Customer Success – A Darwinian Approach in 2016



Those who have crossed my path will have probably already met my mascot chameleon which I have affectionately called “Adaptus Rex”. Don’t worry, he’s tame! More importantly, as a dinosaur 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. Adaptus Rex has always been accompanied by my favourite Darwin quote:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

Constantly inspired by this quote, consuming it without moderation, I have even placed it as a personal slogan on my LinkedIn profile!

The famous “survival of the fittest” (1) and its selection process is accelerated today in response to unprecedented environmental changes. In our natural world, the recent COP21 decisions here in Paris testify while in business, the technological 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, irrespective of our generation: baby boomers, Xers (like myself) and millennials. It’s simple. We either adapt, stay competitive and keep ahead or we don’t adapt with the risk of losing out!

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 (2), 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 (3) 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, especially at this festive time !*

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 will not suddenly develop coloured shells and wings (well not in my lifetime anyway), this brings me to the emergence and 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, 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 and client longevity. As the SaaS model continues to grow with companies moving away from purchasing software upfront preferring to buy on demand, customer success promises a bright future ahead. Other B2B models 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 right down resistant. Let’s face it, staying in a known comfort zone is so much more tempting than stepping out into unknown and potentially risky territory.

The role of customer success is to partner their clients, helping them 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 and its promises 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 essential for survival and for keeping ahead. 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 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 in the dawn of 2016 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” and myself take this opportunity to wish you all great resolutions for change, new routines, adaptation and success in 2016.

*P.S. All my respect to snails. I did not eat any over the festive period!

References and further reading:

1) Explanations on “Survival of the fittest

2) The story of the peppered moths

3) How A Few Species are hacking climate change




2 thoughts on “Customer Success – A Darwinian Approach in 2016”

  1. Change approach compared to the Darwinian process is really pertinent.
    The only word of “change ” in business environment is reflecting an extreme complexity impacting all actors such as R+D, Long term research, Company strategy, Customer Relationship… and of course Customers themselves.
    Now, another question is coming on the table : Who is pushing for change ?
    To continue with the analogy of Darwin processes, I would say that it sounds like the “chicken and eggs” story !
    Who was the first : The chicken or the egg ?
    The answer in precisely in the Darwin theory : Evolution.
    In other words, today it’s very complex to identify if the changes needs come from the customers, or from the research domain, or from the commercial area, or from finance.
    But what I can see is if one of these change actors is not running change at the same rhythm the others do, then the risk to fail is great for them.
    That’s why large companies (at least those with old traditional management) can’t survive in the coming ecosystem facing very agile companies unless they completely change their organization structure and their operational model to be more agile.
    Lastly, here’s the thought of the day :
    When customers start to ask for square eggs, the chicken must be responsive otherwise it will feel pain !

    1. Thanks Bernard for this great comment about change, evolution and chickens:) I think that today’s fast paced change is indeed a result of driving forces from both company innovation and client needs. The challenge is for all these actors to be walking in line, keeping pace together. The complexity of this alignment is also why customer success is so vital as a lever and to be constantly adding value to the client experience and listening to their feedback. The chicken and the egg comparison is very appropriate. The day when customers demand square eggs will see yet another evolution in the role of customer success! I find that very “eggciting” 🙂

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