If you are in the business of customer success, then you are actually in the business of communication. And that too, communication of all size and type.
As CSMs, we communicate with the C-suite, to our teams, to our customers, to communities and also external stakeholders. The conversations vary from Informal, formal, churn, renewals, good news, bad news, customer escalations and more. We rally our teams to hold amidst tough situations, while keeping our management happy with our performance - of which communication is a critical piece.
More than anyone else, a CSM is actually in the business of communication. I will use the Westley and Maclean model of communication as a reference and explain from there.
Let us explore all seven aspects of communication- Context, sender, receiver, GateKeeper, Feedback, Medium/Sensory experience, Cultural background of sender and receiver.
The first aspect of communication, which is the "environmental factor" or the very reason why a message is being created in the first place and what is the context. In communication, we need to be cognizant of the background or what we call the context before communication.
Now, in proactive communication styles, and with most influential speakers, they will control "not the message"but the "context". Before communicating the message, they will shift the narrative and the mindset to a place which is favorable for them.
To illustrate this with a very simple example go through this example below where a very clear CSM, communicates a bad news by clearly transporting the customer to a different and favorable mindset before the message delivery.
CSM: We have been delivering multiple custom features as per the request of your organization. We are a company that places emphasis on flexibility over rigidity and speed of innovation over process, as you will agree.
Customer: Yes, that is true. We have been having many ad-hoc and high priority unplanned requirements that come in, which also needs support from your product. We appreciate your expediting the release of such features on time.
CSM: Thank you. At the same time, one of our main release has taken a hit in timeline because of some such disruptions. I hope to bridge that gap, but that is where we stand today.
Customer: Oh, that is going to have an impact. But, given you have unblocked us on some critical features, this is fine.
What could have been a massive escalation of missing a major release, the situation was diffused by putting in the right context.
Set the context, influence the mindset, then communicate.
Let us focus on the second aspect of the communication, which is the sender.
If you closely observe this, in important conversations, the sender and the receiver both become a critical part of the communication.
The person that creates a message is as critical as every other factor.
Would you deliver a QBR ppt with a junior executive?
Would you deliver project updates thro a CEO?
The person that creates the message has a direct correlation on the importance/priority of the message and how it is perceived.
As a CSM, choose the right person for the right messages to get the desired results.
3. THE RECEIVER
Let us take a look at the third aspect of communication, the receiver.
Why is this aspect critical? Sending a critical message to the right person, and have them deliver the message to the rest of the internal organization, is a key element to winning.
People come with varying personalities. Some have a critical understanding of the emotions that run inside an organization, know the power play and convey it in a way that has some actionable outcome. A few others, can communicate in such a wrong fashion, that it becomes a massive escalation when it should not have been.
When communicating critical updates, or critical developments, convey to the right stakeholders.
4. The Gatekeeper.
In a business e-mail, or casual business conversations, there are no Gatekeepers. Nobody moderates what you say.
But, in mass communication, such as:
A Public announcement to shareholders
A corporate announcement to all employees
A political debate
A blog or article moderated by the medium (such as linkedin, medium, twitter,facebook, YouTube)
there is moderation.
Provocative content, content that causes distress, are generally taken down.
The moderators veil extraordinary power. Some famous celebrities were taken off mediums even though they commanded top offices.
Be sensitive to their power. Respect what they can do to your content and overall success. And never create content that is controversial simply to attain short term fame.
Always leverage the services of an excellent moderator when you do create content. They will help a long way.
5. Sensory Experience.
Let us look at an important aspect of communication, which is the sensory experience, usually decided by the medium used in communicating. How do you deliver the message?
This is where the context plays a huge role. For example, have you ever enjoyed a comedy series where you are not visually watching someone perform? The body language and expressions play a huge role in getting someone to laugh.
Can you imagine delivering a compelling political speech over email with audience not viewing you live?
On the other hand, do you need a big stage to deliver project updates?
So, the choice of medium has massive massive impact beyond just the message itself.
So the next time you need to deliver on a critical message, think of the following:
1) In person or over digital media?
2) Video or just audio?
3) Email or Phone call?
4) Formal or Informal?
5) Tone of the message - Serious, Light, Fun, Creative, Urgent?
When choosing the sensory format, always assess how best to create the maximum (RIGHT) impact. Choosing a wrong medium could create the absolutely wrong sensory impact and could ruin the purpose.
Remember, human beings are just as much driven by senses as they are by logic/brain.
6. Cultural Orientation.
A message can lose significance and impact, when delivered to the wrong audience. People are prisoners of their cultural upbringing and the values of the family/society/country they are from.
In his book "No Rules Rules" by Reed Hastings, he calls out how Netflix went above and beyond understanding how different cultures interpret, and respond to messages and how the entire communication system of Netflix was built around that core understanding.
This is one of the best unkept secrets of communication.
Do not let out the words as they come out of your brain. Take a moment, pause and craft the message in a way that best resonates with the culture of the audience. Understand Cultures.
This approach is extremely critical in business & political communications. One of the best investments to make is to understand various geographical cultures and play to it, as you rise and scale as a global leader.
If interested, please read further in this article:
And now the last one, FEEDBACK:
All six aspects of communication improve with feedback. Feedback is the current that keeps communication relevant, impactful and to achieve the exact desired outcome.