How Customer Success Works: A brief history & introduction

Reviewing the last decade of customer success.

Although models and principles of customer success trace back to the turn of the 21st century, the implementation and practice of customer success philosophy and strategy date back approximately a decade. Customer success as a field is both a hybrid and an evolution of a few methods more traditional to the functions of modern business, including account management, customer support and service, and sales teams. The discipline has grown exponentially and in congruence with technological innovation. Much of this technological innovation relates to the proliferation of Software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS essentially reorganized the distribution and implementation of software as a perpetual license owned and operated by the customer, transitioning instead to a subscription—or rental-type—model. In this new model, the SaaS provided not only the software solution but the infrastructure that sustains it. The result is a more flexible, tailored, and guided offering for the customer.

With the vendor now more invested in the ongoing value of their service, the relationship to the needs and interests of a customer becomes more accessible and necessary. Accordingly, customer success methodologies have proliferated.

Summarizing how customer success works

Defining How Customer Success Works

There are various ways to summarize the process of how customer success works, and many of them are provided throughout the overall section concerning the question: What is customer success? Given the above historical context, the practice of customer success is also a transition away from the customer dictating to an organization the services needed. Instead, the organization fosters the nature of the service to the customer’s needs. Before customer success, the customer would initiate a call or point of contact to resolve an issue or ask a question. However, now, customer success has rendered businesses proactive in predicting customer needs and interests.


Overview - the inner workings of customer success:

  • Communication
  • Objectives, Accountability, and Mediation
  • Analysis and Measurement
  • Expansion

Communication

communication is key with how customer success works

In the process of customer success, there is much to say about the methods of communicating with customers. A lot of this is covered throughout the overall discussion on customer success. As a brief review, it is the responsibility of the customer success team to reach out and communicate clearly with customers regarding their questions or issues, commonly before these questions or problems arise. Customer success teams must infuse a value into each communication. This includes more than discussion or listening to feedback. It can also include providing the customer with training materials, tips, or tailored and individualized strategies. Each point of communication is designed to enhance the customer’s experience, even beyond the customer’s expectations.

As important as the tactical principles of communication with the customer are to success strategy, the communication within the company is of equal priority. Because customer success managers (CSM) are a primary point of contact for customers, the CSMs must have access to as many resources as possible. This complex process necessitates access to and communication with a diversity of areas within a company. For example, a customer may have a nuanced technology issue that requires the CSM to resource information from a technology expert. With the custom tailoring of objectives and goals, a diverse set of customers entails an elaborate array of needs and interests.

The CSM is also tasked with communicating what they learn from customers to other departments and how they are impacting customers. It is also essential for customer success teams to demonstrate the value they are bringing to the company, especially by communicating clearly about how customers are staying longer, buying more, and receiving as much value as possible from the company’s product or service. This process is two-fold. Internal communication enhances the rest of the organization with intelligence from the customer, and it communicates how critical customer success management is to the overall vitality of the company.

Objectives, Accountability, and Mediation

As has been discussed in depth throughout other sections, the primary purpose of customer success management is to assist a customer in achieving their goals. For the CSM, this is a process of establishing objectives, maintaining expectations, and instituting accountability. The early stages of the CSM relationship with the customer involve an introduction to the product, integration into the ecosystem of their service, and assisting the customer in adaptation to the service. From this point, the CSM commonly steps back, to a degree, while always keeping communication channels open.

The CSM is focusing on results in the process of giving the customer space to gain experience with the service. A CSM must establish incremental objectives and celebrate with the customer when they are achieved. If a given target is not being met, the CSM will help the customer determine the reasons. The customer may simply not understand what to do on their own or may simply not have the time. In such cases, the CSM is presented with an opportunity to educate the customer or establish a new timeline for meeting objectives. Within this process, the CSM is managing the customer’s expectations or even expanding expectations in a way that produces high value for the customer, and the CSM is establishing accountability. Managing expectations and offering accountability assist in reducing a customer's concerns and building trust. Ultimately, if both parties achieve their agreements on accountability, the customer will reach their goal.

Once reaching the objectives, the CSM can request feedback or present new opportunities. The CSM can ask for a customer testimonial or conduct a case study. Or the CSM can suggest a present or future need to expand the customer’s involvement in the company’s services or products. At this stage, even failures with customers can be turned into opportunities. A CSM can assess what objectives were not successful, how expectations went unmet, or how accountability efforts were poorly tailored.

An essential next step in the process of establishing objectives and maintaining accountability is an effective mediation. Customer success management must proactively intervene appropriately based on the customer. Mediation can be executed on an established timeline after a certain amount of days, or it can be engaged based on meeting specific milestones. Much of the mediation can be gauged on collected data as well. If data shows that a customer is not doing what they need to do to achieve an objective, a CSM can intervene to reposition or hold the customer accountable for attaining the upcoming objective.

The analysis and measurements of customer success data are a critical step in how the methodology works, as explored in the following section.

Analysis and Measurement

analysis and measurement in customer success

It is critical to the customer success process to reflect on what happens with a customer, whether the customer successfully implemented the service or not. If a customer continues to renew their service, the CSM can explore whether or not the customer is still utilizing it, and to what extent, by reviewing usage data. A CSM may also communicate directly with the customer to acquire information. Surveys can be provided that focus on what has been successful for the customer or how they believe things can improve. Because a CSM has a productive and long-term relationship with the customer, they can also reach out with inquiries when the customer does not renew. Assessing this data also contributes to customer success improvements.

Customer success management is concerned with two primary areas of measurement: customer health and company health. These two areas can be translated into two questions. The first question asks how the customer is doing, and the second asks how the company is doing. It is critical to the customer success model that customer health drives company health. In other words, the answers to how a customer is doing ought to inform the company on how they are doing and what they can do better.

As mentioned earlier, technological innovation contributed to the exponential growth of customer success methods. This same technological evolution is also contributing to the efficacy of measuring and analyzing those processes. SaaS provisions can assist in developing customer success programs and provide technical support for measurement and assessment. Technology can also make the execution of customer success more efficient by measuring information and determining if an issue can be resolved with human interaction or if a CSM needs to take action.

For more details on essential measurements of customer success, review the page What is Customer Success?

Expansion

Customer success models focus their efforts on maximizing the value of the service for the customer. This goal, however, is ultimately executed for the sake of growth in revenue for the service provider. By increasing renewals and reducing churn, customer success management remains a viable resource for revenue generation.

The CSM achieves this goal by focusing on the perspective of the customer. A core question of the CSM becomes: What can we offer to improve the customer's experience and level of value provided? If the honest and objective answer to this question is a higher package or expanded product line, then the CSM is tasked with communicating this to the customer. The CSM acts as adviser and partner to the customer while always considering how the organization's services or products can be expanded to increase customer value. For the customer to achieve consistently evolving objectives and goals, they will likely need to continue past a renewal, consume more of the company’s core product, or expanded services.

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In summary, when customer success management focuses exclusively on executing its purpose for existing in the first place, the natural result is expansion and renewals for the organization.


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