Is customer success the most misinterpreted phrase in the support world?
When you contact customer service these days, you might find your rep signing off as “Customer Success Specialist,” “Customer Success Coach” or something along those lines.
And yet, it’s hard to define customer success. Even in customer support circles, it’s viewed as a nebulous concept toeing the line between glorified support and marketing gimmick. But if you view it as an approach or an attitude, it has its place in customer service: if customer support is reactive, customer success is its proactive counterpart.
What is customer success?
When it comes to customer success, you’ve probably seen everything from customer support teams that have been plainly renamed, to companies that have gone so far as to restructure their entire organization around customer success. This sums it up nicely:
The role of customer success at a company is to actively manage customer relationships to reduce churn, increase existing revenue and influence new sales.
But leaving aside semantics, small and growing companies are finding their own answer to how they build, engage and educate their customer base – and they’re doing it in more than one way. It’s not always a team, but it is a company lifestyle.
Anticipate your customers
How many times have you signed up for a new product or service with high hopes and then gradually settled into the limitations of your purchase? Customer success is responsible for minimizing that cognitive dissonance and helping customers get the value they were promised out of their new purchase.
“You get to this place where you want to open their eyes to all the things that are actually possible,” says Mike Grafham, Head of Customer Success at Yammer.
Yammer, of course, is a communication tool that requires everyone at an organization to form a Yammer habit to be a worthwhile investment. So for a company like Yammer, the challenge that Customer Success has, is to ensure whole companies adopt and actively use it.
In the early days, this was a matter of identifying and developing an overall customer onboarding and retention strategy. At Yammer, these were some the successful early initiatives born out of a highly data-driven and proactive CS team:
- Power Hour Call: once-a-month group calls with customers in which they’d help each other with their challenges.
- Yammer Customer Network: a place where customers can hang out and help solve each other’s problems, with the customer success team acting as facilitators and connectors.
- Network Health Score: a method for identifying areas where customers want to spend more time developing, potential opportunities to use Yammer more, and identifying the unique ways users are naturally using the product and promote that to other users.
These kind of programs were developed out of studying key details around usage, adoption and user behavior. But more importantly, they criss-crossed lines and departments (marketing, support) to ensure early adoption and growth at their company.
Support the Support team
In the subscription economy, customer success requires reliable customer support and vice versa. Some companies like to operate separate teams, it’s just as practical to merge the two. Whatever their form, success and support are meant to co-exist.
“Customer success doesn’t start with a problem. It starts when the customer joins,” says SupportDriven’s Scott Tran.
That’s why anyone working in a customer success role needs to know their customers inside and out. What have been issues in the past? What have people complained about? Where do they face blockers? These are the kind of things customer success people need to understand intimately. The best candidates have already been working in company support for a number of years. They’re are intimately familiar with both company and customers.
That experience is especially valuable if they:
- Work 1-on-1 with bigger customers or taking more involved cases off the hands of busy customer support teams.
- Work with product managers to ensure customer data and feedback collected by support is built into future releases.
- Design/build out the knowledgebase
- Develop documentation for tech teams
- Develop best practice guidelines for the support team
Customer success “owns the customer from point of inception (sometimes pre-close) all the way through the entire life and lifecycle of the customer.” These are the sort of pieces customer success people can put together behind the scenes to help customer support work smarter, not harder.
This makes for a nice career path at your company too. Progressing from support to a more tailored role in customer success could ensure that you’re creating value over the long-term for your own team as well as for customers. It’s a perfect next step for support reps who love what they do.
How should you structure your success team?
The way you implement a customer success structure depends on a number of variables, and every company takes the approach that’s right for them. Gainsight breaks down five major ways to structure a CSM role:
Typically found in early-stage companies where Customer Success is responsible for support, renewals and other post-sales activities. The good news here is that CSM is the “one-stop shop” and can ensure a great client experience. The bad news is that this model is hard to scale and places more pressure on the team to find the right candidate for the role.
Typically found in companies with a low level of product complexity and a competitive sales and renewals focus. In this model, Customer Success is aligned to revenue and is responsible for identifying up-sell. The challenge is that the focus is less on the customer, and can carry a negative “sales-y” perception amongst the customers.
Typically found in more mature companies with medium levels of product complexity. The pros are that Customer Success is aligned to customer needs as well as the rest of the service organization. The cons are less revenue alignment and an increase in touchpoints with the client.
Typically found in companies with moderate levels of product complexity and are in hyper-growth mode. In this model, the Chief Customer Officer “owns” existing customers and keeps the sales team focused on closing new business. It requires a very versatile CCO and success will depend on the maturity of the organization.
Typically found in companies with very complex products and a competitive sales and renewals organization. The good news is that Customer Success can be very customer-focused while maintaining alignment with renewals sales. The danger is that some levels of effort duplication are inevitable. Also, quantifying ROI becomes difficult in this model.
Offering the personal support of a customer success manager is also a ready-made, premium feature for SaaS companies. giving you the opportunity to present (and upsell) three different levels of service – support, success and the personal attention of an account manager.
This is the other, less newsworthy appeal of customer success. Even if your customers never once require more than a single call with your customer support team, it proves you’re still a step ahead. A proactive customer success team working behind the scenes made that possible. For both you and your customers, it’s a win-win.