Friction can leave a sour taste in a customer’s mouth, which can damage their opinion of your company. They can share that poor opinion within their company, hurting your chances of renewal, or promote it externally and give your solution negative word of mouth.
Additionally, when left unaddressed, friction points can snowball into an avalanche, so it’s important to alleviate them as soon as they arise in order to save your relationship.
Here are five customer friction points to look out for:
1. Goal Alignment
Every customer who bought your product or service did so for a reason. You need to make sure there’s alignment around that purpose on both sides.
Strong alignment around a shared goal can help mitigate other friction points. Alternatively, a lack of goal alignment at the start of an engagement can majorly damage the relationship a customer has with your company.
While goals for what a customer wants to get out of an engagement should be discussed during the sales process, sometimes that information can get lost in the sales-to-service handoff. So, it’s best to always confirm what a customer’s goal is during onboarding or their kickoff.
Additionally, you should also check in on goal alignment periodically throughout the engagement. When you’re checking in for quarterly business reviews or monthly progress reports, ask how the customer feels about your progress toward their goals. If they answer that they don’t think so, that’s an obvious sign of misalignment, but there may also be less obvious issues.
For example, sometimes the lack of goal alignment can be caused by a misunderstanding of what the customer’s challenge is. The challenge that led to them working with your company can just be a symptom of a larger problem, in which case, resolving it won’t help them meet their actual goal.
If you have the realization that you’ve been working toward different goals, you need to take a step back and try to identify what led to this point. This allows you to understand what went wrong, explain that and ensure the same mistake isn’t repeated again.
Then you can recap what progress has been made, find some overlap between what has happened previously in the engagement and the customer’s goal. Finally, move as quickly as possible to take next steps around the customer’s actual goal.
2. Expectation Setting
Sometimes inaccurate expectations were set during the sales process, and other times customers just have ideas for how the engagement will go that they’ve never verbalized. In both cases, this can lead to them feeling like you are letting them down even if on your end, you’re under the impression that you’re accomplishing everything you set out to do.
Because you don’t know what internal discussions are happening within your customers’ companies or what’s going on inside their heads, it can be difficult to identify misaligned expectations.
So, it’s important to proactively communicate about what expectations a customer has. Ask how they feel working with you is going and if you’re meeting their expectations to get a surface-level feel for the situation, and then dive deeper if an issue comes up.
Common missed expectations to look out for include misunderstandings around the timeline, deliverable format, resource availability, active listening and proactive communication level.
If friction does arise due to this, you need to reset expectations. Explain why the customer’s assumptions are unachievable, what can be realistically accomplished and what you’ll be doing to solve the issue moving forward. While this can be a tough-level setting meeting to have, at the end of the day, you’re both here to solve a problem and you need to be on the same page in order to do that successfully.
3. Executive Buy-in
When you’re in the middle of a project, wrapping up a strategy or approaching a renewal sometimes doubts can arise within the customer’s organization about how much value you’re providing. This can be particularly common when your primary point of contact is an influencer as opposed to the ultimate decision-maker.
When you’re approaching a renewal for which the end decision-maker is someone you don’t really work with, it’s important to arm the influencer you do work with with as much information as possible. You want to try and make the process seamless so the decision-maker can easily understand what’s been accomplished so far and what value can be obtained from continuing to work together.
Make sure everyone involved understands the renewal process, and when you’re sending written documents like contracts, send video walkthroughs explaining the key points so you can prevent your value propositions from getting lost in translation.
Additionally, make sure you’ve identified a communication channel for if there are questions or concerns, whether that’s an email address, a phone number or a meetings link. You want to be able to respond rapidly to anything and keep your point of contact looped in so they can support you from within the organization.
4. Customer Reorganization
When things like mergers, company acquisitions, or points of contact changing jobs occur, your relationship with your customer changes, and that can cause friction.
Your response plan will vary depending on how far into the engagement you are and the circumstances of the reorganization, but in general, you want to prove your value to any new stakeholders as quickly as possible.
For example, if you get a new point of contact as you’re approaching a renewal, you want to understand what the goals of that new point of contact are as soon as you can, and then work within the confines of your contract to help them achieve those goals.
In the case of a merger or acquisition where many new stakeholders might get involved at once, meet with all new team members the first opportunity you get. Level set, explain what’s been done, review the terms of your engagement and explain how you can help them.
With new stakeholders, you also need to keep in mind that they weren’t involved in the sales process with your company, so they may not be familiar with the breadth of what your product or services can accomplish. Gauge their familiarity with your offering and customize your response to their understanding.
If they’ve worked with offerings like yours in the past, you can provide them with educational resources about your solutions’ differentiators and inform them of recent updates they may not have heard about. If they aren’t familiar, you can offer personalized training about how to leverage your product or service.
If you don’t understand what kind of budgetary restrictions a customer is working with, you could end up proposing upgrades they can’t afford or counting on renewals that are unlikely to happen.
Discussing budget requires nuance and sensitivity. You should never make assumptions about their ability to renew or increase the scope of their engagement.
Some good questions to ask to understand a customer’s budget include:
- What’s your fiscal calendar?
- When does your company do financial planning?
- What’s your annual budget or monthly budget?
- Who has decision-making authority over your budget?
- How does our solution fit into your budget?
If you have a good relationship with your point of contact, you might be able to ask all those questions upfront. However, in some cases, you may need to ease into the conversation.
Once you do understand the budget, you can ensure all contract proposals you present are within your customers’ financial restrictions and know when discounts are actually needed to secure a renewal.
Throughout the entirety of an engagement with a customer, you should strive to be as transparent and communicative as possible.
When your customers trust you, it’ll make for a better partnership between their company and yours. Plus that trust will increase the likelihood of you being made aware of friction points emerging before they become true issues.
Everett is a Principle Growth Advisor at New Breed. With over 5 years on New Breed's Service team, Everett brings a Strategist's mindset to helping New Breed's prospects with their ideal growth plan to scale effectively.