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Practicing profitable customer success
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My mom would ask me every time I visited her “What do you do again?” She knew she was supposed to know. I explained it many times before. Her voice would go up when she asked and she’d tilt her head and squint her eyes as if finally, this time, she’d get it. “I help companies ensure their customers are happy, ma.” “Oh right! I knew that!” she’d say. My mom used her computer to play Solitaire and fake Mahjong. She needed help logging into Facebook. I wasn’t surprised or disappointed she didn’t remember. 

Sometimes I remember these exchanges with my mom when I’m talking to someone about Customer Success (CS). The person will raise their voice slightly, tilt their head, look me in the eyes and ask, “So, what is Customer Success really?” I can see the person has done research. But for some reason, it’s just not clear. More than 10 years in, I’m not sure if we, the CS community, should be worried. But here’s the answer I’m test-driving these days:

“CS is how businesses turn customers into long-term, vocal, partners.”

If that appears to make sense, I then take them to church and elaborate. 

“CS starts as a company priority, and then becomes a resourced strategy led by a team that uses a rapidly evolving framework.”

But that usually is the start of an engaging conversation. To help this process, I’m sharing this post…

Customer Success starts as a company priority

You don’t hire a CSM to launch your CS program. It starts as a C-suite initiative to ensure the company is focused on delivering value to the customer and staying in tune with their needs. Typically such initiatives include having a cultural value or pillar stating “customer first”, or showcasing a quarterly goal that demonstrates how teams are working across departments to achieve the goal. 

A high NPS, for example, requires the efforts of many teams in a company and can be a meaningful company-level goal. Customers are far more likely to recommend your product if it is useful (i.e. it helps them achieve their business goals), has few bugs, and is always available. This requires Product to define features that are useful and indeed utilized; Engineering and QA to ensure that releases are of high quality; Operations to meet availability targets; for Marketing and Sales to find the right customers who can benefit from the solution; and a CS team that onboards the customer effectively and ensures value is being realized. These are all responsibilities that require cross-team collaboration, which is driven by an engaged C-Suite.

Customer Success is a strategy 

A CS initiative is most impactful when it becomes a resourced strategy. Michael D Watkins’ definition of business strategy can be used to craft an effective, 1-page CS strategy: “A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritize (and not prioritize) to achieve desired goals.”  

Here are some guiding principles for an example strategy for a young CS organization whose mission is to ensure all enterprise customers realize value repeatedly and can evangelize their success to their peers.

  • Product: Design products that solve problems and that customers use. Don’t surprise the customer with unannounced changes or deprecations. 
  • Engineering: Continually deliver a high-quality product with zero major regressions.
  • DevOps: Ensure availability SLAs are met and that customers are continually informed of the status of the service. 
  • Support: Answer questions quickly and manage bug resolutions efficiently to maintain customer satisfaction levels.
  • Marketing: Capture customer’s success and be their advocate. 
  • Customer Success: Customize a success plan for each customer, onboard them quickly and effectively, make sure they realize value, and can socialize it to management and peers.
  • Sales: Prepare the customer for success by selling exactly what they need within a package they can use. 
  • Finance: Agree to bill the customer appropriately and in an easy-to-understand manner.

Each guiding principle can be decomposed into measurable outcomes or KPIs to ensure the strategy is implemented properly and getting results. A CS strategy can be defined and revisited yearly and is typically the responsibility of the Chief Customer Officer or CS leader.  

Customer Success is a team

CS is commonly led by a team that has all or many of the post-Sales functions needed to deliver on commitments and ensure the customer realizes value. Professional Services, Onboarding, Account Management, Support, and Training are some of the key functions that comprise a mature CS function.

Organizationally, in younger companies, you see the Customer Success team report directly to the CEO. Reporting to a CRO or COO is common these days for organizations adding CS later in their evolution. Many configurations seem to work. My own bias is that as buyers get more sophisticated and discerning, their sourcing and purchasing teams will rank vendors with highly positioned CS leaders as more favorable. 

Customer Success is a framework

A CS framework comprises people, best practices, processes, programs, and tools for implementing an effective value realization journey for each customer tier. 

  • People: CSMs, Success Engineers, Account Manager are just a few of the roles that power CS. In its blog, LinkedIn ranked Customer Success a top profession based on the number of companies looking for people with the CSM skillset. 
  • Best Practices: Best practices include onboarding a customer promptly after sign-up, having a success plan template that can be customized per customer or tier, or having a health-monitoring function–just to name a few. 
  • Processes: CSMs use many processes but a few common examples include onboarding a customer, conducting a business review, and managing an upsell opportunity.
  • Programs: Programs include power user identification and development, customer advisory groups, user conferences, feedback, NPS, and many more. While a customer may spend less than an hour a day in your product, they can spend many more hours enjoying the features of your programs. 
  • Solutions/tools: A few years ago, there were fewer icons in this G2Crowd chart; now there are many vendors selling CS solutions that provide features to manage customers, monitor health, and actively lead and engage customers through a journey. 

A CS leader will have experience with this framework, sourcing the right people to leverage it, as well as choosing the right solutions to power your processes and programs. 

Getting help

Customer Kaizen helps SaaS and non-SaaS B2B companies develop an actionable CS strategy to achieve the critical outcomes your business needs to grow. Contact me today on LinkedIn, or book an initial no-obligation consultation, to see how we can start reducing churn and growing LTV.

About the Co-Author

Omid Razavi is an industry consultant to SaaS CXOs on customer success and revenue growth. Omid is passionate about leading, aligning, scaling, and transforming customer success, renewal/account management, professional services and support teams, with clear accountabilities to consistently deliver superior customer experience and exceptional business results. His work is focused on helping organizations develop and execute strategies to improve customer outcomes, and applying data-driven algorithms and processes to engage customers for superior experience.

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