And as the vendor you can either ignore the phenomenon and let customers fend for themselves and maybe not achieve the desired outcome – at which point they’ll blame you – or you can take the initiative to try to help them with a bridge for that success gap.
You can do that by bringing in experts, providing content, giving discounts on third-party courses, or building those bridges into the product.
But at some point you also need to let the customers know that they are accountable for some portion of the results.
In fact, one of the things we have to do as part of an operationalized Customer Success initiative is to tell the customer what they need to hear – not what they want to hear – so they do the right thing.
Which means we have to be realistic with our customers about what is on their plate – and what is on our plate – and who’s ultimately responsible for the success of the customer.
This is called Customer Accountability and it’s the missing piece in your Customer Success strategy.
Customers Blame you… Even if that’s Not Fair
While I’ve applied this thinking to SaaS companies I’ve worked with – as well as non-SaaS technology and professional services firms – I actually learned this lesson several years ago when my mom called me… she was crying.
My mom is a personal trainer and one of her clients came in to the gym one day and yelled at her in front of her other clients and the members of the gym.
This client was mad because she hadn’t lost the weight she wanted to and wasn’t going to be able to fit into her dress for her daughter’s wedding.
The client said some choice words, said she was going to tell everybody about how awful of a trainer my mom was and how she just takes people’s money and doesn’t produce results, and then stormed out and slammed the door for good measure.
The worst part for me is that my mom really cares about her clients – like actually cares – so this was particularly devastating to her on a personal level.
So she called me and wanted to talk about how she can be sure this type of thing never happens again.
And let me be clear… she wasn’t even saying “hey, how can I stop churn? How can I keep my customer so that I can continue to have the revenue?” or anything like that. No, she was 100% focused on just making sure that something that negative doesn’t ever happen again.
Of course later on – after she’d calmed down – the realities of lost revenue and potential negative sentiment being spread in the market sunk in; but at first it was really just about “how can I make sure that the client doesn’t have such a negative feeling if they don’t reach their goal.
Or, as she said “how can I keep them from blaming me when it was their own fault!”
Wait… what? Let’s explore that.
The Other 165 Hours
I thought about it for second and I asked her how many hours a week she spent with that client.
My mom said that client came into the gym three times per week. Every session was 1-hour.
So I did some quick time math; seven days a week times 24 hours a day equals 168 hours in a week.
And she spends 3 hours in the gym with a trainer.
That means she’s on her own with all the temptations in the world – the food, the booze, cigarettes, and the sedentary lifestyle – 165 hours per week!
She is literally on her own 55x longer than she is with my mom or a trainer each week.
Which means, if she works out perfectly for each of the three 1-hour sessions, follows every direction in the gym, does every exercise perfectly, keeps her heart rate at the appropriate level the entire time, and burns the right amount of calories during the session, that she can still be completely offset by what happens during the massive amount of time that she’s on her own.
This is so obvious, right? But it wasn’t to my mom who spends 60+ hours a week in the gym and had to be reminded that people still eat at McDonald’s. Sometimes when you’re so deeply involved in something you forget other normal people aren’t.
This, my friend, is a success gap. A big one.
It’s a huge accountability gap as well.
Customer Accountability Gap
Like I said in my introduction to the Success Gap, when your customers functionally use your product completely and still don’t achieve their Desired Outcome, they will blame you.
And my mom saw that firsthand with her business; to some extent, this exists in every business that has customers.
But how could we fix this for my mom’s personal training business? Actually, it was a very simple fix: a lifestyle diary.
When clients sign-up and go through onboarding for Personal Training – they are given a journal right then and are instructed to document everything they eat, how much water they drink, anything else they drink including alcohol, how many cigarettes or other things they smoke, how much time they spent sitting watching TV or doing other sedentary things; they’re instructed to keep track of all of that.
The clients are told to bring that in for their first session of the week and my mom or their trainer will go over it make sure they’re on the right track.
The clients are told “you’re with us 3 hours per week and on your own the other 165 hours; in order to achieve the goals you’ve set, you have to follow the eating and activity plan you’ve agreed to. If you don’t, it is very likely you won’t reach your goals. Fair enough?”
Boom! Burden successfully placed back on the client.
She tells them she’s there to support them and to call if they are tempted by something, she’ll give them recipes and resources, and generally point them in the right direction… but ultimately it’s up to them. And they agree to that.
There are joint accountabilities in every business relationship and it’s critical that those are clearly defined and assigned. If they are not, you can’t be surprised when one doesn’t hold up their end… they either didn’t know it was on them or did, but no one was holding them accountable.
Your Customer’s Success is Your Business
Your clients and customers chose to do business with you because they have a Desired Outcome and for some reason believe you can help them achieve that. If you can’t actually help them achieve that, then you shouldn’t do business with them.
But if you can, it is up to you to do whatever it takes to make them successful; but that doesn’t mean taking it all on. Part of doing “whatever it takes” is pushing back on the customer to hold up their end… to keep them accountable for what they need to do.
Maybe they can buy their way to a higher-level of support where you do that for them – maybe my mom could create a personal chef service to shop and cook the meals for her clients; you could offer professional services, concierge onboarding, done-for-you or managed services, etc. – but if customers opt to not have you do everything for them, then they need to know that in order to achieve their Desired Outcome, the things they’re agreeing to do has to actually be done.
In my mom’s business, those clients that fill out their diaries tend to get good results while those that don’t fill it out tend not to. But even those that don’t do what they need to do understand that it’s not my mom’s fault and they take ownership and accountability that they’re not achieving the desired outcome.
And the food and activity journal is a legitimate way now to work them towards their Desired Outcome by knowing that they’re not doing the things outside of their time in the gym that they need to be doing.
Customer Accountability is Powerful
Since implementing this accountability practice in her business, no one has accused my mom of not delivering value and stormed off on the way that other lady did.
Unavoidable churn like financial issues still exist so churn isn’t zero, but avoidable churn has gone down significantly and negative sentiment has gone down completely.
Customer success is not about doing everything and anything to help your customer be successful; sometimes it’s about ensuring your customers know where they fit in and holding them accountable.
You have to recognize the success gap you have and do what you can to bridge it, but know that there are things you can’t do because they’re totally in the control of your customer; when that’s the case you have to hold your customer accountable.
By the way, your customers really appreciate that because they know what it takes, they know what the reality is, and this process puts it all out on the table and helps them help you help them.