Tag Archives: Customer

Customer Success leadership as we move into 2019

Copied from a  recent guest blog post that I did recently for Simon Cooper from KUPR Consulting.

2018 sees us well and truly in the age of the customer and we’re seeing more and more organisations rethinking about where their growth comes from and about the right level of investment needed in their customer facing teams (not just Customer Success). Customer Success continues to grow as a way of working, as a discipline and as a new exciting career option – the role of a Customer Success Manager has been the number one advertised job on LinkedIn in a number of different countries around the world.

With this growth, the need for very good Customer Success leadership is becoming more and more critical, to ensure we’re delivering the necessary outcomes for and growing value to our customers.

I’ve worked with and within a number of different technology organisations – both startups and global enterprises – and each has its own unique challenges and circumstances but with a number of common key themes.

Why is being customer centric important at the leadership level you might ask?

It’s not only the obvious, i.e. that your customers stay loyal when they have good experiences and when product and sales are delivering on our promises, but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalise this and how we support our customers. You become customer centric when you deliver on-going growing value to and for your customers.

But it’s not just about having a Customer Success team and having Customer Success managers in our companies. Having a Customer Success leader gives you:

  • Visibility – to see what is happening to your customers
  • Clarity – to understand the changes when a prospect becomes a customer
  • Balance of power – the third pillar for focus (alongside sales and operations)
  • Sales focus – sales focused on new business with no customer distractions
  • Feedback – understanding what is really happening outside of the business
  • Signalling – that critical external messaging that we are customer centric

I had the privilege of co-hosting a webinar recently with Jason Whitehead (the CEO and Founder of Tri Tuns) where we talked through some of the key questions around Customer Success leadership. Some of these are covered below – you can also find the webinar recording and details of other ones in this series here.

The challenges today

There are some amazing Customer Success leaders internationally and I’m lucky enough to know a good number of them (and I’ve learnt so much from them) but there are some big challenges that we’re facing. I’m going to look at a number of these now.

(1) Lack of Customer Success experience – it is a new and fast changing area, and there just aren’t leaders around with long track records in this world called Customer Success. That’s not to say there aren’t leaders with solid world class experience in customer facing roles but it can make finding the right person more of a challenge and require a wider search. This can be seen especially when we need more strategic thinking and planning.

(2) Customer and business maturity – the vision of what Customer Success means to a business depends on your own organisation and your specific customers. Sure there are guidelines and principles that are consistent, but our own maturity and stage as a business can and does impact what we want from Customer Success and our Customer Success leader on day one or even day 501. We may be in a stage where our Customer Success team are acting as firefighters in a more reactive position than driving new value and outcomes with customers more proactively, and the key is understanding this and where we are now. The maturity of our customers is also important to understand and by this I mean where they are in their own stage of growth, their overall adoption of new technology services and their expectations from our services.

(3) Investment being made into sales not Customer Success – for a lot of businesses, sales (in terms of new business) is still (seen as) the main growth engine and not the existing customer base. As businesses grow and expand and extend their services and offerings this is changing but it requires a shift in mindset for our CEOs and founders. This investment includes our Customer Success leader, our Customer Success managers (with different levels of experience) and potentially other Customer Success roles.

(4) Expectations for industry specific knowledge – this continues to be a growing challenge where organisations are looking through multiple lenses when hiring their Customer Success leader and looking for very specific industry and even technology experience, as well as solid experience in Customer Success and other customer facing roles. Many Customer Success leaders are amazing business generalists, and well skilled in working well in many different industry verticals and with broad (rather than deep) technical skills. 

(5) Short tenures – a number of the challenges above mean that many Customer Success leaders have had to move around in different organisations and whilst this has given a solid benefit of broad experience it can be seen as an issue. I’d always encourage good conversations with my Customer Success leader candidates to understand the drivers behind different positions and moves, and not simply put this as a blocker (which it often is).

(6) Are we a customer centric business? I don’t believe there are organisations who would say that they weren’t all about their customers but without the necessary customer focus and thinking at a strategic level, our Customer Success leader and team will not function and deliver as we need them to.

What makes a great Customer Success leader?

There are three traits that I believe are critical in great Customer Success leaders and strangely enough these are the same three traits I look for in new Customer Success managers joining my teams:

  1. Passion – a level of drive and motivation about your values and Customer Success
  2. Empathy – for customers and their teams and companies
  3. Broad technology and industry experience – broad not deep

Yes these are quite broad but they are at the essence of what Customer Success is. The last one I really like, as I think the breadth of experience in multiple customer facing roles and with different companies and technologies is a differentiator. You need to understand the bigger picture with your customers and where you and your company’s service and/or technology fit in.

