful?
Created with Sketch.
Infusionsoft cornerstone spinner
close button
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

5 Reasons to Subscribe:

1. Weekly tips to dominate sales and marketing

At our core, we're focused on helping you become a sales and marketing machine. We tap into the genius of the best salesfolks and marketers out there to give you daily tips to grow your leads, make more sales, and keep more customers.

2. Expert small business resources that cost you zero dollars

Want to go deep? We have you covered with free guides, webinars, and tools on a range of topics from marketing automation, CRM, and digital marketing to building sales and marketing strategies from the ground up. All for free. All for you.

3. We're focused 100 percent on small business success

We exist for one reason: helping small businesses succeed. We give you the ideas and insights you need to blow the competition out of the water. We serve business owners who are hungry to put in the hard work to grow their business and own the market.

4. We do the work for you

Running a small business is a 110 percent endeavor. You don't have time to surf Internet for the best small business insights and ideas out there. We'll do that for you with the best original content from our team and from industry experts and small business owners.

5. But wait, there's more!

Small business success means more than just sales and marketing, so we also hit on a range of topics to help your small business thrive, including personal and business growth, customer service, and business management.

6. Righteous GIFs

OK, we said five reasons, but we like to overdeliver...and GIFs. We really like GIFs. You're bound to see some righteous ones.

GIF of Ferris Bueler principal's assistant

P.S. We'll never give out your information. We'll only use it to send you awesome content and resources, if you're cool with that.