Tag Archives: Leadership

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.

CIO-DNA part 1 – an event hosted by BCS

British Computer Society

I attended the CIO-DNA event earlier this week, hosted by the BCS Elite Group, the BCS London South Group and the IOD.  It was a 1/2 day session with technology leaders from different organisations speaking and with some very thought provoking discussions around what makes an effective CIO and CTO, and some of the speakers’ personal journeys to becoming technology leaders.

I’ve summarised some of the key takeaway notes – the fundamental drivers behind what makes a good CIO – from the session below .  Let me know what you think – do you agree?

DNA

  • The CIO and CTO roles are now primarily about innovation.  The focus is no longer about keeping the lights on.
  • As technology leaders we need to advocate the creation of an environment in which the team feels empowered to create sparks of innovation.
  • You need to be fundamentally close to the business and to the customers.  They need to help drive the priorities for technology.
  • A great quote from one of the speakers – “The death of the mouse is only weeks away” – in reference to how important touch is becoming and will be.  Interesting point.  Yes touch is critical but I think there’s a longer transition for a lot of core technology products and platforms.
  • Related to touch, devices that are touch enabled remove barriers to entry for C-level executives and help get wider buy-in to new technology services.
  • Communication and visualisation are key for the CIO to raise their profile.  And as part of this we need to be recognised as equal contributors to business transformation.  The CIO needs to be the agent of business transformation.
  • See technology as an enabler to open up new markets and do things the business wasn’t doing before.
  • The key areas where there are new opportunities, are – smart machines, capturing the real world, mobile computing, touch and cloud.  Where cloud can be seen as more about provision and delivery.
  • Knowledge management will continue to be a challenge for technology leaders, with retiring staff taking know-how with them.  This isn’t a new problem though and can’t be changed.  Focus instead on the new guys coming in and give them an environment that they can be most effective in – and that doesn’t just mean yes to BYOD.  New recruits – and the work force of the future – now have very different expectations for IT and technology.
  • Develop techniques for managing different streams of inputs and see where they match and where they conflict.  Where they conflict, dig deeper – these places show the most interest.
  • Move away from being a pure technologist and focus on the business transformation agenda.  And get proportionately more focus on the profit side of the business – technology is no longer just about costs.
  • Technology does not have users any more – something I’ve been saying for a good number of years.  We need to shift our way of thinking to see them as our customers – whether external or internal ones.  We as technology are providing our customers with a service!
  • Understand what your customers want from the services and systems, and move then to create and deliver that!
  • Create a clear future workspace vision – that allows the business and teams to be more flexible, work smarter and to work faster.  And get the inputs from the business for this – don’t drive with technology.
  • Technology is about change management with the business, and utilising technology to do that.
  • Test the vision with the business – and use visualisation tools (e.g. storyboards and animations).  See a great example of this by Gavin Walker at NATS below – this part of the session was from Gavin….

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfdES2fKyAU&w=560&h=315]

 

  • Position technology as the enabler – to help your customers work better and more efficiently.  Get the decisions pushed into the business – to give them greater accountability.
  • Don’t see IT as a cost centre – the business own the costs and budget.  Technology spends the budget on behalf of the business, with the business making the choices.
  • Focus on change management, not technology.
  • Focus on information, not systems.

These last 2 very nicely summarise where the focus needs to be for technology.  A very pleasant afternoon at the BCS with a good theme and great sessions and as always great networking.

More thoughts soon!

Technology leaders

CIO Connect 2013 conference – thoughts, ideas and observations

I was invited recently to attend the CIO Connect 2013 Conference in London, billed as the IT leadership conference in 2013 and this year with a theme on the gaming changing CIO. It was a great 2 days spent listening to global technology and business leaders’ key note sessions, attending workshops and networking with IT leaders from around the world.

CIO Connect

Most definitely a conference that should be in your diary if you’re a technology leader and more importantly if you share an interest in the major business changes and disruptions, that are happening now and how technology can play the best role in them – and add the value to your business it should.

CIO Connect 2013

They had none other than Brian Cox presenting last year – sadly I couldn’t go – and the final presentation this year on day one was by Dr. Steve Peters, author of the Chimp Paradox (billed as a mind management programme to help you achieve success and almost gospel for the Team GB Cycling team and many other leading sports teams and players). Day 2 was rounded off with a session from Fraser Doherty who founded Super Jam.

Super Jam logo

I always find it useful to capture comments, thoughts, notes, observations and light bulb moments from conferences like this and play them back after the event. A blog gives you the ideal forum to do this with and to share them with a wider audience. Any comments and questions are very welcome!

The thoughts and more…

  • Kevin Segall was presenting on the idea of keeping things simple and reflecting on his time at Apple and working with Steve Jobs. I had the privilege of seeing Kevin a few years ago and he’s a great speaker and very entertaining. The simpler things are the better and simplicity never fails. People love simplicity. Even in the organisation structures we see in business these days, the simpler they are the better and more powerful. A great example of Apple and how Steve Jobs was the ultimate decision maker and could make or break ideas. It might sound harsh but at Apple it works.
  • The “I” in CIO is no longer just about information.  It’s now far broader and covers innovation, integration, intelligence, implementation and imagination.
  • CIOs need to be compelling in improving the digital customer experience.
  • As CIOs we need to work with our peers to define the business decision making criteria. Help build and maintain a “make $ and save $” register to record technology successes.
  • The concept of the PR of IT as people, processes and best practices and CIOs working to ensure these are all aligned.
  • We must see how the overall customer experience works for the business and how this fits with technology. How do we serve the customers (better)?
  • Big themes in 2013 for the CIO are (and continue to be) the cloud (and moving services to the cloud), BYOD (good old bring your own device into the business), big data and security (which ties in to all the above).
  • View IT as a benefit centre, not a cost centre. And as a benefit centre IT is then a value contributor to the business. This represents a big shift for many businesses where IT can still be viewed as a back office service provider for the business. But this is changing and there was a general consensus on how this change is accelerating now.
  • With IT as a benefit centre, prioritise what will get these benefits as early as possible.
  • Focus on people, not on technology and be compassionate.
  • CIOs and their (technology) teams will be the engine rooms for major business changes, over the next 3-5 years.
  • The new norm for how technology teams need to be focused is as 50% strategic, 30% tactical and 20% operational. This is a big shift from now where only 20% is strategic and the vast majority of time and energy is spent maintaining the status quo and keeping the lights on (i.e. BAU). This is all about looking at the commoditisation of IT and moving the BAU parts to be run as lower cost (well) managed services.
  • For business programmes and projects, move to working with the key stakeholder at the business owner, not just the project sponsor. And with the programmes being business investments, not IT projects.
  • The CIO needs to be viewed a business leader. And as CIOs we have a unique understanding of the complexity of the business processes.
  • In many companies there is a vacant seat on the board for the “Chief Customer Officer”.  This is someone who acts as a bridge between the CMO, the COO and the CIO divide, and most importantly this person owns the overall end-to-end customer experience.
  • We need to test the public view of stuff (services that we provide) and to get out and be a consumer of our services. Do they work like they should? And like we expect?
  • The “Chief Customer Office” is the new board member who represents the customer experience in the market.
  • Stop talking about something called digital, as something different. It’s all one now. Platforms, channels and media. We need a more holistic approach – something I’ve blogged about before.
  • We are now in an exponentially changing world, no longer a place where business is linear. Technology is a critical game changer in this new world.
  • And finally from Dr. Steve Peters, the two key areas to focus on for performance and success, are emotional skills and impulse control, and everything is about probability.