Customer success – What's in a name? Part fiveby
In the fifth part of his series, Alex Monaghan looks at delivery and what is needed to achieve a successful outcome.
This is the final article in a series of five customer success articles which have discussed the purpose of customer success, outlined some of the things which can help you achieve it, suggested how you might measure the success of customer success, and looked at how and when to engage your CS team. The last piece is about delivery – what the customer success team has to do and what the customer has to do on their side to achieve a successful outcome. There are no guarantees, but I really hope this advice helps to turn customer success into successful customers.
Delivering customer success
Delivery needs a plan, it needs a schedule, and most of all it needs a driver. Some of the advice in this article may repeat or elaborate on ideas mentioned in previous articles – separating delivery from objectives or engagement is not always possible – but this final article attempts to focus on the process of delivering customer success rather than the artefacts or teams involved.
I see four phases in the delivery of customer success, some or all of which may repeat.
The first phase begins even before a sale and lasts at least until the customer is fully onboarded. It involves assigning a single contact in the customer success team for every customer and identifying someone on the customer side who will engage as the main point of contact. This relationship is key, so it’s important to choose the right people where possible – like a good masseur, be prepared to shift the point of contact if it’s not working and try different approaches until you feel something click. Once things start to loosen up, broaden out your activity – more touch points, different techniques – to build that relationship as deep and wide as you can. Be the delivery driver. Don’t interfere with the sales process, but be present in the discussions and look for someone who is interested in making progress post-sale. The single point of contact should remain in control on both the customer success side and the customer side after the sale. Other stakeholders and operational teams, and even marketing or executive sponsors, can be added to the mix so that the customer feels valued, helped, and fully supported in this relationship.
The second phase is to discover what the customer is looking for from the relationship. Always bearing in mind what was contractually agreed and what goals were articulated or promises made during the sales cycle, it is up to customer success to carry out detailed discovery of customer goals and aspirations. New stakeholders may have entered the picture, priorities may have changed, or individuals may be more open about their objectives now that the deal has closed. What does the customer need from you? What are they prepared to contribute in terms of time, resources, and engagement? Define what success looks like for the customer, make a plan, get an agreement, and work towards these objectives together.
Once the initial objectives are agreed upon, the third phase is to explain your customer success approach to the customer, tell them what they are getting out of the relationship and how you will work to make them successful. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but do go into all the benefits of working together - levels of training and accreditation, technical and business-level assistance, the experience your team can bring to operations or strategy, the interpretation of reporting data, whatever added value you are able to offer. Relate this to the customer’s goals and to your contact’s personal targets – saving effort, improving quality, increasing sales, whatever metrics they may be measured by. If you have a good enough relationship, it’s surprising how much the customer will tell you about their own KPIs and aspirations. Helping them to achieve and making them personally successful is one of the best ways to ensure that they consider the relationship a success.
Helping them to achieve and making them personally successful is one of the best ways to ensure that they consider the relationship a success.
Don’t forget that the customer should also contribute to this relationship. Whether that’s by making their resources available, by being flexible on timescales, or by meeting commercial targets from the supplier depends on the plan you have agreed to. Customer success should not be a pushover – that's no way to build a relationship. Engage as equals, state your needs and expectations, bake them into the plan, and make sure the customer delivers on their promises, too.
The final phase is operational BAU: review progress regularly, on a schedule to suit the customer, make sure your reviews are aligned with their goals, and perhaps share your own goals so that they are aware of at least some of the ways they can help you. People like to help others, especially when there is something in it for them, and we all know that business is fundamentally about people. CS can be about people, too, just as sales and marketing rely on people skills and relationship building.
The bridges built by customer success should be used by other teams, so do all of the above in a joined-up way with sales, professional services, support and marketing. Complement each other, but don’t overlap too much. Customers don’t like doing the same thing twice, so someone has to be managing the relationship. In my view, this should be customer success.
The bridges built by customer success should be used by other teams.
Delivering Customer Success is about being clear and focused, having a plan and driving it forward, and making sure you take the customer with you on the journey. Yes, their success is your objective – but you may need to push them to achieve it. Make it clear what you are offering, and monitor your progress. Be equally clear about what the customer has to do on their side. Become part of their thinking, their operations, and their goals – be intrinsic to their success.
This is much easier if customer success owns the customer after a sale, and to my mind, that is best practice, but not all businesses work that way. Be aware of the needs and limitations of your own organisation, and work within and around these. If you need your sales or support or marketing team to see things your way, to work with you to make the customer successful, then driving that cooperation is part of the job of customer success, no matter who officially owns the customer. If you are dependent on input from other teams to achieve your CS objectives, then this can be a discussion and maybe a high-level executive decision, but the customer should be left in no doubt as to who is fighting their corner. You might not win every time, but when the customer sees customer success step into the ring at their side, your relationship will only get stronger.