I believe the psychology of the customer’s emotional experience is a building block for Customer Success. By definition, the “customer experience” is the sum of every interaction a customer has with your business. So the emotional experience is a lot like psychology: it’s how these interactions are translated into thoughts, feelings, and behavioral responses.


“After I began practicing Customer Success I realized that, in a way, we are the customer's psychologist.”


In life, everything is personal and driven by emotions, especially in business. So to fully understand the psychology of the emotional experience and why that understanding is a building block within Customer Success, let's start by breaking down psychology. Psychology is focused on four main goals: to describe, explain, predict, and change the behavior of others. Effective psychologists identify needs and drive confidence through transparency. The same can be said in CS: we need to describe, explain, and predict outcomes for our customers. And we need to use transparency to develop trust with customers.


To accomplish this, we need to identify the right emotion or sentiment our customers display and also understand what drives or triggers a positive emotional experience. Then we can use this information proactively in our day-to-day interactions. Effectively implementing and using these understandings is a key element of moving from reactive to proactive CS mode.

Why The Emotional Experience Is A Building Block of Customer Success

There are a few reasons why understanding a customer’s emotional experience throughout their journey is important for those practicing Customer Success. 

  • Emotions directly influence decisions and behavior. When we’re able to define or identify an emotion, we have a better chance of understanding and impacting customer decisions and behavior. 
  • An emotional experience is more memorable. It’s a fact—the more emotional and dramatic an experience is, the longer it will stay with you as a memory. CSMs should focus on providing positive emotional experiences that customers will inherently remember for a long time.
  • People are not always aware of their emotions. When I’m engaging with a customer, I need to be able to read between the lines. If they are frustrated, but not calling that out, it's sometimes because they’re not aware of what's frustrating them. But there are signs I can identify—lack of engagement or lack of patience—that help me understand that something is not right and that I need to give the relationship more weight and proactively change the status quo. 
  • Understanding, identifying, and measuring emotions is key to accurate risk assessment. The entire agenda of moving from reactive to proactive is essentially implementing more accurate risk assessment. 


“Effective psychologists identify needs and drive confidence through transparency. The same can be said in CS: we need to describe, explain, and predict outcomes for our customers.”


Without identifying and measuring emotions, it would be impossible to evaluate your customers as individual personas and accurately assess account health and relationships.

Six Elements of Positive Customer Experience

My team uses six pillars to set the tone of our customer relationships and as a guide for nurturing positive emotional experiences. Utilizing these elements gives us a chance to set positive experiences from scratch.

  1. Personalization. We need to treat each persona differently (including those from the same organization.) Every customer needs different attention because they have different characters, interests, triggers, motivations, and they each require different engagement. 
  2. Integrity. Those in CS need to be trustworthy and transparent. If I say I will deliver something, I need to deliver it. And if I can't deliver it, I need to fully communicate that with customers.
  3. Setting expectations. Meeting or even exceeding customer expectations is your ability to constantly mitigate between reality and needs. We have to provide full transparency in a way that the customer will have confidence that everything is under control. 
  4. Empathy. Achieving an understanding of the customer's circumstances is super important. Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
  5. Time to value. This is a huge challenge for CS teams across the globe. We need to minimize 1) the customer effort and 2) the time until the customer actually sees real value from the product. The first thing a buyer asks is “What's in it for me?” The CS team needs to make sure that answer comes easily. 
  6. Responsibility. We need to own everything. We need to own each experience and care for the outcomes. This is our job—helping customers achieve their desired outcomes. Not saying we care, but taking real action and responsibility for customer outcomes. 

These six elements are aligned closely to basic human psychological drivers. Therefore they apply to Customer Success and wherever there are human connections and emotions involved.

Measuring Account Health

In the last year, it’s been critical for my team to track and measure a customer's emotional state. After I saw Ziv Peled’s relationship coverage model, I had an “aha” moment. I realized that while we were a mature CS organization by many standards, with well-defined processes and risk assessment, we were only looking at the account level. We treated accounts as one flat unit—a vague thing while ignoring the fact that different personas behind the account should design the health of an account. 

We didn’t recognize that each persona has a different perspective, experience, relationship strength, personality, and internal relationships to manage. The bottom line is that it's a subjective ecosystem that should be treated as such. And we weren’t doing that. 

Armed with this insight, I knew we needed to analyze customer relationships differently by giving dedicated attention and weight to each one of the personas by implementing a relationship model. To create an accurate picture of customer health, my team of CSMs track two areas. The first is relationship strength. I have CSMs go through each of their customers and rate the relationship on a scale of four levels. 

  1.  None: “I'm not familiar with the contact or the persona.”
  2.  Weak: “We’ve met a few times, but the engagement is very cold.”
  3. Okay: “I feel there is a connection and we are meeting regularly, but the connection is not personal. The contact will only approach me if they are having an issue.”
  4. Very good: “We have trust and a personal connection. We meet regularly and the contact feels comfortable approaching me even when there is no issue."

The second dimension of our relationship model is gauging sentiment. We have a simple model of three levels: positive, neutral, and negative. We test the emotion the customer feels towards our brand, product, and service on this range.

Measuring these two areas and being able to see them on a dashboard has given us a very complex and holistic way to assess the real risk of an account. Along with developing a more accurate picture of customer health, using a relationship model will build more long-term relationships where customers will serve as growth agents and ambassadors.

Equally as important, having a relationship model in place will allow you to know exactly where to put more focus and give you precious time when something goes wrong. Why? Because when you measure your relationships by persona, you are reducing your chances to be surprised.


This week's top posts



Bad Execution vs Good Execution


Julie Zhuo, author of The Making of a Manager, simplifies what “good” and “bad” execution looks like in 10 tweets. One example: “Bad execution is picking two—time, quality, or cost. Good execution is thoughtfully choosing the scope such that things are built on time, on budget, and at a high level of quality.”


Read the full thread






I Want to Hire Someone My Team Said “No” to on the Debrief


“Committee-driven decisions are almost always conservative… Especially for decisions that could carry lots of downsides - like hiring the wrong person - group decision making can result in most of the ‘maybe’ cases turning into a ‘no’.” I’m a fan of Gergely Orosz’s writing, he’s always thoughtful. Here, he shares his thinking on how to manage disagreements on hiring.


Read the full post






How the Best CEOs Use ‘Thinking Time’—According to an Executive Coach


All of these points could be applied as a busy CS leader: talk to customers (“If you already have a good relationship with your customers’ executives, you can smooth the way when issues pop up with one phone call”), build your talent bench, become a thought leader.


Read the full post





How Zendesk Adapts Best Practices in Product to Customer Success


Here’s Teresa Anania’s take on measuring the impact of CS and why they focus so heavily on Time to Value


Listen to the episode



Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from a top Success leader, along with the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.

Submit a comment