• Diana De Jesus

Developing a Consulting Mindset in Customer Success

Updated: Sep 11


The role of a Customer Success Manager (CSM) has at times fallen under the area of consulting. 

If we peel this back, we know that serving as a “trusted advisor” has a lot to do with this but what exactly does a consultant do? 

Chitra Madhwacharyula, the VP of Customer Success & Sales at Joveo built her career in Success through consulting and she sat down with Kristen Hayer over at Strikedeck Radio to talk about the impact that has made on her and her team.  

The details

In this post, we are recapping Episode 78, Chitra Madhwacharyula, Consulting Mindset in Customer Success from the Strikedeck Radio podcast. 

Chitra studied Computer Science and her first job in the US was as a consultant. In this role, she was responsible for understanding customer requirements and setting them up for success by mapping their needs to the product/solutions and helping deliver results and ROI. The term “Customer Success” wasn’t coined at the time––15 years ago––but looking back, she knows her role would’ve been recognized today as a Customer Success function. As the VP of Success & Sales at Joveo, Chitra has grown her team by hiring previous consultants and training her team to take a consultative approach with customers.

Strikedeck is a Customer Success Platform that helps you reduce churn, drive customer trust and loyalty, and maximize your revenue. 

Let’s jump into our three takeaways: 

  1. What does it mean to have a consulting mindset

  2. What skills do consultants have 

  3. How to start being more consultative with your customers 

What does it mean to have a consulting mindset

Given Chitra’s experience and the success she’s had, she’s a big believer in having a consultative mindset & background. With complex products that aren’t “plug and play”, they require advisory and implementation cycles to set customers up for success. Having a consulting mindset becomes extremely valuable and has been something Chitra has recognized. 

Aside from post-sale implementation and advisory, she’s also leveraged her consulting mindset to help convert prospects that are on the fence. In some scenarios, her team has offered the consultative experience early on. She’s done this by conducting a discovery workshop with different stakeholders and then putting together a proposal outlining an execution plan that clearly articulates the customer’s ROI.  

Leveraging her background as a VP 

Chitra operates from a place of confidence and credibility when talking with both business and technology audiences to connect the dots and she owes that to her consulting experience. This has given her an edge when trying to gain credibility. Her previous background has also helped her think holistically when it comes to developing solutions and she gives us an example. 

At a previous company, she served as a strategic CSM. The company built products on its platform and sold them to consumers. During their peak business months, October to December, something unfortunate happened…the platform crashed. Things started spiraling and they began to notice that the customer experience was impacted and that sales were dropping. 

Chitra knew that she had to do something and the first thing on her mind was getting the CEO on a call with customers. By doing this, they let the customers know that they understood their pain and that they were going to resolve the issue. 

The second thing on Chitra’s list was to be proactive in helping her customers. Since it was a platform issue, customers were impacted and some of them considered the platform to house their mission-critical products. She did some research to see how customers were handling the issue. What she found was that some were sending proactive notifications to their customers saying “product isn’t working properly” followed by the next steps. She noticed that with her customers doing this, their customers were not surprised when they went to use the product and found that it didn’t work. So she went back to her wider customer base and said “some of our customers with more mission-critical products are doing this and maybe this is a good idea for you”. She also sent along message samples to help them set up notifications faster. 

This didn’t help solve the problem completely but the customers appreciated this and instead of viewing her and the platform as just a vendor, they considered them partners. After the crash, when they did NPS, they averaged a score of 9 from these customers! These customers lost value (monetary) but they never lost sight of the overall value of the product thanks to Chitra taking on a consultative approach. In the end, you don’t control the technology but you control the experience. 

What skills do consultants have 

These are the consulting skills Chitra outlined in this episode: 

Ramp up quickly – Consultants usually get thrown into situations and have very little time to learn and react. So they need to get an understanding of new products, domains, customer requirements, and pain points quickly. 

Understand what the customer is saying – Consultants need to be able to discern the difference between what the customer is saying and what they actually need. There’s a lot of reading between the lines. 

Asking good questions – Have a big focus on the “whys” and the “whats”. Through questions, a consultant should know what has led the customer to buy and their main motivations or drivers. A consultant should also understand the customer’s culture, history, fears, goals, and who are the main stakeholders and decision-makers. Getting a good understanding of the company can help consultants identify and solve not just their immediate needs but what may be coming in the future.

Attention to detail – Keeping timely records and following up is a big part of a consultant’s role (Chitra has tied in incentives around this piece). 

Problem Solving mindset – Consultants should be able to connect the dots between their offerings and the problem the customer is trying to solve. Here’s an example from her career as a consultant Chitra shared: 

While working with a customer who sold products in the B2C market, she helped launch their new product and it was widely popular. But after one or two months, they realized that people were buying the product but they weren’t really using the cool features that were the main differentiator of their product vs. a much cheaper product. These features were important because users were looking to capture consumer behavior and feature usage and other data points through the use of these features. 

When Chitra asked the customers about what was going on, they told her they were trying to figure things out. Chitra decided to go to the stores where the product was being sold to understand for herself. When she arrived, she asked about the product and the salesperson gave a quick overview. She then asked specific questions about the features that weren’t being used and the salesperson didn’t seem too confident in what they were saying. Through probing, she was able to get the information she needed about the features but in the real world, customers wouldn’t probe the way Chitra did.

The second thing she noticed was that on the packaging of the product, none of the features were called out. Essentially, customers were buying these products but they didn’t have any idea about the new features. After sharing her insights with her customer, they did a recall of all those products and they repackaged them and put them back on the shelves. The point here is the packaging, the marketing and the people on the floor had nothing to do with what her company was selling and were out of the scope of her responsibilities. But when you’re working with your customers and partnering with them, you have to put on your problem-solving hat to help figure out the problem and the solution. 

How to start being more consultative with your customers 

Aside from developing the consulting skills Chitra mentioned, here are some pointers for anyone who wants to start developing a consulting mindset:

  1. A good way to get started is by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when thinking of a problem and how to assess it. Doing this will give you a whole new perspective and approach and overall problem-solving mindset. 

  2. Going a level deeper and asking questions (whats and whys of a situation) and then provide appropriate guidance which is actionable and clear. 

  3. Making sure you document your discussion and share that with your customers for future reference. A lot of people are good at talking and articulating and not so good at documenting. 

Lastly, she recommends taking a Customer Success certification course which can help you develop discovery and problem-solving skills. 

Summary 

  1. “You don’t control the technology but you control the experience“

  2. Developing consulting skills get you closer to become your customers “advisor”

  3. Empathy, asking great questions and documenting discussions help shape your consulting mindset 

Shout outs

Thanks to Strikedeck Radio for hosting Chitra on their podcast! You can go follow them on Twitter. And if you want to hear more from Chitra, follow her on LinkedIn

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE

 

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