A couple years ago I read an article called Shields Down describing how people don’t quit the day they resign, they resigned their post a long time ago. It’s when they became vulnerable, when their shields went down that they were open to something new, something different—perhaps where the grass appeared greener.
I was caught juxtaposing that against Customer Success. The concept of Shields Down is true with customers, too. Our customers don’t quit the day they call to cancel, they already decided they were done a long, long time ago.
It’s sometimes really hard to know when someone may be canceling. Heck, they may even be in the product every single day—but that may be just to export all the data. We tend to forget the customer’s story in which:
- They weren’t using your product
- Found your product/service
- Got excited
- Dove in—sort of
- Got lost, confused, or delayed
- Slowed toward ambivalence
- Told themselves they would work on it next week, and
- Finally decided to cut the cord
Let’s abbreviate that to four steps:
- Found your product or service
- Got excited
- Didn’t engage
Why? Because we don’t see where they stopped caring or became apathetic. Think about this: our CRM tell us when we get a new lead, when we’ve determined them as a qualified lead, when we have great conversations to assign a probability of closing, expected close date, sign up date, and onboarding period. But really we lack the apathy-meter. This is for two reasons, 1) there’s much less money in this process than sales and 2) it’s really, really, really difficult to measure this stuff.
The former is changing quickly. So is the second, but to a lesser degree (I invite challenges and arguments. I would love to hear your thoughts!). See, there are health scores. There are ways to quantitatively measure how much a person is using your SaaS product. Heck, that’s often a proxy for delight. Many times these approaches give us a slight early warning system on someone about to pull the ripcord. However, all of those fail because we’re looking at the psychology of people. People make decisions and many times what looks one way for one person will be similar to another. Even if we can get to the point of solving 80-90% of this for our customers there is still one unaddressed piece.
If I want to keep people on my team, I must think about what to do today to ensure they want to stay here. The decisions teammates make today are not what I may have said earlier this morning or yesterday afternoon, but a cumulation of things from months ago, weeks ago, days ago, and yesterday.
This is cultivation. I love metaphors so let us look through a farmer’s lens.
Like a garden, vineyard, or orchard, we perform actions today not to pick fruit tomorrow, but in an entirely different season. Two years ago I planted two apple trees, two peach trees, and a pomegranate tree. I may get fruit next year. But I expect five full years of growing, nurturing, water, and feeding (compost & fertilizing) before I get a return on my investment. What if I didn’t water a tree today? It would probably survive. At least, for now. But when I forget it for a few weeks (let’s say I was “busy”) I may find it either dead or severely drought-inflicted. There’s a chance I can revive it and bring it back to life, but it’ll still be scared and stunted. I’ll have to be extra careful for the next while to make sure it has plenty of water, and that it hasn’t been afflicted by disease or attacked by vermin or insects. Since it’s especially weak, it’s quite prone to attacks. In effect, shields down.
There are many parallels between cultivating plants and cultivating teammates. But one nice thing about plants and trees is that while they may wilt, they can’t exactly get up and leave. But people can. So whether you’re leading a team or in a team, keep in mind that the actions of today often bear fruit somewhere down the road. Sure, something radical may cause someone to leave today, but people have some level of patience and forgiveness. But after a while, they’ll say “enough is enough.”
Some of our favorite ways of learning about our teammates are through are one-on-ones, performance reviews, and making sure we have an environment that promotes communication, sharing, aligned goals, and a desire and ability to achieve and tackle challenges. No matter what: listen. And not the fake listen, but truly listen—we know when you’re faking it. You’re only fooling yourself.
I hope we can watch our own shields, but also remember to make time to ask about our teammates’ shields. Because otherwise we will be surprised when we get that resignation letter—from the customer or teammate—and neither is fun.