A couple of other important things to add are:

  • Experience growing and scaling teams and businesses
  • Customer focus (of course)
  • Being bold – you’ll need to try new ideas and influence change
  • Being agile and not averse to change (or managing change)
  • A like for processes is a must have – you’ll have to define and build new frameworks and ways of working (and these have to keep evolving as your customers do)
  • You are the ultimate voice of the customer – and that can be a lonely place but you need to be there and you need to bring the customer (voice of and feedback) into every meeting
  • When you start, go and meet (all) your customers – hear what they’ve got to say
  • And Customer Success leaders often also take on responsibility for certain key accounts and there is no better way to learn

Does the title matter?

Yes and no. It really depends on the organisation and titles can and do vary. You may be head of Customer Success, director of Customer Success, VP of Customer Success or even the new chief customer officer (which as the newest member of the C-suite I’m happy to report that we’re continuing to see more appointments of this level).

Customer leadership is often the missing piece when companies look to be more customer centric – irrespective of the title, the role is all about increasing customer value and bringing the customer conversation to the board level. You need to be ultimately responsible for your company’s customer relationships.

Are there any differences in Customer Success leadership globally?

On the whole no – you need the same core skills, core traits and type of customer focused experience, and you will be working to and driving a similar vision and approach. There are of course the more subtle (or not) cultural differences and as you grow and expand the teams and regions you work in, you need to be very conscious of these – both for your teams and your customers.

Local language is so important as well – look at Europe as a great of example of this. I’m always a fan of having local language people in the local region to help drive value and better outcomes for my customers.

I always talk about differences with the likes of NPS and this is a good example I think of where you, as a Customer Success leader, need to be aware of potential cultural differences. We all know that only a 9 or 10 rating on an NPS results in it being classed as a promoter. Our US based friends and colleagues might often give 9’s or 10’s as ratings but in the UK – and I hope I’m not generalising – 9 or 10 is better than excellent and very, very rarely happens. That’s like 100% in an exam. A 7 could be a very good score but that only means your passive in the world of NPS. This changes how you might view the scores that you get, and where your true baseline is.

You are the voice of the customer

We all know that our customers are already talking to other customers and future prospects, – I want them to say the right thing!

It’s critical to build and to lead a voice of the customer programme. You, as the Customer Success leader, need to be constantly and consistently listening to and hearing what your customers are saying and then empowering your teams and companies to take actions.

There is a huge ROI in finding out what went wrong (and yes things always do go wrong) and fixing it and letting our customers know we’ve listened and what we’ve done.

Where do I find them?

I’m going to close off this blog post with this final point. We all know that Customer Success as its own separate formal discipline is relatively new and so, by definition, they aren’t many people with many years experience in the actual role itself. But that’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing Customer Success leaders in the industry around the world. Many come from other customer facing roles and even from multiple customer facing roles (and leadership roles). Some great examples include customer support, professional services and consulting, project management, service delivery, account management and sales roles. All of these roles bring some fantastic experience with them – from building and growing customer relationships, delivering value and outcomes, and handling difficult and challenging customer conversations.

Customer operations? Tell me more.

It’s not that long ago that sales operations was a hot new topic, helping companies utilise their sales data better to drive more efficiency and better results in their sales processes. This expanded to a broader commercial operations function, to include marketing and to help track, process and manage leads, conversion rates, website analytics and more. All great but all only looking at the initial part of your customers’ journey – i.e. before your customers had engaged with you, adopted your services and were getting value from you.

Fast forward to now (or more a couple of years back) and we’re into the world of customer success and the need for businesses to have, as a core part of their corporate DNA, a customer centric way of working. Often this means having a customer success team or a few CSMs (customer success managers) but this is only the start. You need customer focused leadership, the right people, the right systems and the right tools – any one on their own isn’t sufficient.

As part of the right people being in place, a new role to consider is your customer operations analyst or manager (or team – depending on size). This may initially be part of a wider commercial operations team but it brings most value and ROI, when it’s a dedicated part of your customer success team.

Your customer operations team needs a solid but fairly narrow remit and needs to cover:

  • Customer data consistency
  • Customer data analysis
  • Customer success system
  • Customer data integration
  • Customer data reporting
  • Customer journey mapping

The customer success system piece is one where I’ve seen great success, in helping select, implement and manage the platform or platforms and tools that you’re using as part of your customer success programme and plan. And importantly their integration with other tools you’re using in your business, including your own product – for example to bring in product usage and product adoption data, as part of your customer 360 view.

