The Ultimate Customer Success Hack: Telling The Truth

The ultimate Customer Success hack is not fancy. It doesn’t have anything to do with tech or digital transformation, or best hiring practices. It’s the ability to tell the truth.

Zight | June 29, 2022 | 8 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 29, 2023

The Ultimate Customer Success Hack: Telling The Truth

The ultimate Customer Success hack is not fancy. It doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t have anything to do with tech or digital transformation, or best hiring practices. 

It’s the ability to tell the truth–tell it at a time and in such a way that it’s most relevant to the person you’re speaking to. 

Why? Truth telling creates trust–and that is what builds relationships. Some would argue that there’s a golden rule–tell the truth in all situations, all the time. In my experience, that’s not entirely true. 

Have I always told the truth when asked? 

Being honest here…Mostly. I’ve fibbed on occasion. 

Have I always volunteered the whole truth without being asked? 

No. No I have not.

At the best of times, my approach to truth telling has helped me get through sticky situations. At the worst of times, it has caused damage, such as a delayed a personnel move (i.e. me not firing someone that deserved it and was toxic to the team). That specific delay in action cost all parties valuable time and provided unwanted headaches. 

The truth is, truth telling takes active consideration:

Key questions are: 

  • Who are you talking to? 
  • What is the current scenario? 
  • What happens if you say “The Things?” 
  • What happens if you do not? 
  • Will the truth telling be worth it?

In my experience in Customer Success, truth telling does indeed build relationships and clears the path to increased net revenue retention. 

With that outcome in mind, here are three areas where telling the truth is vital, but requires that active consideration mentioned above:

  • Externally with customers
  • Internally with colleagues
  • To ourselves

Telling the Truth–Externally With Customers

In customer success, our inclination is to help the customer to feel satisfied and happy as much as possible. But our true target is not an emotion; it is a clear realization of value. If you take emotion out of the formula and still have ROI, you’re doing it right. From that starting point, let’s think back to the questions I posed above – evaluating who, when, where, why for telling the’s think through how to tell select truths to customers. 

Tell the Truth to Customers When Taking Responsibility

When it comes to taking responsibility for something I should own, I tell the truth. Period. It might be painful, but it must be done. This responsibility and accountability stems from me wanting to lead by example, which is how I was raised (thanks, Mom and Dad). 

I have missed deadlines with customers. I have overpromised on things I knew I might not have been able to deliver. I have had customer presentations fall flat, embarrassing my key contact internally. But because of the trust I have built, most times I was easily forgiven and we refocused together on the future. 

Selectively Share with Customers

If there is a piece of information that I don’t necessarily want to share with an external stakeholder, I hold that back. I don’t lie, but I don’t share all the information. 

Does a customer need every data point?

Or do we want to find a way to craft a story that answers their questions, but has our desired narrative? 

An example of this approach would be to analyze what a customer should see when they’re asking for usage or engagement data. Perhaps a better story is told by showing percentages rather than hard numbers. 

This type of “stop and think” motion  has allowed me to navigate customer relationships for the last 20 years of my professional career. They say all the world is a stage, and we humans love stories, so be thoughtful with the story you tell..

Tell the Truth to Customers When They Mess Up

It’s important to keep customers accountable, too. In this example, we need them to hold their end of the proverbial rope, and yet they keep dropping it. They’re not showing up the partnership momentum is slowing. You must be direct. Respectfully direct, of course. Tell them you need them to step up. If they don’t, they will be at risk of missing out on the outcomes that they are shooting for. 

One good way to do this is to tell a story of a similar customer. Meaning, you can say, “I’ve seen this type of scenario play out with other customers. They want to do the work, but they get distracted and it ends up costing them time and money. Here’s how we can avoid that…” That should help you both to stay on track. 

This is when truth telling can really engender you with your contacts. If we are truly a partner, we need to be able to be real with customers and point out how their actions could equate to missed opportunities.. That’s where our insight is very helpful. 

Telling the Truth–Internally With Colleagues

There are situations where you need to provide feedback to direct reports, and there are times when you need to be honest with upper management. It can be tricky to navigate these situations. Here are a couple examples of how you can operate internally. 

We are all on a journey to improve. Hopefully we are working with humble people who can set aside ego and work to grow – for themselves and the greater good. The best way we all can improve is through feedback. 

A lot of organizations rely on the quarterly review to share such feedback. At that point, the feedback provided becomes  more of a formality. Often managers have many people to deliver those reviews to, so it can turn into a “let me get this done” exercise. It’s kind of like having slides to show during a presentation. There might be good information on there, but no one is all that excited to look at them. 

Better than sharing feedback quarterly is immediate – and regular – feedback. One great way  to get your culture of feedback working effectively is by offering  suggestions on how a conversation or scenario  could have gone better. It’s not that we are trying to correct someone else, but rather we are offering up a suggestion for consideration.

Most people can feel when a conversation went awry or that they didn’t get what they wanted out of a meeting. That can sting, so offering empathetic and thoughtful feedback – and being open to such feedback yourself – is the way to go. Trying to remove emotion and ego from a situation will allow that feedback to have a greater impact.

Providing truth up the ladder can be harder, but similar to when a customer asks a direct question, lying is not a good option. Doing so can bite you hard. Feeling comfortable enough to share constructive feedback to a manager or executive is a skill learned over time. It takes practice as all parties get used to sharing and receiving feedback.

Start small with little suggestions or ideas and build that muscle with the words you use. Be careful of others’ personalities, but don’t capitulate. If you’re working in an organization where you must always be deferential, you may want to be looking for a different company. 

Telling The Truth–With Ourselves

This one just might be the hardest. Sometimes it can take people years to understand that lying to themselves is self-defeating. Others of us are able to be honest in constructive ways. There are many ways we can improve the conversation with ourselves. Here’s a couple of ideas.

Speak with ourselves in the second person. Since we’re typically able to tell our fellow humans, “Oh, but look at the good.” or “It’s not as bad as you think.” because we have perspective, we can leverage that perspective towards ourselves. “Brian. No, you didn’t ask the right questions in that meeting, but you set yourself up for another meeting where you can be more effective.…” 

This approach provides us with an outside point of view, and we’re able to be more honest with ourselves.

Another method to be truthful with ourselves is to practice mindfulness. During meditation, we’re told to observe thoughts and then let them go. It is hard to do, but it’s one way to recognize that what we’re telling ourselves may or may not be true. Thoughts come in, we observe them, we decide what is important about them, and we can let them go. This is another way to get that perspective we’re looking for and to be honest with ourselves. 


As someone in Customer Success, we can recognize that being truthful and telling the whole truth is not always the same. We know that sometimes it is advisable to tell a story with data that we want to tell. We do not always need to offer all of the tale, but rather the parts that we want to tell. We also know, though, that getting caught in a lie can be deadly to a relationship. Trust is earned and can evaporate very quickly, so when confronted with a specific question, this is not the time to bend the truth. Be upfront and earn even more respect for doing so, even if the immediate situation is fraught. 

Additionally, being truthful with colleagues takes nuance, patience and practice. We must be willing to receive as well as give, and when we give, being empathetic and non-judgmental. The more we can share truthful feedback with one another, the stronger our organizational and interpersonal ties will grow.

Finally, telling ourselves the truth is a tricky game. We put up a lot of blockers. Sometimes we’re unfair with ourselves. It takes practice to give ourselves the perspective we would give another person, and we must be willing to live with the truth – good or bad. Being real with yourself is a great way to continue improving.  

About Brian Hansen

Don’t be shy. 

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn here.

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