What's Still Holding Customer Success Back in 2017?

January 27, 2017 Lindsay Smith

Customer Success Challenges in 2017Lincoln Murphy recently published “Customer Success: The Definitive Guide 2017” in which he defines Customer Success as occurring “when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company”.  There are two things I really like about this definition.  One is that it puts the emphasis on interactions with your whole company and not just your product or even just your Customer Success team; a drum CS folks are always beating.  The other is the focus on individual outcomes of your customers, where success is defined by the customer and not by your company.

Seems so simple, right?  Years ago a beloved mentor of mine suggested I read “Raving Fans,” a parable which conveys a very common sense approach to moving customers from being merely satisfied to raving fans of your organization.  This concept too is so straightforward and makes so much sense that it gets you thinking, “duh, why isn’t everyone doing this?”  And yet, here we are in 2017, and not everyone has boarded the customer success bus.  Why?

For starters, some organizations have merely switched out the terms customer service, customer support, and/or account management for customer success without a fundamental shift in team goals and objectives.  Many Customer Success Managers are still spending their days putting out fires and responding to countless inbound customer requests.  Part of the disparity in how companies are implementing CS may be the result that we are, as an industry, still struggling to define Customer Success.  As we better figure out and agree about what CS looks, feels, and smells like, I’m hopeful that we can come to a more widely accepted definition and strategy around CS.

Other companies are struggling to see how CSMs can be revenue generators.  In these organizations CSMs are often seen as merely necessary business expenses, which often results in scarce resources for the team and CSMs stretched way too thin to be effective.  When you are in constant survival mode the thought of anticipating customer needs typically doesn’t cross your mind.

Some organizations still view Customer Success as a department and not a business philosophy.  “When our clients succeed, we succeed” is not the battle cry at nearly enough organizations.  Again, this is why I love Lincoln’s definition as it stresses how important it is that each member of your organization understands their part in ensuring your customers are successful, from doorman to CEO.  Unfortunately, many companies aren’t quite there yet.

“The customers is always right” mindset.  In 2017 I am STILL hearing this phrase enough to be concerned.  While I can appreciate the original sentiment of this motto - encouraging staff to place a high priority on customer satisfaction - I think it is time to finally retire it.  First, customers are not always right.  Yes, I said it, and any Level 1 tech support agent who has experienced a PEBKAC can confirm.  Second, that statement focuses on a right vs. wrong dichotomy.  Instead, we should focus on how to solve the problem we're faced with and skip the blame game altogether. Third, it can be deeply demotivating to staff who are interacting with customers who have completely unrealistic expectations and/or those that are just being unreasonable. (Alright I’ll get off this particular soap box but hopefully, you get my point.)

Some companies view Customer Success as some sort of magical unicorn.  Either because they think it will solve all of their organization’s woes (and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it won’t) or because they think a proactive approach isn’t achievable (and to this I say, YOU CAN!).  Either way Customer Success is not a unicorn or magic pixie dust and does require strategy and work but can also reap huge benefits for your organization, if done purposefully.

Some companies view Customer Success as some sort of magical unicorn

Customer Success in 2017

Some organizations are still too shortsighted to understand that retaining customers is much cheaper and better, for a myriad of reasons, than getting new ones.  The focus is all on new business acquisition and not on setting customers up for success.  In those institutions CS teams are often set up to fail as the entire organization can be working against them - closing deals that aren’t a good fit, making promises that the company cannot deliver on - you know the type.  

“That’s all great and well but I’m not a SaaS company or a B2B business.”  Because the rise of CS has come out of the B2B SaaS world, many industries think it doesn’t or can’t apply to them.  WRONG!  Customer Success is all about helping your clients succeed.  Can you think of any customer-facing industry where this wouldn’t apply?

Finally, I’m continuing to see organizations that think building a rockstar product is enough.  In 2017 anyone can build, copy, replicate anything, so customer experience truly is the major differentiator between companies.  CSMs should be at the forefront of helping businesses better understand the customer lifecycle and suggest improvements on each step of the experience so that when you ask your customers how your company is doing, they just say “Wow!”.

What other old school ideas are you still seeing in 2017?  They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, so let’s begin to truly identify what is holding us back from pushing our industry forward. Let's make great strides this year in ensuring all customers and therefore all businesses succeed!

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About the Author

Lindsay Smith

Lindsay has spent the past decade helping hundreds of educational institutions implement cloud-based solutions. Her passion lies in ensuring customers just say "Wow!" when asked how the company is performing.

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