What is and is not Customer Success?

“Make everyone think about things from the customer’s perspective…design how things work jointly with your customers.” – Mike Grafham

What do you think is customer success and how can a company manage it well? We believe that customer success is about developing strategies to make the customer successful, through the association with the company and the use of the products and or services. Customer service is not a ‘thing’- it is many different aspects of a company. It is about the company having a mind-set to help customers achieve success, which in turn means that it would be the responsibility of every person within the company and would be part of the overall business strategies of the company. The basis of customer success for a company would be to get customers to use its products more, stay with the company for long, and be instrumental in spreading positive words about the company and the products.

In a bid to get better at customer success, companies are using technology and established specialized roles and teams to manage this critical aspect. The aim is to increase customer retention and optimize the relationship with the customer for maximum benefits. The most effective way to retain customers is through ensuring their success by using your company’s products and technology. Since businesses exist for and because of customers, it makes sense for companies to manage customers proactively, as a valuable ‘asset’ or else risk coming under complete control of customers and or the competition. Acquiring customers is the first step in a long-term and scientific strategy of achieving customer success and prosperity for the company. The products and services of a company are no longer standalone ‘items’ or objects. Their ultimate goal must be maximum customer success through sustainable profitability and growth of the company.

We know what all goes into customer success, and what its management entail – companies seem to have documented well the aspects of its management. However, there is a possibility that some misconceptions continue, which prevent companies from gaining the complete advantages of this potentially profitable concept. One of the ways to completely understand what customer success is all about, is to understand what customer success is not.

Customer success is not something that happens automatically and neither will it happen simply by wishing it. A company could claim customer-centricity, but without actual efforts and strategies, this will not result in customer success. In addition, applying all the rules of customer success management too will not work to change ‘bad’ customers to high performing, successful, and growth enhancing ones. In fact, the first step of customer success is to acquire customers that show potential of becoming successful and in turn contributing to the growth of the company and all those that work in it. By ignoring the aspect of customer success at the time of acquiring a new customer, a company would be setting everyone up for failure – the customer, the employees, and its own business. Customer success, when approached right, can actually produce results that would be nothing short of magical – customers would buy more, stay longer, provide repeat business, and work as advocates for the company – all of which would drive the value of the company up. However, it must be remembered that these results will not just happen – they require focus, consistent efforts, and a strong resolution on the part of the company to make it happen.

As mentioned before, since customer service is not the responsibility of one department, so also customer success is not the onus of a single department or team. Everyone in the company must understand their role and responsibility in achieving customer success. Even if customer success be the core responsibility of the Customer Success Management team, the fact is that it would be impossible, unless all departments work together to achieve this goal. Customer success has the potential to transform the ‘fortunes’ of a company and all those in it, the pre-condition however being that everyone must work together to gain all the possible advantages.

Treating customers as ‘numbers’, ‘sales figures, and ‘accounts’ is a sure-shot way for companies, to fail at achieving customer success. The customers of today are savvy, intelligent, well-informed, and demanding – they refuse to accept anything but the best. Research shows that customers expect high levels of personalization, and as much product customization as possible – for them to even consider connecting with a company. For companies, this translates to ensuring that they treat each customer as unique and differentiated, catering to their individual needs and expectations in the way that the customer would deem appropriate. Companies believe, and we say erroneously so, that when customers become successful they provide new business, renew contracts, and buy more. However, in order for customers to continually achieve their desired business goals, stay with a company, use more products of a company, and contribute to the bottom line of the company, it would be the onus of a company to support customer success to start with. The success of a company therefore, essentially depends on how well it handles and strategizes Customer Success Management function. It would make sense to therefore, say that managing customer accounts is not the same as managing customer success – a company could be doing a great job at keeping the ‘account’ updated, but if none of it contributes to success for the customer, it would be futile and useless for the customer.
The other point of differentiation of customer success is that it is not the same as support or service to the customer. Customer support in most cases is reactive – where a company goes about fixing issues or helping customers with a problem. While this is an indispensable part of the business, it is not what leads to customer success and neither is it Customer Success Management. Smart companies recognize that they must redefine their products, redesign their services, maximize their operations, and offer proactive support in order to help customers achieve their desired goals and outcomes from the association – this is what amounts to customer success. The fact is that if customers cannot use the service and or the products to advantage, they would soon want to exit the association with the company.

The other mistake that companies make is by seeing customer churn as a factor rather than an underlying cause or problem – a symptom of other factors that could be going seriously awry. Customer success therefore, would be a focus on ensuring that customers never get to the point of leaving rather than trying to retain the ones that would be about to leave. Keeping a customer from leaving usually involves a lot of grovelling, promises, discounts, and incentives – which may not even work effectively enough to keep customers for long. However, companies that aim for customer success would not need to do any of these actions – their customers would stay because of the success they would be achieving. By focusing on making customers successful consistently, a company would not need to worry about things to do that would keep them from leaving.

If a company would like to be seen as a serious contender and front-runner of customer success, it would need to make it a central part of whatever it does. Instead of constantly reporting on customer happiness levels, a company should be able to report on how successful its customers have become from the association, and how their success would have positively affected the company’s business. Do what matters to the customer – show them value – make them successful.

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