Look Past the Features
Customers often are overly attracted to shiny things, to the flash and sparkle of new application features. But will those expectations actually be beneficial to their operations?
It was very common, back in the day when I was advising Customer Support teams on selection and implementation of case management systems, for the customer to want every possible alert to be set up. Their desired outcome, that anything and everything that was in any way out of the designed workflow would automatically trigger an alert or series of alerts, was a Must Have. A Level-01, Severity 01 case hadn’t been touched/handled within an hour? Trigger an alert to the CEO! If a case from an important customer got escalated to Tier three; trigger an alert to the VP of Sales! The Support application sales team had sold the customers on the idea that their app’s alerting feature would save the day. What the sales guys didn’t say was that all of those alerts would not only overwhelm the customer’s e-mail system, they would also produce so much noise that nobody paid any attention to any of it. The Customer Is Always Right, give them their Desired Outcome — get the deal signed. It was left to me as the consultant (the Customer Success Manager, long before the name was coined) to advise the customer to be careful of what you ask for, you might get it.
My clients listened to me because I could back up my advice with data and logic. I had been a Support executive myself, and I knew the role inside and out on all levels. I also knew the technology, and how to use it effectively. From the executive suite to the line reps in the call center, I could speak to what was actually needed at every point in order to make life easier and more sustainable.
The Title That Counts: Trusted Advisor
The core of the Customer Success role is to ensure that your customer, and your company, get increasing sustainable productivity and profitability from the ongoing relationship. That is The Outcome that must be achieved, and the key to attaining it lies in the domain expertise of the CSM. An employee can be taught about the features and functions of the company’s application. (A tour in Support is a good start.) You can send them out for soft skills training (a.k.a. “charm school”) to learn how to handle difficult conversations and to effectively communicate advantages to customers. Your company’s Customer Success exec or Ops team can instruct them on proper execution of playbooks and procedures. But Domain/Subject Matter Expertise, knowing how to truly and fluently speak the language of the customer’s business, to be a Trusted Advisor, has to be earned and consistently demonstrated over time.
The need for such Domain Experts is inherent in the realities of the Saas model. The logic is clear; ignore it at your peril. When a customer can churn, easily leave for another vendor at any time, you cannot assume that achieving their stated desired outcome in other than economic terms will be enough to retain them. The burden of getting value, provable economic value, from the relationship can’t be safely left on the customers’ shoulders or to chance.
Question: What do Customer Success Managers do? What is the Role of Customer Success?
Answer: Everything that can be profitably provided to the customers that will help them to increase their productivity and profitability. Look past the customers’ desired outcome to see what else might make them even more successful. While you may find yourself occasionally going above and beyond what is profitable for your company in your work with customers, it mustn’t become a habit or the success of your own company will be at risk.
The role of Customer Success is to increase sustainable proven profitability for both Customers and Company. How will you know that you’re fulfilling that mission? When your customers, and your company, are bragging about the economic increase they’ve achieved through your efforts.
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