As I clicked End Call on my phone, I sat gob smacked thinking about what a vendor’s customer service representative had just told me: “Well ma’am, you should know what we need from you when you order. Hopefully now you’ll know what to do in the future.”

I had called to get clarification on what caused a shipping issue and was told if I had included the company name, there wouldn’t have been a problem. After I suggested adding that requirement into the order process, the rep shrugged (yes, I could hear it through the phone) and said I should have known.

This is an extreme example. It’s almost comical how poor the rep was at helping me solve my issue. It’s a case study into how not to be terrible at customer service.

What’s not extreme about this example – I would argue it’s actually fairly common – was the failure to explain what was needed by me as a customer to help the transaction.

To reiterate: the vendor knew a company name would have almost guaranteed a hassle free purchase, but didn’t give me that information until after there was an issue. It would have been impossible for the vendor to add those company names into my order. That was my job. But they forgot to publicize my job.

Are you telling your customers from the start what their jobs are?

Give Your Customer a Job

I recently purchased custom Salesforce development from Eide Bailly. (They acquired Kyazma, a firm specialized in Salesforce development.) During the purchase process, the sales rep shared this slide with me:

Notice the “jobs” the rep gave me (Primary Intelligence) at the bottom of the slide. He confirmed that I would be able to meet the responsibilities and asked if there is anything else I would add to either of our lists (ie: he gained buy-in from me).

As we later discussed my tight deadline, the rep reminded me the delivery date would be influenced by my ability to fulfill one of my jobs: timely decisions. Because the expectations were clear from the start and I had verbally committed, this was an easy discussion. I understood my role and how it contributed to the overall project success.

Customer Jobs Create a Frictionless Experience

There are few B2B products that allow for passive customers. Can you imagine trying to install software for a company when the IT manager never calls you back? Or meeting your billable hours quota when the buyer forgot to tell the rest of the company your service was available? A true customer:vendor partnership is a dance you can’t do alone.

And yet, there is an aversion to asking the customer to make commitments. We hesitate to burden customers, let alone sales prospects.

The buzzword in customer experience research is “frictionless.” Your process should make it easy for your customers to buy by removing obstacles.

There is a misconception that frictionless means you can’t ask your customer to do anything. Not so. A frictionless experience requires giving customers all the information they need when they need it, including what their role will be as your customer. Notice item four, Trustability, in this explanation of a frictionless customer experience by expert Don Peppers:

“Trustable customer experience is one in which the customer knows the company provides complete, accurate and objective information, and will help the customer avoid mistakes or oversights.”

You need your customers to participate. Being coy about those expectations may earn you the first contract, but it certainly won’t earn you recurring business. It also will certainly not earn you the full planned revenue from that customer, also known as customer revenue leakage.

A Call to Action: Defining and Implementing Customer Jobs

Run through your sales process in your mind. Are you currently doing anything to explain customer expectations? (And no, the fine print in a contract doesn’t count. No one reads it except lawyers.) If the answer is no, today is your day to take action.

Step 1: Determine what you need from customers to succeed

Start by reviewing any available customer experience feedback. For example, if you are collecting NPS scores or customer insights, use the findings to identify your best customers and weakest customers by spend and engagement. Comb through the feedback to identify what jobs clients are specifically doing. Pull out jobs strong customers are doing that weak customers are not. (If they are both doing a job, you know it doesn’t help drive results so is not essential.)

Next, talk to your account managers, sales reps, and anyone else customer facing. Ask about what their strongest customers do that they wished all customers did. Add their feedback to your list and then vet the full list with them. The goal is to come up with a list of 5 to 8 customer jobs for each of your product lines.

Here are a few examples of what this might look like for the customer of a software product.

  • Annually: provide company’s strategic plan
  • Quarterly: participate in account review meetings
  • Monthly: attend “train the trainer” sessions
  • Monthly: review new product release notes and communicate enhancements to other users
  • Weekly: set up credentials for new employees within 48 hours
  • Weekly: be responsive to emails and meeting requests
  • Within 3 months of implementation: learn the administrative features in the software tool to the “intermediate” level

Step 2: Train the sales team on how to explain customer jobs

The list is great, but execution is key. Your sales reps need coaching on how to explain the commitment during the sales process. Your account managers need coaching on how to earn on-going commitment once they become a customer. The coaching will be specific to your product and market, but here are three insights from our research to guide your coaching:

  1. A mutual commitment is always stronger – be sure to detail your role and commitments first.
  2. People like proven solutions – explaining why the listed jobs are a best practice and how they have benefited other successful clients can go a long way.
  3. Action is easier when you start small – a long list may cause “action paralysis” so share the essentials and then build to the great-but-not-essential elements.

Step 3: Add the “ask” into early sales collateral

Create collateral that details your responsibilities and the customer responsibilities in an editable format so that sales reps can tailor it for each deal and product line.

The details likely belong in multiple pieces of sales collateral, and certainly should be included in collateral that is shared early in the sales funnel. (This is not a surprise to roll out during contract negotiations.) When you are clear with your customers early on, you gain “buy in” that is the seed of commitment you want from any good prospect.

Remember though about overwhelming the prospects with too many commitments at first. You may want to outline basic jobs at the beginning and add to the list in collateral used further down the sales pipeline once their commitment is solid.

The other reason to include it in early sales collateral is to help weed out poor fit prospects. If a prospect is excited about your product but is unable to commit IT resources for implementation, is this a deal you should really pursue? It sounds like a prospect not yet ready to buy who needs drip nurturing until the pain is severe enough that resource commitment is a non-issue.

Step 4: Follow up

Follow up rescues you from an “almost there” outcome. It turns good ideas into great outcomes.

Listen in on sales calls – how are customers responding to their jobs? Check in on customer experience feedback – are customers mentioning their requirements? Talk to your internal teams – what would they refine with the list or the approach?

Commit to helping your customers understand their role today. It’s important.