When I work with Customer Success teams to embed proactive processes to strengthen customer relationships, concerns raised are typically centered on, “I don’t have time for that.” When I dig more deeply, I usually hear about how busy everyone is with
- Responding to email
- Closing renewals
- Following up on customer support requests
- Helping customer contacts with training
- Working CTA’s from the Customer Success platform that has identified
These are all noble and important activities. And each of those activities is about driving a great Customer Experience (CX). So, my follow-up is, “To what extent do these things drive Customer Success (CS)? All these activities are certainly designed to help the customer be successful. But how do you know if those things are actually doing that?” You may feel that you’re driving customer success with CX activities, but
- Companies buy your products and services because there’s a promise of ROI. Even if you’re supplying commodity products, they buy from your company over others because they need to do more with less and believe that your company will help them achieve that better than others.
- The more your company helps your customer see the business result(s) that your products and services drive the more they will rely on you. “See” means more than measuring the business results; it also means communicating the results and making sure the right people know all about the ROI. By the way, those people will also tell their colleagues about the success the company has achieved with your products and services (at least those colleagues inside their company, if not externally at meetups, conferences, and other events) because they want to show how successful *they’ve* been.
- Who is “the customer?” Perhaps you’re working on behalf of power users, architects, IT managers, procurement and legal folks, etc. Are those contacts *exclusively* your customer? Nope, you also need to consider the needs of the Buying Committee members such as key influencers and decision makers: Aren’t these folks at least as critical to your company’s success as end users and other day-to-day working contacts? Actually, the argument can be made that Buying Committee members are even more important to serve than end users.
- You don’t know for sure if any of the things you are doing are genuinely “moving the needle.”
So, what should the Customer Success organization do? Consider that old expression, “If not me, then who?”
- Responding to your email is important. But are you getting email from the right people about the right topics? Or are you back-stopping another department that *could* be handling these emails?
- Closing renewals is important, but is the Customer Success function really the right organization to be handling paperwork to close the renewal? Are there other people inside the company that *could* be handling that function more optimally than the CS function?
In other words, each of those activities listed at the top – each of which are important elements of the customer journey and part of the Customer Experience (CX) – has someone else within your company that *could* be handling them. For whatever reason those activities are getting done by the Customer Success team. Maybe the customer simply doesn’t know who to go to for which purposes? Or perhaps the customer sees CSMs as free consulting? Or maybe the rest of your company merely doesn’t see that they have “broken” CX processes that cause the CSM to pick up where others leave off? Or maybe those other departments are just under-staffed themselves, so the CS team picks it up? Any of those might be good reasons for the CS team to directly drive the CX. On the other hand, are those reactive CX tasks truly more important than proactive CS work?
“Not so fast!” I hear you say. “We only have people in the Tech Support organization for handling issues that relate to product usage. There isn’t anyone else in my company that can do ad hoc training, help with configuration, assist with paperwork, etc. So those things are our job in CS, and they help the customer be successful.” While that last statement might be true, the key is to find out for sure.
In other words, do you confidently know which activities are most likely to move the needle, i.e. what things drive a customer’s ability to be highly likely to recommend your company to their colleagues? Best to ask the customer what elements of CX and CS are working well and which aren’t working well. Then use proven analytical techniques for deriving importance and determining how to best execute on customer expectations. Companies that operate effectively will assess which investments will drive the biggest bang-for-the-buck. And the only way to do that is through formalized customer feedback that helps your company prioritize. I won’t go into the details of that here since the process is explained in full at https://waypointgroup.org/5th-way-b2b-companies-can-accelerate-growth/
Now that we know which things are most important (that is, which changes are needed within your company to drive retention and also improve the likelihood that your customers will recommend), we can better optimize resources around the company. Perhaps that new hire planned for CS really should be allocated to Support Operations, whereby gaps in Support capabilities could be addressed (instead of putting the onus on the CSM to do that work). Or maybe Training should get more resources to get new customer employees up to speed on a regular basis. Or maybe Product Marketing (where use cases and best practices can be best combined) should get it. Properly analyzed feedback that is linked to financials will yield the result.
To be clear, the CSM must ensure the rest of the company knows what they need to do to drive excellent CX. The reality is that if Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are working those CX tasks themselves then it means that in reality they are supporting the various internal departments to deliver an excellent Customer Experience. Driving a great experience for all the various contacts within the account is certainly an important effort. But meanwhile, who’s engaging the Buying Committee members to make sure they both acquire and perceive ROI (business outcomes)? It’s not that driving better customer experiences (CX) is a bad thing; it’s that there could be a higher calling for CSMs, if customers have an appetite for it. And especially in high-touch B2B functions, the job of the Customer Success organization is to ensure the customer is achieving and seeing the value that your products and services are creating (i.e. you should assume these customers have an appetite for it, but again you best make sure you know the answer). No one else in the company is doing that. So just know that every minute focused on CX is a minute coming at the expense of CS.
To do this effectively, you need to make sure that everyone else in the company is doing what needs to be done. You, as a CSM cannot tell those other departments
what they should be doing. But you *can* provide the voice-of-the-customer that clearly identifies the issues and opportunities for getting it right. With that mindset you’re no longer telling those departments what to prioritize; your customers are. Equipping your colleagues with trustworthy and representative customer feedback, liked to financials, ought to be enough to get them to improve. If not then you need good governance and oversight to ensure everyone has retention and expansion top-of-mind.
To sum up, the CS function needs to make sure that the customer is recognizing the ROI that your products and services are delivering. So, your job is
- CS: Ensure you are providing the assistance that the customer needs to successfully acquire the ROI. Then measure the ROI and communicate it. If you aren’t making it obvious then who will?
- CX: Be a resource manager – bring the right tools and information to the right people to make sure everything is working well. Even if you could do everything the question is, are you the right resource to do it or is there someone better suited to complete the task? Bring trustworthy and representative feedback to those inside your company that are making decisions about where to allocate company resources, and ensure they are accountable to implement the optimal CX. Now you can collaborate with your customer so they can best execute with a great CX to achieve the results, with you as their Sherpa along the way.
Your job is to ensure the customer obtains the necessary outcomes. Improving the CX is everyone’s job. Don’t be a “catch all:” allocate time to acquire the insights that will help the rest of the company enable a smooth CX. The voice-of-the-customer will also help you understand what’s working and not working, across the business. One more hint: Voice-of-customer NPS!