The Power of Saying ‘I Don’t Know’ in Customer Success

Sometimes the best answer for a customer is, “I don’t know, let me find out.”

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Oct. 14, 2022
The Power of Saying ‘I Don’t Know’ in Customer Success
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How do I set up our profile? What does this feature do? Why isn’t this working? What are our conversions? How do we increase our ROI? When do we get billed? When is our contract up? What is the meaning of life?

The last question might be an exaggeration, but clients do look to customer success managers for answers to a limitless variety of inquiries. Customer success professionals are the point person for customers throughout the entire customer journey, and the questions are never-ending. 

So, it may be surprising to discover that sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer. 

In business, we’re often led to believe that it’s a cardinal sin not to have all the answers. But, as William Shakespeare once wrote, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Sometimes it’s better to admit when you don’t have an answer than to answer foolishly. 

As client liaisons, customer success managers in particular may feel a little extra pressure to know it all. It’s a mistake that Tori Becker has seen new professionals make time and again in her decade of working in customer success. Becker is the director of client success at Chicago-based Civis Analytics

For those looking to start their customer success career on the right foot, she advises, “Clients are going to ask you questions that you don’t know the answer to — and that's OK!” 

Meeting preparation can only go so far, so Becker suggests getting comfortable with not knowing the answer to every question, and learning how to work toward a solution. Tell them you’ll circle back, and give a timeframe.

To move forward in this way, it’s imperative for customer success professionals to have a firm grasp on the problem. That’s why Emily Bolinksy, customer success manager at Chicago-based Network Perception said, “Full understanding of the customer’s challenge along with the resources available to address said challenge are a must.”

Customer success is a field with a great career outlook. For job seekers looking to launch their careers, Built In Chicago connected with Becker and Bolinsky for more tips that customer success professionals can use to gain a competitive edge. 

 

Tori Becker
Director of Client Success • Civis Analytics

 

Civis Analytics is data science platform and services company. 

 

Briefly outline how your career progressed into a customer success role in tech. What relevant skills did you already have, and what skills did you need to develop on the job?

I’ve worked in customer success for over 10 years, with 8 of those years spent within the tech industry. During that time, I began as an individual contributor and worked my way up to director. During that time, I learned that clear and proactive communication were pivotal to my success. 

Building relationships, both with your clients and your colleagues, is absolutely fundamental in this field. My degree is in journalism and my prior experience was in customer service. So I built off of my existing written communication skills to hone my verbal communication skills. 

Learning how to make clear asks, build rapport and proactively engage clients and colleagues was critical to growing and being successful within customer success.

 

In your experience, what’s a common mistake that customer success professionals often make early in their career, and how can they avoid it?

A common mistake that customer success professionals make early in their career is assuming that the client expects them to know absolutely everything. It’s important that you’re prepared for your client conversations but it’s just as important to be comfortable responding to a question that you don’t know the answer to. 

Your response can be simple. You can share, “That's a great question. I’m going to chat with my colleagues to get you the right information.” Then provide a clear timeframe for when you’ll get back to them. Clients don’t expect you to know everything on the spot, but instead to be their voice and champion to help them through their challenges.

Clients don’t expect you to know everything on the spot, but instead to be their voice and champion to help them through their challenges.”

 

What resources or opportunities does your company make available to help you build your skills?

Civis Analytics is a great place to be part of a client success team because we focus on providing multiple support and growth opportunities. We offer LinkedIn Learning access, mentorship programs and one-on-one coaching to help our team members feel successful. We also highly encourage coffee chats, Slack conversations and knowledge-sharing sessions among our team to support each other’s growth.

 


 

Photograph of a group of people working together at Network Perception.
NETWORK PERCEPTION
Emily Bolinksy
Customer Success Manager • Network Perception

 

Network Perception is a cybersecurity platform providing network audit, verification and compliance solutions to clients.

 

Briefly outline how your career progressed into a customer success role in tech. What relevant skills did you already have, and what skills did you need to develop on the job?

Fresh out of college I was eager to land my first ‘real’ job. Having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing management, going to work for a small computer manufacturing company was equal parts thrilling and intimidating. My background in business landed me in the role: With a basic understanding of accounting principles, channels and logistics, and business information technology, I had a few relevant skills in my tool belt. 

I had yet to develop an understanding of processors, RAM, CPU and the inner workings of a bill of material — and how those technical specifications translated to something of value to a particular customer’s business requirements. I started as a sales coordinator and within this position I had the opportunity to work with people from all backgrounds, coordinating efforts to deliver on customer’s desired outcomes. As I was gaining real-world experience interacting directly with various internal and customer stakeholders, I was likewise garnering a deeper understanding of how to best align our value to the customer’s specific needs. And thus, a passion for customer success was ignited, and my career path was established.

 

In your experience, what’s a common mistake that customer success professionals often make early in their career, and how can they avoid it?

A common mistake that is easy for customer success professionals to make early in their career is not fully understanding the alignment of customer needs to the value the business has to offer. The ultimate goal of a customer success professional is helping to define and deliver win-win solutions for both the customer and the organization the customer success manager represents. Early on, customer success professionals have to be diligent to ensure that the solutions they’re delivering are not too one-sided — there’s a win to be had for everyone. 

Early on, customer success professionals have to be diligent to ensure that the solutions they’re delivering are not too one-sided — there’s a win to be had for everyone.” 

Full understanding of the customer’s challenge along with the resources available to address said challenge are a must. Defining success and then delivering on desired outcomes for both parties is a skill that has to be put to the test and will constantly be refined with each new challenge.

 

What resources or opportunities does your company make available to help you build your skills?

At Network Perception there are a number of resources and opportunities which are made available to help build the skills required to ensure not only my own success but the success of our customers as well. Partnering with more senior, knowledgeable customer success professionals to learn best practices and glean insights from their experiences has been very helpful to build necessary skills. 

In addition, Network Perception has built out a first-rate technical team of software developers, network and solutions engineers and technical support technicians who serve as valuable resources to help gain a deeper technical understanding of the challenges our customers face and the solutions that we offer which help to solve said challenges. From regularly scheduled industry-specific technical webinars to on-demand phone calls and internal messages amongst the organization, collaboration and resources to learn new skills abound, and all of this exists to ensure the success of both NP representatives and, most importantly, our customers.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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