How a CSM Can Expand Their Reach With Self-Success

June 3, 2016 David Kay


If you’re like most Customer Success organizations, you’re spread too thin across your customer base—especially across your smallest and least sophisticated customers, who are the ones who need your help the most. What if you could help all your customers be successful… while you sleep?

‘Self-success’ is the name that Mikael Blaisdell of the Customer Success Association has coined to describe this field, which involves empowering customers with the knowledge they need to make themselves successful. Self-success is a logical extension of customer self-service. Self-service has a long and high ROI track record in the technical support world, allowing customers to find answers and resolve issues themselves, and to deflect low-value contracts from expensive, assisted support channels. Self-success takes self-service to the next level.

Because they come from technical support, self-service knowledge bases tend to be good at technical topics — how to fix something that’s broken, or how to configure a feature. Self-success knowledge, on the other hand, is all about helping customers receive and perceive value from the product. This knowledge is often proactive, strategic, and industry-specific.  Self-success articles might include:

  • Best practices for setting up phone trees for mid-sized medical clinics

  • Year-end tips and tricks for construction firms

  • Sample service requests classification schemes for networking companies

While few Customer Success organizations have implemented knowledge management formally, in our experience this kind of content is so valuable that it does get written down somewhere: in cheat sheets, in a wiki, SharePoint, and even individual email outboxes. Our goal is to take this scattered tribal knowledge and pull it together in a way that’s easy to find and easy to use for CSMs and customers alike.

The easiest way to create a self-success knowledge base is KCS℠, Knowledge-Centered Service. KCS is the best practice for capturing, reusing, and improving knowledge with every customer interaction. Here’s how it works:

  1. When customers ask questions, or CSMs proactively prepare advisory materials for customers, the CSM will search to see if the information is already in the knowledge base. If it is, they share it with the customer and indicate that the article has been reused.

    This does two good things: First, the organization can track the kinds of questions that customers have, and what CSMs are talking with them about. The most popular articles can drive customer educational campaigns, improved products and documentation, helpful videos, and the like. Also, customers are reminded that there is content that they can access to help answer their own questions.

  2. If the article needs to be updated before the CSM can share its information with the customer, the CSM updates it then and there, so the rest of the organization can take advantage of it. In effect, every use of knowledge becomes a review, so the articles that are used the most stay the most current.

  3. If there isn’t an article, then in the process of preparing the answer for materials for the customer, the CSM captures the knowledge in a simple, structured format so that others can use it too.

You might object, “No CSM has time to write long complex knowledge-base articles —their workload is already too high!” And you’d be absolutely right. There are two keys to making knowledge capture a practical option in KCS:

  • Articles are short, to the point, and about just one thing. They’re in a simple structure (for example, Customer’s Business Objective, Industry / Area of Applicability, Products and Environment, Steps to Accomplish the Objective), so capturing these articles is more like filling out a form with bullet points rather than writing a document. This makes articles easier to find, quicker to skim, and faster to write.

  • With a little practice, CSMs can write these articles while they’re delivering the answer, or as they’re preparing materials for customers. The articles are a byproduct of advising the customer, not a separate work stream. As we say, if you take more than 5-10 minutes to capture an article, you’re going beyond “sufficient to solve” and you should simplify.  

While there are many other details that help assure quality and CSM engagement, these are the main ideas of KCS. And yes, they work. Customers can search using their own language and get the information they need. CSMs can more effectively share information and best practices. The organization gets great data on the questions that customers have, and how they’re actually using the products. And, most of all, CSMs won’t feel stretched quite as thin as they do today.

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About the Author

David Kay

David Kay is Principal of DB Kay & Associates, a consulting firm that helps success and support organizations implement KCS, self-service, and self-success. You can reach David at

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