Your customer 360 view should also include:

  • Customer health score information – how likely are they to renew or churn
  • Commercial information – e.g. monthly revenues, renewal dates and payment status
  • Customer risks – e.g. churn risk and overall business risk
  • Real time support data – from your support platform
  • License information – including additional services and products used

All of this comes from your customer data – a potentially untapped source of key business data. Your customer operations functions allows you to access and view all of this data in a customer focused way and shift your customer success management from being reactive to proactive to predictive (using the data to feed into trigger points that you’ve defined as part of your customer journey).

What does your customer operations function look like and do you know what insights there are in your customer data?

Who’s looking after your customers’ success?

What a great question to ask. Do you know the answer, and if not, who’s finding it out for you? And even more importantly, do you know what your customers need to achieve to be successful?

Often as business owners and leaders, we naturally need to be focused on our company’s success and how we evolve and grow our business, building new products and services and acquiring new customers. 

We’ve seen a shift in the last ten years to the new world of Customer Success and the consumerisation of business services, where our business customers’ expectations are driven by their experiences as consumers. This has been and continues to be a huge change and a very challenging one. I say ‘new world’ here, but it’s not new as in ‘we’ve never done it before’ – just in that we need a different (and new) approach today.

How do we provide the same levels of services (and amazing products and platforms) that organisations like Amazon, Apple and Netflix do? They’re in completely different markets and you could see them as being irrelevant to the lettings industry. But many of your own customers use them – and many others like them – on a daily basis, and they just expect things to work and deliver, as and when and where they need and want.

Our customers are now more willing and able to leave us if we don’t do what they need or provide the value they expect – and they expect this level of flexibility. The so-called age of the customer is all about this flexibility – it’s about how businesses push value to customers, and ensuring customers become the focus and that customers are attracted to use them, not stuck with them.

When our customers are successful, and they can directly see the value our products and services give them, they will naturally gravitate more to us, use more of our services, grow with us and become great advocates.

I heard a great quote at Gainsight’s recent Chief Customer Officer Summit Europe 2018 that resonates so well and sums this up perfectly: “Make your product value painlessly obvious”.

Customer Success has to be a business-wide strategy and way of working, it isn’t just the responsibility of one team , one job function or one person , and you need a customer-centric culture to achieve this.

It often starts with one team – your customer facing team – but that team’s objectives and strategy and planning have to align with the rest of the business and radiate out to influence other teams and stakeholders.

This team absolutely can be – and often is – the starting point for this refocus back to the customer. They can plan and start new customer-based initiatives, projects and activities that then flow out across the wider business. In this fast-growing world of Customer Success, many organisations are leading the way and developing new and improved approaches that can be replicated elsewhere and by other companies, even in different industries.

How do you ensure Customer Success?

So what does a customer-centric culture look like?  At a number of startups I’ve worked with Customer Success has been a a core part of our operating philosophy from day one but in the early days it often starts with that team doing everything for customers. As you grow and expand as a business, so your Customer Success team and approach has to grow, and of course your customer-base. You move from being mainly reactive and often seemingly on the backfoot, to having a full single customer view that covers everything from commercial information, support details, customer sentiment, survey feedback, product usage, contractual information, sales information and much more. This is a critical part of our success and it continues to grow, with the right technology and tools (including a Customer Success Management platform). 

The teams have to also evolve and I’ve seen success in creating dedicated functions for onboarding and implementation (and customer education), customer and commercial operations, documentation and configuration and customer success management (that includes customer renewals, escalations, training, customer feedback, consultancy and advisory services, relationship management and customer advocacy and customer value reviews). All of these involve working very closely with the other teams and helping to make sure that customer feedback is being fed through the right channels, listened to and responded to in the appropriate way.

There is of course a balance needed between providing the level of services required (and achieving those desired customer outcomes) and over-delivering and over-servicing, and it can be challenging to strike the right balance. It’s critical to sometimes say no and to route our customers through the most appropriate channels into the business, for them to get the outcomes they require, and for this to be repeatable for them and scalable to grow with our business and our customers’ businesses.

How we measure Customer Success is critical to us – and that statement is even more powerful when reworded slightly… how do you measure your customers’ success?

There are a number of key metrics we can and do use for this, including Net Promoter Score. NPS is an easy-to-use measure to gauge customer loyalty and how it trends over time, and is used by many global businesses in many different industries. I’ve used NPS successfully in a number of different businesses, asking that one ultimate question – how likely are you to recommend us? – but also with a number of optional additional questions to get more customer insight. The score at a particular time is less important than the trend over time or the details and sentiment behind the score. When we receive completed surveys, the Customer Success Managers then carry out detailed feedback calls and campaigns with customers to understand better the reasons behind the feedback and to explore how we can improve.

