Customer success – What's in a name? Part oneby
In the first part of his series, Alex Monaghan looks at the purpose of customer success.
The purpose of customer success (CS)
I came across the term customer success about two years ago in a company I had just joined, and I thought it was a very positive and exciting idea. Then I discovered what it means in most companies – marketing, driving more revenue from the customer, and perhaps providing some additional technical support. Not so exciting.
I want to change this, to make customer success exciting again. I believe there is a place for a true customer success approach which really focuses on what is important to the customer, helps the customer to get the best out of products and services, and does everything possible to ensure that the customer succeeds in realising value from their investment.
In this article, I want to explore the purpose of customer success from both the customer and supplier perspectives.
Defining the purpose
I feel that the purpose of CS should be:
- To set the customer's expectations, during and after the sale, for realising value and for the ways in which CS can help them to make the best use of their investment: training, best practice, maturity models, and any additional aftersales support.
- To build a relationship and understand the customer so that the customer's criteria for success are recognised and are built into the CS engagement. This relationship should be comfortable for the customer, and every touch point should add value.
- To achieve the customer's goals – whether these are modest or grandiose, whether they represent increased revenue or not for the supplier. This is almost certainly the customer's definition of success, so let's make sure it happens!
Particularly in the CX industry, we have talked about the customer being in control for years and about software vendors and service companies becoming trusted partners in a transformative journey. It's time we lived by those words. Customer loyalty comes from trust, familiarity, and appreciation of the value and reliability of products and experiences – not from extra features and discounts, and certainly not from constant pressure to renew.
Building a true partnership
A partnership should ensure that the supplier is doing everything possible for the customer - and vice versa. This means exceeding the customer's expectations, removing obstacles, and making it seem easy for the customer to achieve their goals.
What is the ideal result for the customer? That varies for every customer, changes over time, and needs to be discovered and tracked. This is a core function of CS, and it can only be achieved by building a relationship of trust with the customer.
Mutual trust and reliance
What is the ideal result for the supplier? This is often seen as more sales, more customers, more renewals – but wouldn't you rather have a customer you could rely on? We want customers who value our products and services and can't imagine doing business without them. These customers would bend over backwards to provide references or to expedite business for us. That comes from mutual trust and reliance. It is the foundation for a long-term relationship.
The answer is not to shoehorn every customer into the same CS process but to personalise the relationship.
Of course, there are customers who will never get to that point, who want to make a purchase and walk away, and who don't see us as a key supplier or partner – so CS needs a way to adapt to that situation, too. The answer is not to shoehorn every customer into the same CS process but to personalise the relationship. CS should agree on a schedule for reviews, provide additional support in a way the customer can consume, and work to the customer's budget cycles and business cases. In short, align with the customer.
Everyone is challenged to do more with less nowadays, and that means CS must show value. There is value in education, training and development, regardless of the customer's appetite for these things and sometimes in spite of any budget restrictions. If cost is an obstacle, maybe the best things in customer success should be free! If it doesn't add value for the customer, then it probably shouldn't be part of Customer Success – but if it does add significant value, then it should be included. This may mean rethinking the pricing model, absorbing some additional on-boarding costs, or making commercials dependent on achieving the customer's goals. Think in terms of lifetime value, both for the supplier and for the customer.
There is value in education, training and development, regardless of the customer's appetite for these things.
It's true that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it take your advice. Expecting a customer to change all its processes to suit a new product or even to use that product across all processes immediately is usually unrealistic. That can be too much for even a horse to swallow. Travel at your customer's pace, and just keep steering them towards success.
In summary, customer success should be about the customer. That doesn't mean that the customer is always right. It's the job of customer success to persuade the customer to buy into their own success, to show the value of your product or service, and to build a true partnership with give and take on both sides. When a customer is comfortable that they are achieving their goals, and they see the value which you are contributing to that achievement, they will want to build on this successful relationship.
The rest of this series of articles will look at preparing for customer success, measuring customer success, engaging for customer success, and delivering customer success – which is, of course, what we all want to achieve.
In my next piece, I will discuss how to prepare your organisation to deliver customer success effectively for your customers and for your bottom line.