We don’t talk about customer success enough when we mention 'women in revenue'.
Kate has a unique background that gives her an edge when it comes to working closely with customers. She has worked in various industries like music journalism, sales, hospitality, an agency, and currently in SaaS.
Her work experience and unique background has enabled her to become an expert at handling tough conversations and managing angry customers. From the very start of this interview, she brought knowledge and experience - even down to her walk-up song choice.
Stevie Nicks’ “Talk to Me” is a fitting choice for someone on the customer experience side of things, and the specific line Kate chose set the tone for the entire conversation:
We got right into the meat of the conversation with Kate’s perspective on what a successful relationship with customers should look like. She suggests that whether you are walking into an existing system or starting from scratch, the root of a good customer relationship starts with understanding them.
This doesn’t mean having weekly calls or QBRs: it means you must find out why they actually decided to purchase your software and what they plan to do with it.
While many know that the best place to start is by simply talking to your customers, it’s more than that. Kate suggests focusing on research.
It’s important to do research on every person in the conversation (and even those who aren’t present). You must understand how to make every single person successful.
My Co-Host, Katrine Reddin, asked a great question during our conversation about what good research looks like, and Kate was full of actionable advice:
Beyond the importance of research and going into every conversation armed with as much information as possible, Kate has a lot of experience when those conversations don’t start positively.
“I love angry customers” says Kate.
Kate sees angry customers as a huge opportunity. When customers are actually voicing their anger with your product, they are actually engaged and using it. Leaning into curiosity and empathy is the best way to handle the conversation.
The rest depends on the situation and the resources you have available to fix the problem. It’s important to put their entire experience with your company into context.
The best advice Kate has to offer in these situations is not to take their anger personally and to maintain your curiosity. In her experience, making it a point to ask them for their perspective allows them to feel heard, which often diffuses the situation.
Sometimes the reasons customers are so upset is because they fear their own reputation and have put their careers on the line to implement a tool. There is usually a much deeper reason for anger.
One of my favorite parts of this interview was Kate’s reflection on her angriest customer ever.
She reflects on how the problem this customer came in yelling about wasn’t actually the real problem. With empathy and understanding, Kate not only understood her problem, but was transparent and honest about what the product could and couldn’t do.
By understanding the real reason this customer was upset, they were able to find a solution together. As a result, the customer ended up renewing, upgrading their contract, and even asking to continue to work with Kate by name (despite the fact she was leaving on her maternity leave for 4 months).
So how does one stay calm in the face of irate customers?
If you have to mute yourself, mute yourself. Sometimes people are looking to vent, and if they feel heard, they’ll be more likely to cool off.
Of course if the situation becomes too uncomfortable, the suggestion is to step away and protect yourself - but active listening, empathy and curiosity will take you a long way.
Kate is a big fan of walking the walk: and to build a customer success team, she loves situational questions to understand how someone handles confrontation.
Her favorite is simply: “Tell me about a time you’ve dealt with an angry customer.”
Understanding how someone speaks to these situations can be very revealing in a Customer Success Manager (CSM) interview.
Towards the end of our time with Kate, we pivoted the conversation about difficult conversations to the ones that happen internally as well.
Katrine asked Kate if having hard conversations with peers and employees is actually harder than having them with customers.
The answer? It depends.
The best way to handle having hard conversations internally is to prepare for it in advance and have a system. Kate suggests a “work with me document” or personality quizzes (like Myers Briggs or Enneagrams) to make sure the team members understand each other.
There is a different level of responsibility when giving feedback or having tough conversations with direct reports, and having a level of expectation and understanding around who each person is and how they receive feedback is powerful.
Before wrapping up with our infamous round of "Would You Rather" questions, we discussed with Kate the importance of authenticity when communicating.
Kate shared a story about how she once let her now husband write an email for her. She shipped it out even though it wasn’t her usual style of writing. The reaction from the team was that the email was aggressive and offensive - regardless of the fact that the same email style works well for her husband.
This ties to the main themes of this episode: empathy, curiosity and authenticity. Kate’s parting advice is for other women in revenue to lean into what makes you, YOU. You are hired as a whole human, and what you bring to the table is unique.
There’s a reason YOU were hired: which is a lesson we can all learn from as women in business.
Women in revenue includes women in sales roles, success roles, marketing and enablement (and more).
If you want to hear more from women like Kate who are putting in the work, tune into Ashley & Katrine's Infinite Revenue Playlist.