Customer Success is fast becoming one of the most talked about topics in business today. A whole industry has emerged around Customer Success and a plethora of (very good) websites, white papers, webinars, conferences, specialist technologies and companies exist to guide, advise and help you implement best practice.
From a personal perspective, I have worked at Avention (formerly OneSource) over the past twelve years in a number of related roles from individual contributor to today, leading our global Customer Success organization and have learnt many valuable lessons along the way. I wanted to share some of the key insights I have uncovered on this incredibly rewarding journey so far.
Customer Success is a Corporate Philosophy (not a department)
Customer Success needs to be interwoven into the very fabric of a business and not restricted to a specific team or individuals. This applies as much to back-office groups (i.e. Billing, Product Management, Engineering, Legal) as it does to client facing staff (i.e. New Business Sales, Account Managers, Marketing, Customer Support). Different groups should not think of themselves as individual silos but as critical interconnecting cogs in a well-oiled machine that generates happy, loyal customers and ultimately, high recurring revenues.
Put the customer at the heart of every process and give serious consideration to all aspects of the journey that they will take with your organization. This includes everything from the initial Sales enquiry to the successful renewal (and growth) of your client. The end game is to generate long-standing and loyal customers who will go out of their way to advocate how wonderful your solutions and people are to their peers. Put simply, this will only happen when everyone in an organization works towards the same goal and with a customer-first approach.
Staff Effectively – Look for the “X-Factor”
When I look to bring new people onto my team there are some raw attributes that I look for. Sure, relevant experience, skills and technical know-how are important but in many cases, this can be taught or improved over time. The key attribute (or “X-Factor”) in any Customer Success professional that I seek is something I cannot teach – giving a damn about the customer.
This attribute sounds simple (and many claim to have it) but in my experience, is becoming increasingly elusive to find. I have interviewed hundreds of people during my career and some of my worst hiring mistakes are where I have ignored what my intuition is telling me and gone by experience and skill-set alone.
Once I believe I have the right mix of X-Factor and skill-set/experience, I ask potential team-members to showcase their communication skills. Being an effective business communicator (through verbal and written means) is vitally important in building credibility with customers and in the age of texts, tweets and status updates is becoming an ever increasingly rare talent. Candidates are asked to give a presentation on what they believe is important about Customer Success (so I can get a sense of their own beliefs) and provide examples of a project plan that they have created. This helps ensure that the key customer engagement messages will be effectively delivered.
Once you have the right people on board, your role as a manager is a simple one:
- Ensure that you have best practice processes in place
- Trust your team to do their jobs and don’t do it for them (even if they initially make mistakes)
- Provide the right tools to make their job more efficient
- Never believe you have the monopoly on good ideas and embrace feedback. Whether or not you take this feedback on-board is your decision but be open.
- Encourage, coach and mentor
Simply put, give your team the platform to succeed and then support them in any way you can.
Build Effective Metrics (don’t be blindsided by anecdotes)
Customer Success is not immune from the scrutiny of analytics. For decades, front-line Sales organisations have been used to being run this way (e.g. managing an Opportunity pipeline, renewal rates, up-sell quotas, etc) to determine whether they are being effective. In the Customer Success world it is vital that you have the metrics in place to ensure that you can effectively measure your efforts to increase customer engagement and satisfaction.
Too often, the effectiveness of a Customer Success group comes from ad-hoc anecdotal evidence (e.g. periodic positive/negative customer feedback) that causes either knee-jerk reactions or perceived validation of your existing plan. Whilst there is certainly a place for this anecdotal evidence it cannot be in the place of having firm measures of success that are transparent across your business. In my experience some of the most effective measures are:
- Engagement rates (i.e. are your customers actually using your service)
- Health-Scores (i.e. measuring the “health” of a customer relationship based on a number of factors including usage, volume of Support tickets, customer engagement, levels of satisfaction, etc)
- Customer Success Manager KPIs (Key Performance Indicators that include number of meetings, trainings, quarterly service account reviews, outbound calling, internal reviews, regular monitoring of customer usage, etc)
- Support Ticketing Management (i.e. number of Support Tickets handled, how long they are taking to resolve, what “type” of issues are they, etc)
- Customer Feedback (i.e. regular surveying of your customers based on the efficiency and professionalism of the service that they receive, Net Promoter Score, etc)
Once you properly understand how well your Customer Success organization is performing against these measures it will allow you to demonstrate the tangible difference you are making to the business or give you evidence to make the appropriate changes needed to improve performance.
Obey the “Golden Rule”
I have always lived my personal and business life by a simple mantra – “treat people the way that you want to be treated” – and in my opinion, is at the very heart of what Customer Success is all about. Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey further validate this theory in the book “The Ultimate Question 2.0” which introduces the Net Promoter System as a quantifiable measure on the loyalty of customer relationships.
Look at your organization through your customers’ eyes and be as constructively critical as you can be; look for the “soft underbelly” of your business that can be the most cumbersome and arduous part of the way a customer does business with you. Whether this is with your Sales/Contractual/Billing Teams or your on-boarding program, keep asking yourself, “Does this obey the Golden Rule?”.
Customer Success teams needs to be very embodiment of the Golden Rule as they interact with more customers/users than any other group in a business. Very often the interaction that someone will have with the Customer Success team will drive their lasting and abiding thoughts on the company as a whole.
The Golden Rule is not exclusively tied to when a customer reactively contacts your business or goes through a defined process (e.g. Billing). It equally applies when you help customers proactively get maximum value from their significant investment in your business. This is a true “win/win”; not only does your client get a better return on their investment but your organization’s renewal and up-sell rates also increase.
Keeping the Golden Rule as the standard benchmark when new people, processes and products come on board in your will help ensure that your customers remain delighted and engagement/renewal rates remain high.