How can I help my Customer Success teams engage more proactively with customers? This is a challenge that’s top of mind with many CEOs and VP/Directors of Customer Success. Of course your team needs to respond to customer queries, but when teams engage proactively from the beginning of the customer’s experience it strengthens your role as a trusted adviser.

Here are three practical approaches to help Customer Success teams move toward proactive customer engagement:

1. Teach Customers to Fish

There’s a quote that says “give a man a fish you’ll feed him for a day; teach him to fish you’ll feed him for life.” Your solution is about helping customers do something differently or move toward a desired business outcome. This means doing things differently or changing – changing the way things have been done for years, or maybe always. Lots of people don’t like change, especially if they don’t really understand WIIFM or “what’s in it for me”. And just to keep things interesting, the customer leadership teams who made the decision to bring in a new solution sometimes don’t communicate the new desired outcome to their own internal teams. This means key customer contacts and users that CSMs regularly engage with might not fully understand why they’ve been asked to change.

Helping customers get the most adoption, and the most value, from your offering isn’t just about walking them through the how to’s of using your solution (i.e. giving them the fish). If CSMs can go beyond “how to” and teach the skill that’s behind the feature, they can help your customers adapt and excel at a new way of working. Doing this well is a company-wide effort and CSMs will likely need help and training from product, product marketing, pre-sales or other experts. I’ve seen Sales teams sell features one way and the Success team’s training position them in another way. This can cause confusion and lack of trust with your customer and across your company so it’s important that CSMs get the internal support they need to teach your customers to fish.

2. Ask Questions Differently

As I mentioned above, at times key users aren’t clear what the desired outcome or business value of your offering is. Or maybe they’ve been a customer for a while and that desired outcome has evolved over time. One way to encourage customers to clarify their desired business value is for the CSM to ask questions in a different way.

Q – CSM: Imagine it’s the start of your new fiscal year and you’re reviewing last year for your CEO or leadership team. What would a successful year look like? What would you want to present as proof points that your department knocked it out of the park?

This style of questioning engages customers to think proactively about what success looks like and describe it. Then CSMs can work together, across every interaction, towards new ways of working that will influence or help your customers achieve these goals.

Moving toward proactive behaviors can be especially challenging your CSMs were promoted internally from your Support team, which by its very nature reacts to issues that customers raise. In a support-based model teams are focused on reacting quickly and efficiently to the customer’s problem. Often this is reinforced by internal metrics like TTR (Time To Resolution) and Call Satisfaction. Instead CSMs should understand the underlying business problem the customer is trying to solve and what’s the best approach to accomplish this.

Q – Customer: I’m trying to do “this thing”. I’ve tried all these ways and I can’t figure it out. Does it do “this thing”? This is an especially challenging question if your customer is experienced with and knowledgeable about your offering because they’ve jumped to what they think is the solution.

A1 – CSM: No it doesn’t actually do “this thing”.

Checkmark – the customer’s question was answered promptly and efficiently.

But what if instead of just answering the question that was asked, CSMs asked some of their own questions to better understand what problem the customer was trying to solve and then proactively help them solve it?

A2 – CSM: Can you help me understand why you’re trying to do “this thing”? What problem are you trying to solve?

OK – now that I understand what you want to accomplish, if instead of doing “this thing” you did “that thing” and added “this other thing”, would that get you to your original goal?

Once CSMs understand the underlying issue the customer is trying to address there might be several ways to solve for this – just not the way the customer originally asked about.

3. Prioritize Intentionally

At the beginning of every week I find it’s helpful for CSMs (and me too) to identify the three most important tasks that need to be accomplished and stay focused on completing or moving the ball forward on these as the week progresses. Is it on-boarding a new client, a renewal that’s stalled, preparing the content for a QBR or a customer that’s turned red and is now at risk for churning?

I find it’s best to limit the focus to no more than three priorities – after all, if everything is top priority, nothing is. Set the intention at the beginning of the week. Then take a few minutes at the end of each day to review what actions you took to make progress on completing those tasks or goals. If required, help them to adjust their schedules for the next day or the remainder of the week to give them the time to accomplish the most important tasks.

These are some techniques that have worked for me. Let me know if they’re helpful, and if you have other practical advice that’s helped you engage more proactively I’d love to hear about that too.