Is Handoff a Dirty Word?

Giorgina Gottlieb | July 5, 2019

Today we’re excited to kickoff a new blog series on seamless customer experience (CX), which refers to the principle of providing as frictionless an experience as possible for customers across every step of their journey with a company. In an environment where CX is largely considered to be more important than the product itself, seamlessness is one way that companies can set themselves apart from the competition.

Our series will explore several aspects of CX that are particularly ripe for either introducing or avoiding friction, starting with the handoff process.

What Is a Handoff?

A handoff is when customer management moves from one employee or department to another. Most often, discussions of handoff focus on the events surrounding the initial sale. Once the deal closes and the prospect becomes a paying customer, the sales team typically transfers the account to the customer success department, which will be responsible for maintaining the customer relationship going forward.

Such transitions represent a make-or-break moment for CX. As CX by Design explains, “Successfully transitioning a customer from the sales stage through the customer success handoff can determine whether a customer sticks with your company or loses interest and takes their business elsewhere.

CustomerThink agrees, writing, “Smooth handoffs between departments can make all the difference in poor versus great customer experience … Get the handoffs right and you’ve got the whole enchilada right.”

A Dirty Word?

Despite the quotes above and the plethora of articles, webinars, and other content about the importance of handoff, some members of the industry have argued that it’s a “dirty” word.

For instance, customer experience and growth expert Lincoln Murphy includes handoff on his list of the top five anti-customer terms to avoid. “What I’ve seen is that the simple term ‘handoff’ brings about this notion of taking the customer and throwing them over the wall to someone else to ‘deal with,’ ultimately making them no longer your responsibility,” writes Murphy. “Handoffs reinforce the notion of ‘us vs. them’ internally rather than encouraging cross-functional cooperation; handoffs reinforce silos. And silos aren’t good for anybody.”

Abby Hammer, VP of Products and Customer Success at ChurnZero, seems to agree. Despite presenting a webinar titled “How to Nail Customer Handoffs,” Hammer said, “I want to encourage everyone to think about this process not as a handoff, because that has a really passive feel to it, but rather as a proactive transfer of knowledge that serves a critical role in serving the customer.”

From Hot Potato to Basketball

No one is arguing that there shouldn’t be some type of process for transitioning customer management from sales to customer success after the deal closes. Instead, it’s particular aspects of the handoff process that are being called out.

So that begs the question: If handoff is the wrong approach, what’s the right one? To help in figuring that out, let’s review the three important takeaways in Hammer’s message:

  • The process should be proactive.
  • The focus should be on knowledge transfer.
  • The goal is to serve the customer.

Too often, handoff feels like a game of hot potato. As soon as the deal closes, the sales rep wants to get rid of the potato (the customer) as quickly as possible and tosses it to the nearest customer success manager (CSM).

But this approach fails on all three of the points listed above. The players are reacting to having the potato in their hands, rather than implementing a proactive strategy. In the rush to toss the hot spud, there’s no attention paid to transferring knowledge. Worst of all, the game does nothing to serve the customer.

cartoon of two people playing hot potato
Image credit

A better approach would be to view the customer transition as a game of basketball. In comparison to the every-person-for-themself nature of hot potato, basketball requires teamwork. Similarly, CX should be viewed as a team sport where every player, including sales reps and CSMs, are on the same side working together towards a common goal.

Moreover, basketball requires a proactive strategy. Certainly there are defensive moves taken in reaction to opposing players, but teams cannot win on defense alone. Instead, they must come prepared with a game plan for how they will move the ball down the court and sink it into the basket.

This game plan also ties in to the transfer of knowledge. For teams to be successful, they must constantly be learning. At halftime, they study what happened in the first half to improve their strategy for the second. And the learning doesn’t stop when the game ends; before the next game, the players study previous matches to find opportunities for improvement.

Furthermore, teams succeed when they pass the ball frequently to advance towards the basket and score. In a similar way, all members of the broader CX team — including both the sales and success departments — must work together to share information and help customers advance towards their goals.

team of basketball players
Image credit

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

OK, we know that’s a total cliché. But when it comes to seamless customer transitions, it really is all about teamwork. That’s what will ultimately make the difference between a hot potato-handoff and a frictionless transfer that’s nothing but net.

Here are a few tips for ensuring collaboration among all of your players:

Expand the Team

We’ve concentrated our attention here on the sales and success departments as they are the primary players in the post-sale transition. But it’s also important to expand the team to include any other departments that play a direct role in creating a seamless CX, especially marketing, support, and product.

Practice Makes Perfect

Remember that players don’t just show up on gameday; there are countless hours of strategy sessions, workouts, and practices on the court that compose their pre-game preparation. Similarly, the work involved in a frictionless customer transfer begins long before the actual passing of the ball.

It starts with marketing and sales conveying the right message to prospects to establish appropriate expectations. These teams must also be diligent in collecting feedback and sharing those insights with their product, support, and success counterparts.

Review the Tape

Finally, players should keep in mind that true victory is not achieved at the end of an individual game but at the conclusion of a season. For CX teams, this means that it’s important to take the long view by putting in place practices that promote the long-term retention and success of customers rather than focusing on short-term gains.

In addition, in the same way that basketball players review past games to improve their strategy for future matchups, CX teams should continue to mine existing data for new insights. In her webinar, Hammer talked about “bi-directional feedback loops” to convey this idea that knowledge (1) should be shared in both (or more accurately, multiple) directions across the organization and (2) that this process must be continuous rather than a one-time information exchange.

What’s in a Word?

While reading this post, perhaps you’re wondering if this is just semantics. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “What’s in a word?” Well, according to Murphy, a lot:

“Words are powerful and to a certain extent drive our actions. If we talk smack about our customers behind the scenes, some — or maybe all — of that will come out in how you interact with them, it will influence the tools you create for them, or otherwise, impact how you operationalize around their success.”

Speaking of the power of words, the next installment of our series on seamless CX will examine omnichannel vs. multichannel. As we’ll explain, although the words are similar, the two terms represent distinct approaches to customer communication. Stay tuned!

Featured image credit: Pxhere