The Handover: Moving up the stairs to customer success

June 13, 2019

I recently moved apartments here in New York City — surely one of the more odious ordeals of urban living. For most people I know, the act of moving to a new home falls somewhere between “red-eye flight” and “root canal” on the scale of modern unpleasantness.

Despite the usual anxieties of new beginnings, I was actually very happy to see how easy the process of moving turned out to be. Or should I say, how smoothly the process began.

After calling the moving company, a company rep immediately offered to stop by and assess how much stuff I had and where it would be going. He showed up just a few hours later, armed with an iPad, and quickly drew up a list of furniture and appliances that needed moving, noting how many movers were required and the specs for the new place (floor count, stairwell size, etc.). He also gave me a full proposal for how much it would cost.

“Ah, yes,” I thought. “The sales guy has prepared the contract and the Statement of Work.” This was something I could relate to.

“We’ll see you at 9 a.m., sharp, next Monday,” the rep said as he shook my hand, with a bone-crunching mover’s grip, and hustled out the door to his next appointment.

My anxieties were greatly eased by this marvelous act of salesmanship — within just a few hours, I had a fully formed plan of action and an assessment of how much it would all cost. Now all I had to do was get all my stuff in boxes and wait for the movers to whisk it away to their new location.

When Monday rolled around, the movers indeed arrived at 9am sharp. All two of them. Upon seeing the furniture, their first reaction was nothing short of pure shock: “This is what you have to move! What’s with all the beds? We’ll need another guy or two … and probably an extra few hours if we want to make it in time.”

When I told them the new place was a 6th floor walkup, the pair of movers froze, turned to look at one another in slow motion, and then narrowed their eyes on me as if they were aiming a laser beam at my forehead, with a countdown for explosion set for 3 seconds. Time seemed to stand still as I expected to be blasted across the room by the force of their escalating anger.

“What? 6th floor, no elevator?? All this stuff? You gotta be kidding me, man! You gotta be kidding me over here!”

They immediately whipped out their cell phones and began a series of frantic calls to their managers at the moving company, all while casting a deadly stink eye in my direction.

“Ah, yes,” I thought again, immediately framing the situation in familiar terms. “The sales guy forgot to brief the customer success team on the scope of work and customer expectations.”

So typical. They totally fumbled the handover. And nobody read the SOW.

The Handover

For SaaS companies, this handover from the sales team to customer success is probably the most crucial part of the sales process. There’s nothing worse than getting sold a service and then realizing nobody has any idea how to meet your requirements, much less know what those requirements happen to be.

Sales people who don’t properly brief their customer success teams and provide a smooth handover are not only hurting their customers; they’re also undermining their companies, as they can be saddling the team with work that is beyond the scope of what is currently possible.

In the case of the movers, it would have been great if they had known exactly what was expected of their work that day, for multiple reasons.

Firstly, I’d be a much less anxious customer — we all know that the night before a move is usually sleepless at best, with frantic early morning hours spent tossing all those left-over condiments in the fridge and emptying out thousands of plastic shopping bags and 10-foot-long receipts from forgotten kitchen drawers. Their frustration, legible on their faces, was the last thing I needed at 9 a.m.

And secondly, the movers would be much happier about their day as well, as they would have enlisted a team of hardened Himalayan sherpas to spend the afternoon hauling my stuff up six flights of creaky stairs in a downtown Manhattan walkup.

Here at Unbabel, getting “the handover” right is absolutely crucial for the onboarding process. To properly serve our customers, we have a wide variety of teams that are deeply involved in the customer journey, overseeing various aspects of Unbabel’s translation pipeline:

  • an AI team, who work on customizing language engines for our customers’ content
  • an implementation team, who, among other things, are responsible for making sure Unbabel is properly installed and fully functioning in our customers’ platforms
  • a community team, who manage the global network of translators that review our customers’ content, making sure the translation is aligned with brand voice and house style and, of course, customer success, who carefully track performance for our customers and provide regular updates on their defined success metrics

If any of these teams are not properly briefed on a customer’s expectations, it can lead to a serious failure of service delivery.

In addition, most of our customers have vastly different needs and requirements when it comes to translating their support content. Unbabel primarily translates customer support emails, live chats, and help center articles — three very different content types, with different expectations for turnaround times (obviously live chats must be delivered immediately, while help center articles can wait a few hours).

We have to ensure that those translations are delivered directly to the support platforms used by their CX agents, who are often spread at locations throughout the world, from Manhattan to Manila to Madrid.

To put that in the perspective of the moving business: some of our customers need their heavy dining room tables and beds with built-in storage units carried up to the 6th floor, requiring legs of steel, back of pure iron, and a strong conviction of “mind over matter”; others have an oversized cargo elevator in their building and have been life-long adherents of Marie Kondo, coupled with an undergrad’s attitude toward worldly possessions (little more than a rice cooker, toothbrush, inflatable air mattress, and a few dogeared tomes of 19th century German philosophy — ah, memories…).

A few simple rules for getting it right

To make sure we can properly gauge customer expectations and brief the required teams on what is expected, we try to follow a few simple rules.

  • First, the customer-facing teams should always float every request by the relevant product teams, starting with the first discovery call. It’s all too easy to just say “sure, we can do that” to each customer request, without checking to see if the particularities of those requests can actually be handled (a) according to the customer’s expectations and (b) in keeping with the product’s capabilities. Transparency between the sales team and internal product teams is key.
  • Second, always begin scoping a Statement of Work as early as possible in the sales process, detailing the customer’s metrics of success. Scoping the SOW requires a level of detail that is easy to overlook in initial calls and meetings. By actually walking the customer through various questions and drilling down into relevant details early on, you can avoid unexpected issues coming up later — or, worst of all, during the implementation process (what, 6th floor walkup?). The SOW is a Sine Qua Non.
  • Third, rally the relevant internal teams around a potential customer as early as possible. Sales shouldn’t just be one lone person’s effort to sign a new client and then pass them on; sales is a company-wide initiative, where the whole team should be onboard. The more feedback is provided from internal teams early on, the better the customer journey will be later. Plus, you can learn a lot from speaking with colleagues from different teams, each of whom can shed light on a customer’s use case. Let’s not forget that the buyer of a service is probably not a salesperson, so often a non-sales colleague has the best insight into their requirements and success metrics.

Making sure the handover doesn’t turn into a hangover

Getting the handover right is particularly crucial for a SaaS business, where customers enter into an ongoing engagement or subscription that will hopefully last for years into the future. Perhaps that’s why so many other industries overlook the handover as a critical ingredient of customer success: too many companies look at their services as one-off deals, where the name of the game is to sell to as many people as quickly as possible. As a result, sales people focus solely on getting that signature, then abandon their customers to the fates with little more than a firm handshake and a quick goodbye.

We’ll all seen this happen in our everyday sales transactions too many times to count (don’t even get me started on how the listing broker for my new place seemed to “disappear” immediately after I signed the lease, requiring me to practically beg him to give me the keys, then casually showing up a mere 45 minute late for our meeting — we’ve all been there!)

However, by focusing on the handover from sales to customer success, we can ensure that all parties involved — sales, implementation, product, and, most importantly, the customer — are fully in sync and, therefore, satisfied with the outcome of a deal. And, best of all, we guarantee that a new customer will be provided with a level of service that exceeds their expectations and that our own services will continuously improve through consistent feedback loops.

Though even with the most perfect handover between sales and customer success, we can rest assured that we’ll have to do some heavy lifting sooner or later. But I can say from personal experience: spending a long afternoon helping your movers carry all your furniture to the 6th floor is just about the best workout you can get! And the view from the top is well worth the climb.

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