Implementing Customer Success – An Organizational Balancing Act

Picture Source - Vecteezy
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Following from our previous article on the importance of strategic foundations for creating a customer-centric culture to successfully implement customer success (CS), we’re pleased to follow on here about the company organization itself. We’re still aligned with the chronological OPT-IN² framework to which we previously referred, an acronym meaning: Organisation – Processes – Tools – INformation – INtegration.

While we saw in our previous article the strategic pillars of customer-centricity and service alignment, the organization of the company (the black bull’s eye of the above infographic) is the supporting backbone which will structure the progressive operationalization of customer success, allowing it to adapt and transform to a customer-centric and CS-championed company.

Without the organizational backbone firmly in place, there is a high risk that the CS strategy and tactical efforts will crumble.

We like to think of the fundamentals of the CS organization like a 3-legged stool, permanently supporting and keeping in balance CS operationalization as it is progressively implemented.

If all 3 organizational legs are not firmly balanced at all times, then the supporting framework topples over, bringing down the operational CS efforts supporting the customer-centric strategy. We consider that the 3 supporting legs are as follows:

  1. Charter
  2. Responsibility
  3. Executive Buy-in

Charter

Why is it important to have a customer success charter? This is an essential part of any customer-centric company as often the 2 correlated words of “customer success” are misunderstood or non-aligned across companies. It is essential to state loud and clear what is meant by customer success, what is its vision and what is the charter for its mission. The customer success charter will evolve as customers, vendors and their solutions and services evolve.

The vision for customer success is the strategy to drive a sustained dual growth engine for both customers and the vendor alike. Indeed, in the current business world where recurring revenue models and subscriptions are being rapidly adopted, the traditional seller-buyer relationship is gradually being replaced.

Picture Source – Lehigh University

These two parties have now evolved into a different kind of relationship, one of true partnership where they mutually help each other to grow and prosper: clients invest in a solution and/or service which will adapt and expand with their growing needs while the vendors benefit from their clients’ growth and consequent additional investment.

The vision of customer success includes above all what the customers need to achieve regarding their business performance. This corresponds to the mission statement of customer success, meaning how your company – corporate-wide – ensures that your customers’ evolving needs, required business performance outcomes and experience are met over time. The mission and charter of customer success evolve as vendor strategies develop and mature, adapting to the needs of their customer base. Customer success mission statements usually include an evolution of the following objectives as vendors and their customer base mature together: adoption -> performance and value outcomes -> transformation -> ROI -> advocacy. There are multiple internal corporate activities around these evolving objectives, resulting in the customers wishing to renew and expand their current investment.

“The vision and mission of customer success is a win-win viral spiral of health and wealth!” 

Source: Recurring Revenue Boomerang – Success Track Enterprise

To reach this vision, customer success must be viewed as a corporate-wide responsibility and which brings us to balancing our 3-legged stool with the second leg.

Responsibility

In the previous traditional seller-buyer relationship, our business mindset was conditioned by the seller owning the knowledge and power and practicing short-term financial wins (usually only for their company) based on short-term quota-driven selling incentives. In our current business environment, our mindset needs to adapt to the fact that this previous model has flipped: customers now own the power and knowledge and financial gains are achieved over the medium and long-term (for both vendor and customer alike).

As a consequence of this shift,  revenue generation is no longer the fruit of just pre-contractual marketing and sales activities. As sustainable revenue generation is now a long-term challenge, all cross-functional departments are responsible, working together in sync across the entire customer journey. In essence, customer success is a corporate-wide strategy which embraces all internal roles (marketing, sales, account management, R&D, product, support, professional services, customer success teams, finance,…) whether they are client facing or not. Even roles in the wings of the client stage are indirectly contributing to making customers successful, often serving internal clients who in turn, will directly serve external clients

Picture source: Team KR

So while all internal departments should be aware and made responsible for tactically contributing to the success of their clients, there is also the emerging function of customer success and which usually (although not exclusively) is positioned as a post-contractual team which partners the success of clients. As an example, marketing and sales team would work together in a seamless process by validating prospect needs, evaluating expectations and desired outcomes which would be communicated to the CS teams for a partnership delivery with clients.  

This customer success function is a critical role, working closely with all the other internal departments to continually communicate the voice of the customer so that the aforementioned main CS mission statements can be continually reviewed and aligned: adoption – performance – transformation – ROI – advocacy. The function of customer success proactively partners clients in an advisory role to help clients achieve their expected outcomes. This implies strong client domain knowledge as well as a clear understanding and insights in their evolving business, operational, functional and technical context.

Very often, the post-contractual function of customer success is parachuted as an add-on to existing established roles without reviewing the holistic impact of the CS corporate-wide mission. In other cases, confusion is created internally and externally when already existing roles such as support, account management, project management or professional services are renamed to the name of “customer success”, without reviewing their existing role and mission. For Customer Success to be efficient, the roles and responsibilities of all internal actors need to be reviewed, continually communicated and teams trained and incentivized on the changing scope of their contribution to the success of their clients.

CS is not the sole responsibility of a post-contractual department but is the shared responsibility of all internal functions. In the same way, no single function “owns the client”. The client is “owned” by the corporate collective and seamless process of engaging and delivering to meet expectations and outcomes. Each function contributes to the collective vision, while the customer success function acts as a critical pivot, acting as the voice of the customer to fine-tune and adjust the collective group music, rather like a conductor of an orchestra.

Picture source: BBC Proms

Having a privileged long-term partner relationship with customers, the CS function ensures that internal organization, processes and all contributors are aligned to continually deliver on expectations and play together in tune. This results in securing long-term health and wealth for their clients and their own companies. To ensure this harmonious sound of music, top-down buy-in is vital and which brings us to the third leg of our 3-legged stool.

Executive Buy-In

For a CS organization to be successful, it must be a strategic part of the corporate vision, infused top-down from executive management. This implies top executive buy-in cascading buy-in across the whole company, resulting in CS becoming the ADN of the new corporate organization.

To achieve this company-wide CS ADN, this implies a progressive transformational approach where change management and sponsorship is key to success. For a company’s organization to steer towards the CS vision, a new mindset, processes, behaviours and routines need to be adopted so that all cross-functional departments are aligned in their collective contribution to success. In turn, these cross-functional contributors need to be driven by appropriate and equitable goals, KPIs, incentives and compensation. As CS organizations mature, they will gradually reinforce their footprint, building up the business case for their “raison d’être” as a strategic revenue-generating profit centre.

The question is often raised as to where the CS function should ideally be positioned within the company organization. While this depends on the size and organizational evolution and history of companies, what is most important is that the CS organization is driven as an instinctive top-down mindset, irrespective of the company hierarchical structure. Indeed and as developed in our previous article, CS is more a question of a holistic corporate culture rather than of organizational hierarchy.

To conclude, the challenge of any CS-centric company is to permanently keep the 3 legs of the supporting organizational stool (Charter -> Responsibility -> Executive Buy-In) in perfect balance and aligned as the company grows and adapts to clients’ evolving needs.

If any one leg changes in size, disproportionately to the others, there is always the risk of the tool toppling over and no longer supporting the associated processes, people, tools and data. We’ll be glad to share our thoughts on these in our follow-on articles, continuing our reference to the OPT-IN framework to operationalize a proactive CS organization. Thanks.

Sue Nabeth Moore and Daniel Coullet

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