In the context of an initiative in Europe to bring together customer success leaders to exchange on their experiences, we’d appreciate if you could take a couple of minutes to indicate what are your current top 3 customer success challenges. You’re of course welcome to reply whether you’re in Europe or not 🙂 The results will be published afterwards.
To continue the CSoT (Customer Success of Things) blog series and as we onboard 2017 with new resolutions to transform our habits, let’s keep in mind our digital transformation context and take a Darwinian look at the role of customer success to facilitate this exciting evolution.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change (Darwin)
Having always been inspired by this Darwin quote, those who have crossed my path will have already met my mascot chameleon which I affectionately call “Adaptus Rex”. He’s tame and as a prehistoric descendant, he learned to survive environmental change! His capacity to modify colours has followed me through all life environments and challenges, adapting to the next state of evolution.
The famous Darwin concept of “survival of the fittest” (1) and its selection process is accelerated today in response to unprecedented environmental changes such as global warming in our natural world while in business, the digital transformation is taking us by storm.
Whilst history has always shown us the progressive driving force of technology in transformation, digitalisation is creating an immediate impact and disruption. Each digital change brings a promise of progress or new experiences and which are accompanied by considerable learning curves and adaptation, irrespective of our generation: baby boomers, Xers (like myself) and millennials. It’s simple. We either adapt, transform and evolve or we don’t with the risk of being left behind or even becoming extinct! In the words of Brian Solis (2):
Each business is a victim of digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behaviour when society and technology move faster than the ability to exploit it. Digital Darwinism does not discriminate. Every business is threatened.
In nature, the famous evolutionary story took place in my native northern England during the last major technological transformation: the industrial revolution. To ensure camouflage as a consequence of the sooty manufacturing towns, peppered moths (3), originally white, became predominantly black via a reproduction process. A recent example in response to current climatic change is the shift of snail shell colour from dark to light. Snails have developed lighter coloured shells (4) which have a lower body temperature to keep cooler in response to global warming. This phenomenon is noticeable here in France where snails are still a culinary delicacy!
In business today, we’re lucky enough to be facing another incredible transformation, this time in human form. The digital revolution and the related technological innovations are forcing us human beings to challenge our behaviour, routines, processes and even our business models.
Whilst we may not suddenly develop coloured shells and wings to adapt, this brings me to the vital importance of the role of customer success as a lever to facilitate our collective metamorphosis. In today’s professional environment we are constantly trying to keep pace with the impact of digitalised innovations: cloud, big data, IoT, predictive analytics, machine learning, Artifical Intelligence, 3D printing and mobility to name but a few.
Customer success emerged and evolved in the Silicon Valley as a logical response to the introduction of the cloud subscription economy. Cloud exposed painful gaps in how existing companies were interacting with their customers. These pain points were filled with the role of customer success to encourage customer engagement with solutions, continued added value, client longevity and advocacy.
As the SaaS model continues to grow with companies moving away from purchasing software upfront preferring to purchase on a subscription basis, customer success promises a bright future ahead. Other non-SaaS recurring revenue companies have also been seduced by its strategic importance and are investing in customer success.
With the continuous flow of new digital technologies to our business environments, it seems that my favourite Darwin quote has never rung so true. Out of all the animal kingdom, though we humans are definitely not the strongest, we are perhaps the most intelligent (open to debate…) but when it comes to responding to change, we are generally slow or resistant. Staying in a known comfort zone is so much more tempting than stepping out into unknown and potentially risky territory.
Success is on the other side of your comfort zone (Orrin Woodward)
So this is where customer success plays its role by partnering clients, helping them step out of comfort zones and adapt to new and unknown situations where gains are promised. The aim is to either obtain better results than before or create new positive experiences which could never have been imagined without innovative technology. The real challenge of this adaptation process is not about the technology itself. It’s rather about how the technology, digitalisation and its promise fit harmoniously into the future organisation, processes and methodologies defined for achieving desired outcomes.
Like the peppered moths of my native England, we humans face the challenge of adapting in our digital fast paced environment. We need to “camouflage” the new technology and associated behaviour, blending it into our daily habitat so that it becomes the accepted “norm”, at least until the next one presents itself.
It is perhaps because human beings are the most intelligent of creatures on earth (so we believe) that our response to change is more complex than our animal neighbours.
We perhaps approach each new business context with too much thought, emotion, fear and memory rather than acting on our instinct, like my friends Adaptus Rex, the peppered moth and the shell changing snail.
