In this first of a 2-part series we look at the emerging Customer Success practice and how it is critical for any organization looking to position themselves as a customer-first company. In the second article we will explore the framework for implementing and measuring a Customer Success program.
Whether you are an IT executive serving your enterprise or a vendor caring for your clients, we are embedded in a time where creating an interactive and engaging “customer experience” is one of the tenants of current thinking. But you cannot create a winning “experience” if you do not have a rich relationship with the customer; you need customer engagement in order to develop that relationship.
As we infuse our working and personal lives with technology in more and more aspects of our experiences, it is increasingly imperative that we integrate personal connections in parallel with the technology we deliver. Almost every industry expert talks about the need for following a “People, Process, and Technology” framework. However, it’s the “people” side of the equation with which technologists most often struggle. It’s not just because we are stereotyped as introverted. I contend it’s because people skills are squishy skills. They are hard to define, often times complicated to pull off, and hard to quantify into activities that can be measured.
Success with your customer depends first on the relationship, not on the technology.
When I was just starting my career I was tasked with helping the administrative assistants work with PCs for the first time. (And, yes, I realize I have just dated myself terribly). While the PCs were not much more functional than a typewriter at that time, the average worker in the office had never touched or seen anything like it and computers were perceived to be complex. I found myself face-to-face with an executive assistant who was pretty crabby at any attempt to convince her that the new box on her desk was going to make her life easier. But, ultimately I was able to convince her to give it a try and to realize that the computer had some darn good benefits. The trick was actually basic – an offering of sincere empathy. The connection with her worked simply by taking time to listen, let her express her point of view, and find an opening to move forward on how to make this a positive experience that unlocked value for her.
You probably have similar interactions all day long! This is relationship-building. We need it to succeed both in our home and work life. It works great every time, right? Hmm…maybe not every time!
A Customer Success Program creates the framework for the deep relationship you need with your customers.\
Creating a deep engaging experience for your customer is needed for your company to win, not because it feels nice but because it creates value for your customer and therefore by extension, creates value for your business. There is a growing trend in the industry to package the relationship-building required to create this dynamic into what is called a Customer Success program.
Customer Success within an organization is defined as, “the function at a company responsible for managing the relationship between a vendor and its customers. The goal of customer success is to make the customer as successful as possible, which in turn, improves customer lifetime value (CLTV) for the company.”1
The activities of your Customer Success team are to provide value back to the customer post-sale, outside of and in addition to the product sold. It is a method to create a positive experience through the product life-cycle, focused on what is valuable to the customer. How you determine what is valuable to the customer can only be accomplished through a deep relationship. And the only sustainable path to creating that relationship is taking a position of interest and empathy for what is on the mind of that very customer.
Here are a few key components of an effective Customer Success team:
- Structure the customer success team as its own department outside of sales, service delivery, marketing, operations or other departments. This team must cross-all functions working internally fearlessly, to champion the voice of the customer. Hire individuals that are strong matrix leaders, with a natural ability to encourage anyone in the organization to work alongside them, in the interests of the company and the customer. Since it is fundamental for this team to work outside of the sales motion, customer success should report to the COO, President, or other neutrally positioned executive at the top of the organization.
- Change agents. You’re going to want a team of change agents. This team has to be empowered to influence and escalate; this includes both internally and externally. Some of the change the customer success team will bring is cultural. This could be something as simple as encouraging polish, frequency or depth of content in communication style between your technicians and the customer. It can also mean nudging the customer a bit. For example, the customer success team may see an inefficient process between the companies, but there is a barrier as the customer “has always done it that way” and may be reluctant to alter it. The customer success role should be able to lean in and affect change on the customer’s end too, if it is to the benefit of everyone.
- A culture driven by operational excellence. Well, one could argue this should be the goal for every function, but if you are looking for a successful and mutually beneficial relationship between you and your customer, you better deliver with superior quality. It’s important to be realistic here too. When the going gets tough, and in the ebb and flow of technology, it sometimes will, a strong customer success team will have the right credibility to help guide both your company and the customer back to calm waters.
- A forward looking team that brings the customer’s voice to every department. The Customer Success team should always be listening. Yes, picking up on opportunities to pass to the sales team is a piece of it. But that should not be the driver, just a beneficial outcome. This team should bring back the customer view for how your company can make their life easier. Simple. This could be enhancements to your product, adjustments to your service delivery, or future technology directions of interest to your customer. The latter should help influence your product development roadmap. This is not listening with your palm out; this is listening with empathy and having the ability to translate that into action that is advantageous on both sides of the equation.
- Did I mention authenticity? The people that make up a high performing Customer Success team are genuine and driven by the desire to help. If there is any other motive, your client isn’t going to let them in their trusted circle. And it doesn’t hurt if the Customer Success team is a likeable bunch.
At the end of all of this, it comes back to benefit for your customer. If the value is clear, if it is tracked and demonstrated, the relationship is strong, and the engagement by the customer is deep, you have created a winning culture between the customer and you. This is the engine that keeps the customer as your customer, spawns growth, and creates customer advocacy. That’s a win for everyone.
Now that we have established the up-side for both customer and you in establishing a Customer Success practice, what’s the formula? How do you define value from the customer’s point of view? What exactly are the activities of the Customer Success team to create this relationship and customer-first culture? How do you track and measure something as squishy as a relationship? That’s what we will uncover in the next article of this series.
Stay engaged and stay tuned!
1 “Customer Success.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer_success. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer_success
With over 20 years of experience in leadership roles in the technology industry, Ms. Carroll is recognized as an executive who develops and articulates vision and solutions from both technical and business perspectives. She has an established history of building a culture of collaboration, trust, and respect among IT and the business. A speaker on the topics of digital transformation, cloud computing, IT utility adoption, and team culture, she has been published in CIOInsight and BizTech magazine, and was named a 2010 Computer World Premier 100 IT Leader. She is committed to sharing, listening, challenging, and shaping the discussion around transformational business success.
Currently Ms. Carroll serves as the VP, Customer Success & Lifecycle at TenFour, a NJ headquartered IT Infrastructure Utility Provider. In this role, she leverages her industry expertise to provide insight and guidance to enterprise business executives to facilitate digital transformation and business value realization. She is responsible for creating a differentiated customer experience across the breadth of TenFour’s client portfolio, focused on the customer’s business priorities and outstanding service delivery. Prior to joining TenFour, Ms. Carroll had a noteworthy tenure in a variety of senior IT Leadership positions at the United States Golf Association, most recently as the Managing Director for Information Technology where she led the infrastructure, business resilience, security, operations, and development disciplines.