It’s important to note – and this can be often overlooked – that Net Promoter Score and customers’ sentiment and feedback is not something that is just owned by your Customer Success team. These are and have to be company-wide measures and, ultimately, key business objectives. Your detractors ultimately aren’t getting the value they need and they can be calling in more for support and help, so what we need to do is help move these customers towards being promoters, and ensure that they are successful.

So the answer to the new ultimate question – the title of this post – is you and your company. Your Customer Success team helps you understand better what your customers’ success looks like, alongside of course your sales teams, and then works with the rest of the company to help achieve that success.

Customer Success is about both good outcomes and good experience and getting the mix right for that customer and what they need. If one of these isn’t right or isn’t working, you will not help your customers be successful.

Nothing is more important than your customers’ success.

6 great customer success principles to live by

… and you learnt them all in pre-school. A great article that I read today and well worth a re-post.  Written by Dennis Hennessey – Six Great Customer Success Principles To Live By – and published on the BUSINESS2COMMUNITY.

Customer success

The first blog post I’ve written in 6 months, far too long. Busy with a a new exciting position and opportunity with Appirio in our London head office, helping to drive and build customer engagement and customer success, with some great customers, helping them innovate and transform their businesses with cloud technology.  And working with an amazingly talented and passionate team.

This article really resonated with me and as principles they’re very simple to remember, understand and build into your own customer success and customer engagement teams…

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Honesty
  4. Be polite
  5. Keep your promises
  6. Be helpful

Customer success workshop

Not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination but very powerful principles and all key to helping build, improve and take your customer relationships to the next level.

What customer success principles do you use and are any of these missing from your organisation?

A guide to understanding customer success

Two relatively recent formal functions within businesses are those of customer engagement and customer success.  Clearly not new as in we’ve not been focusing on success or engagement before but in that it wasn’t someone’s job title or sole function.

Customer success

Or was it?  Customer success and customer engagement have clearly been critical to businesses, since commerce first came about and it’s always been – or should be – part of everyone’s job and the function of every department.  But what has changed is that a need has been identified to have individuals and teams who focus just on success and engagement, particularly from a leadership perspective – and ensure all other teams are working in a customer focused joined up and collaborative way, that results in the best experience and service for our customers!  All great to have.

There’s a great blog post from last month that looks at the role of someone heading up the customer success function from Dan Steinman (Chief Customer Officer at gainsight).  Dan highlights the key traits that are needed for a successful customer success leader and does so by asking his team about him in his role – a very interesting and insightful exercise.

Do read Dan’s post for full details but in summary the key traits are:

  1. A passion for customers.
  2. A willingness to get their hands dirty.
  3. A philosophy.
  4. An understanding of what the customer success team do each day.
  5. A knack for influence management.

Influence management

Passion makes perfect sense.  You need to have be focused on the customer and making things right for them and caring about them being successful.  And your team need to share the same passion – and then let it spread beyond just your team!  It can be a cultural shift but a critical one.

Getting involved when there are customer issues and challenges, means getting stuck in and doing what is needed and engaging with the customer and team.  And not just taking a back seat overseeing it all.  It’s about credibility.

As a new field, it is evolving fast and there are lots of new ideas.  You need to be committed to what your phillosophy on customer success is and what that means for your customers and your teams.

The better you know your team and what they are doing, the better informed your decisions are – not rocket science, but all about good leadership.

The last point is the big one I think – influence management.  You need to be working across all the functions and teams in your company so that they understand their roles in customer success – from sales to operations to development to product management to admin to support – so they can understand what and when changes are needed and implement them.

As an evolving new function, there is no commonly agreed standard definition of what customer success (or engagement) management is.  Having a team focused on customer success, has a strong message for both internal teams and stakeholders and customers.

Pay as you go technology

As technology moves more and more to a utility based – pay as you go – model and more focus is on long term relationships and not the legacy models where there was a huge upfront cost (as CAPEX – capital expenditure), customer retention becomes more critical.  This is where customer success and customer engagement both come in – ensuring customers are retained.  And key to this is ensuring customers can easily see the commercial value of the platforms and services you are providing.

These new technology models, have created a need to formalise and structure the customer success function, but it’s not just in technology companies where it applies.

The more value your services provide, the more successful your customers are and the more successful you are.  Customer success can be the focus of your VP of customer success, or your chief customer officer, or your customer success director, but their role is to make sure everyone understands what customer success is all about and everyone’s own role in it, and to make your customers successful.

Customer success