Calling all Customer Success Actors

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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.

Customer Success Challenge Survey

Thanks in advance for your contribution.

The European Customer Success Community Team :

Peter and friends : OonaghEvinSue

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Customer Success of Things (CSoT) – A Darwinian Evolution Approach

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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 indarwin 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)

Chameleon
Chameleon – “Adaptus Rex”

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. mothsA 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. comfort-zone-24Out 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.

internet-strategy

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.

Other Customer Success of Things Blogs : CSoT blog stories

For further Darwinian reading:

1) Explanations on “Survival of the fittest

2) Digital Darwinism – How Disruptive Technology is Changing Business For Good

3) The story of the peppered moths

4) How A Few Species are hacking climate change

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Customer Success of Things (CSoT) – Part 1 – Some Definitions

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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 business-people-silhouettes-communications-netwo-6393095engagement 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 teamwork-team-together-collaboration-business-communication-outd-outdoors-concept-48568990means 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
  • Etc…

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. success-businessteam-sky-4289404In 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.

Conclusion

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.

For this internal relay of actors across the customer journey, check out the boomerang recurring revenue flight.

Thanks for taking interest in this post. I look forward to joining you soon to share further thoughts in the “CSoT”series.

 

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Innovative Vendors Strike Back – Vendors Organize For Customer Success

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Episode 2 of my interview with Gainsight’s CCO, Dan Steinman:

Vinylemag.com
Vinylemag.com

Innovative Vendors Strike Back – Vendors organize themselves for Customer Success

Following on from Episode 1: New Hope: SaaS Wars – A New Business Model and The Growing Importance of Customer Success.

Sue: So who do you think should own the role of customer success Dan?

Dan: It’s a really interesting question. Literally I have seen customer success organizations in different entities: sales, services, product, marketing and in a separate stand-alone organization. I believe that customer success is going to ultimately become so important that it’ll be more and more a separate organization for most companies, reporting directly to the CEO. It’s one of the reasons that the role of Chief Customer Officer (CCO like myself) is in vogue. That’s the person the CEO is going to hold accountable for the entire customer life-cycle and customer retention number. Whilst you want someone high level to own your sales number you also need someone to own your retention because it’s so critical to the long term success of the company.

I think for an ideal organization the following 3 roles reporting to the CEO are key:

– CRO (Chief Revenue Officer) who owns the acquisition process via marketing and sales.

– COO (Chief Operating Officer) who owns operations and finance and maybe engineering.

– CCO (Chief Client Officer) who owns customer success, professional services and support and perhaps the renewals.

Customer success can work in any organization and so there’s no right or wrong. But I think the evolution will take us where customer success will become this stand-alone organization.

Sue: We’ve also seen the emergence of different customer success roles, often called customer success managers (CSM). What for you does it take to be a great customer success actor ?

Dan: Yes I have a pretty long list after having managed CSMs over a number of years and so I’ll give the highlights. Firstly, I think it’s obvious but if you’re going to be dealing with customers, you have to have the right personality and demeanor to do that. That’s not just about being likeable. You also have to be able and willing to take some level of punishment. That’s because this job is often dealing with customers who are not always delighted. There is an element of pain which comes with that and so you have to know how to live in that world. In addition, the 2 skill components that you have to either find or build are:

1) A high degree of product expertise. At a user level, I can help you use my product better because I really know how to use it in an optimal way.

2) The second one is equally as important or even arguably more important and that is domain expertise. If I’m selling a marketing solution like we did at Marketo, my CSMs had a thorough knowledge of marketing processes. So if you are selling accountancy software, you may want to hire accountants and teach them how to use your product.

Sue: Yes that is really important for your credibility with your customers and their trust in you.

Dan: Yes, they love talking to people who have actually done the job which you are trying to do and who can truly empathize. There’s so much power in words when you know exactly how they feel.

Sue: So a typical great CSM needs to be a Jack of all trades.

Dan: Yes and there are a lot of skills in managing customers and product expertise as well as supporting and consulting team skills. It’s all about bringing all these together in one place with people who are very passionate about their customers. It’s not that I want to see CSMs going to hospital but I kind of expect them to feel ill if their customers aren’t really doing well. For the great CSMs, it’s a very personal thing. It hurts in your stomach when your customers aren’t happy. Great people in every job are like that. A great sales person for example anguishes over their deals. Great CSMs are just the same.

Sue: I empathize with that. It’s all about how you interact and the real concern and passion you feel for what’s happening with your customer’s success. It’s not just another routine job.

Dan: That’s right. It becomes a craft. It goes beyond a job and almost becomes a hobby. I think about it and work on it in my apartment in my spare time. I’m always determined to be better at it even if no-one else notices except me!

Sue: Indeed it gives you a great sense of satisfaction knowing that you’ve created added value.

Coming soon… Episode 3:

Return of “The Wall Street”- Evangelism of Customer Success Value and Return on Investment.

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