Customer success is a passionate role to partner our fellow homo sapiens acclimatise to their new surroundings and rise to the challenges of a business world driven by technological innovation. Afterall, the word “success” derives from the latin “successus”, meaning “an advance, a good result, happy outcome.”
So as we move into 2017 with the human tradition to make resolutions (myself included) to change certain behaviours for improvement, there’s no better prospect for customer success to partner these desired outcomes, helping companies transform their performances through the challenges and gains of the digitalised environment.
“Adaptus Rex” joins me to wish you all great resolutions for your digital adaptation, transformation and evolution to success in 2017.
If you’re setting up or expanding your customer success organisation in Europe, we’d be pleased to help out : Success Track Enterprise.
As we observe momentum building up in Europe around the emerging role of customer success, I’d like to share a few thoughts around this business metamorphosis we are witnessing. While this new role is still very much at experimentation stage as it positions itself in the recurring revenue business model, there are common themes around its practice and impact. This inspired me to create a series of some reflections around recurring themes and which I have called “Customer Success of Things” (CSoT)
What do we mean by Customer Success ?
Before we dig further into some common CSoT themes, a definition of customer success is fitting. The notion of customer success has different interpretations and maturity levels depending on countries, sectors, markets and company sizes. The role of customer success for example is quite different in a large enterprise organisation than in a start-up. There is however a common goal:
To fulfil the evolutive expected outcomes of customers through their multi-directional interactions around your company.
Customer success is a mindset and a series of on-going processes and interactions. A customer’s needs, expected outcomes and context at the beginning of their customer journey may change after contract signature or within the licence period. Proactive listening, observation and engagement is necessary to identify health and risk to ensure your solution and company services are constantly providing added value and adapting to signs of change. Customer success thrives on multi-directional positive engagement and communication:
1) Vendors towards customers
2) Customers towards vendors
3) Vendor customers between themselves
4) Vendor customers in exchange with other third parties (peers, prospects, stakeholders, competitors,…)
This CSoT series of posts will share some thoughts on customer success themes. The first one below continues the above definition:
“Customer Success” – Term with a Double Meaning
When On-Demand and SaaS first started (Salesforce.com being one of the pioneers), they observed that to retain client subscriptions it was necessary to proactively engage with customers to help them become successful with your company and solution. So they created the notion of “customer success teams”.
Customer Success Teams
The customer success team is commonly known as the group of actors who relay, usually after contract signature (though not always) to continue to proactively partner customers to achieve their expected outcomes. The foundations for success have already been laid early in the sales cycle by the marketing/business development/sales teams. The customer success team now continues the customer engagement and provision of added value over the whole duration of the licence period until renewal and beyond. Depending on organisations, renewal is also included as part of the role of the customer success team.
So whilst there is a group of people called “customer success team” dedicated to the contractual health and wealth of the customer, other teams have also played their part in the “customer success journey”.
This brings us to the second more holistic notion of customer success.
Customer Success – Company DNA and Global Objective
It has transpired that customer success is not about a team of people trying to please customers and reduce churn. The term “customer success” is a holistic cross-functional objective and responsibility. This means that across the entire customer journey, every single actor has a customer success role to play with clearly defined responsibilities. A customer success mindset is in the DNA of the vendor company running throughout the whole organisation, e.g.
Management to define the customer success vision, objectives and tempo
R&D to evolve the product according to customer input and market needs
Marketing to prospect ideal customers + personas with success potential
Sales to close and prepare customers ready for on-boarding to success
Customer success teams to provide proactive engagement and added value
Support to provide rapid and pertinent replies to customer queries
All teams play a customer success role as customers progress across their journeys to achieve repeated success. For this holistic view of customer success, this often means that existing internal roles are revisited so that each player has clear objectives, responsibilities and engagement aims at each stage of the customer journey. In the recurring revenue model, the post contractual growth potential is so considerable that the traditional notion of pre-sales and post-sales activity is revisited. This necessarily impacts the internal organisation, responsibilities and internal relays.
There are 2 notions around the term “customer success”:
Customer success organisation = holistic responsibility and objective of the whole organisation to ensure the success potential and achievement of its customers as they move across the customer journey.
Customer success team = group of actors (usually after the initial contract but sometimes before) responsible for proactively partnering customers to reach their evolutive expected outcomes.