Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who does the best customer success of all?
Who provides Customer Success excellence? Which companies are the best? As you might imagine, I’ve been asked that question a lot over the years from all corners of the worldwide CS community. And I suspect that you’re not going to be comfortable with my answer, which is: nobody. I don’t like it either. But I think we have to tell the truth about it before we can seek a change for the better.
Why might this be so? As with much in organizational life, we have to look beyond the surface to see the actual realities below. One of the very first questions that I ask in my Customer Success organizational review procedure is: What kind of a company are you? What is your product?
What kind of a company are you? What is your product?
Virtually all technology companies will begin their answer by describing the flashy marvels they offer. “We are the market leader that makes the best award-winning powerful [insert technology] in the industry. Our designs are visionary and innovative, and are far ahead of any and all competitors. We deliver the maximum wiggle-flops per core thingiggies, and our wandwidth far exceeds all grins-per-inch standards.” The company may also talk about how their products help their customers to increase their productivity, smiles, and/or the intensity of their intimate experiences — but the clear essence of who WonderWand is as a company is that they make superior technology.
Notice the core strategic assumption in the above. WonderWand Corporation clearly believes that their reason for existing as an entity and for any success they have achieved is the combination of the desire of customers for a particular kind of shiny object and that WonderWand offers the shiniest of them all. WonderWand is a company of marvels and marvelists. Unfortunately for WonderWand and their ilk, there is no sustainable competitive advantage in technological features and functionality.
Enter the Profiteers
What’s even worse is that lurking in the organizational cubbyholes just outside WonderWand’s engineering department and in some of the other C-suites up on Mahogany Row — and especially outside the walls where the investors swarm and hunt — there is another kind of thinker with an entirely different focus: the profiteer, and the bottom line. For the profiteer, wiggle-flops, core thingiggies, and/or the intensity of experience for customers are irrelevant. What matters is the money and only the increase in the money. Profiteers simply speak a different language from the marvelists, and worship at a different altar. Wherever the profiteers attain power in an organization, their idol will become preeminent.
The marvelist engineer/designer and the Customer Success professional have a lot in common. The engineer wants to design and build the marvel and the CSM is eager to help their customers get all the promised benefits that the product offers. A marvel that isn’t used is a waste in the eyes of engineer, CSM, and customer alike. But an un-or-under-utilized product is not necessarily a waste to the profiteers, so long as the customer continues to pay.
What kind of a company are you? What are you truly offering? When the answer is authentically about a mutually beneficial relationship continuing over time, when you are truly a Product-As-A-Relationship company, then we can talk about excellence in Customer Success.
Mikael Blaisdell is the founder and Executive Director of the worldwide Customer Success Association and of The Customer Success Forum. He’s done continuous research into the development and evolution of the profession of Customer Success for over a decade, and his vision and commentary about how companies can optimize customer relationships is read in over 160 countries around the world