Implementing Customer Success – An Organizational Balancing Act

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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 that 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 that 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 that 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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Mapping The Customer Journey with Engagement Models

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I’m honoured to have participated and co-hosted this Webinar on mapping the customer journey and engagement models with Gainsight’s Dan Steinman.

Ocean liner journey log book in 1904 (Le Havre – New York)

 

 

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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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Digital Darwinism and Customer Success

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As we onboard 2021 and bid farewell to 2020, the challenges thrust upon us over this past year have demonstrated our immense resilience and capacity to adapt quickly in the face of adversity. Digital transformation is a prime area where we have shown our huge capacity to adapt.

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, digital offerings in 2020 accelerated by 7 years within the space of a few months as companies have surprised themselves with their capacity to pivot their digital initiatives in response to Covid-19.  The pandemic has forced companies of all sizes, B2B and B2C to leapfrog their transformation efforts. We are now raising questions about how to anticipate the new digital “normal”, what that will look like, how to maintain momentum and how to set companies up for continued success.

As we celebrate all those companies and staff that have been able to adapt their digital offerings to help their customers get through these unprecedented times and to address new market needs, let’s also keep in our thoughts all those domains, companies and staff that have unfortunately been directly negatively impacted by the pandemic, e.g. travel, hospitality, culture, dining to name but a few.

Let’s view this accelerated digital transformation context from a Darwinian point of view. This is a revised article that I wrote 4 years ago but which resonates more than ever now in the context of the abrupt changes of our current world. The following famous Darwin quote echoes loudly today in our response to the business disruption triggered by Covid-19 and our attempts to survive and resume some sort of balanced “business as usual”:

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

Those of you who have crossed my path will have no doubt been introduced to 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 his skin colours to adapt to different environments has inspired me in all of life’s challenges, continually adapting to the next phase of evolution.

Whilst history has mostly shown us the somewhat progressive driving force of technology in transformation, digitalization is creating an immediate impact and disruption, particularly so in response to the pandemic. With each new digital offering, there’s a promise of progress that is accompanied by considerable learning curves and adaptation. In some cases, the height of the step to adapt is higher than others, implying considerable change management efforts and learning to take on board new working practices. In other cases, the height of the step to adapt may seemingly be less but as we’re on continual moving sands, it’s difficult to use a yardstick to measure the required effort. Whatever the required effort, we either adapt quickly and survive (thrive for some) or run the risk of being left behind or even extinct! In the words of Brian Solis:

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.

Digital Darwinism has been accelerated with the disruptive impact of Covid-19 as we have been collectively catapulted outside of our comfort zones and plunged right into unknown territory. All of us, suppliers and customers alike have had no choice but to learn fast. 

These challenging times have also reinforced companies putting the customer right at the strategic centre, focusing on doing everything possible to help and retain the current customer base. This customer-centric strategy has highlighted the strategic importance of customer success and how it runs through the veins of all the company, where each and every role contributes to helping customers survive, perhaps even thrive.  Many companies have reinforced their customer success efforts, put into place special success task forces or crisis committees,  bringing sales, support, product and other roles into redefining roles and responsibilities in the “collective customer success team” effort. This company-wide team effort is now playing a vital role by helping customers pivot, step out of their comfort zones to adapt quickly to new and unknown situations where their ever-changing pain points are resolved.

Customer success partners customers to help them blend their invested tools and services into their working environment. This means that customer success professionals need to be experts not only with the tools and services offered by their company but also to know how these tools and services can become “camouflaged” in the customers’ new working habitats. 

It’s rather like Adaptus Rex’s capacity to adapt his skin colour according to different habitats. With our Covid-19 impacted habitat, our adaptation capacity has been tested to the extreme. It has not been like our previous gradual adaptation to digital offerings in continuous improvement mode. This time, our adaptation capacity has been triggered out of pure survival.  Customer success has played such a critical role in helping customers to adapt in record time to new environments and facilitate our collective metamorphosis. The real challenge of this rapid metamorphosis process is not about the technology itself. It’s rather about how the technology, digitalization and its promise fit into the fast-evolving organizations, processes, routines and behaviours. This is where customer success professionals have demonstrated their capacity to anticipate new customer pain points, learn and adapt to these ever-changing environments, transferring their knowledge to help customers develop new skills to meet their evolving goals and survive. 

To give some Darwinian evolutionary examples in nature, a famous story took place in my native northern England during the last major technological evolution: the industrial revolution. To ensure camouflage as a consequence of the sooty northern manufacturing towns, peppered moths, originally white, became predominantly black via a reproduction process.

Courtesy of Deposit Images

Another 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 which have a lower body temperature to keep cooler in response to global warming. This phenomenon is noticeable in France where I live where snails are still a culinary delicacy, whatever their shell colour !

Whilst we humans have not suddenly developed coloured shells and wings (although I believe I can fly) to adapt to this harsh environment thrust upon us,  we are being forced to challenge more than ever before our “business as usual”: business models, organization, processes, tools, behaviours and routines. Most companies have now adapted to operating with remote workforces, attending online meetings and events and investing in tools for remote collaboration, onboarding, team building and customer engagement. This last year has forced us into adopting new working habits that we would have not thought possible when we were celebrating the arrival of 2020 just one year ago!

Prior to Covid-19, we were adapting digital offerings in a rather progressive manner where “digital transformation” was being placed as a priority for business strategies. In reality, however, companies were often struggling to adopt digital offerings and make digitalization an inherent part of the company DNA. Unlike the instinct-driven metamorphosis of our friends Adaptus Rex, the peppered moth and the shell-changing snail, our response to change has always been complex. It is perhaps because we human beings are the most intelligent of creatures on earth (we are led to believe) that we have often approached each new business evolution, including digital transformation with too much thought, emotion, memory and resistance. It is also because we are not always conscious of the risks ahead or are simply not measuring the risk of staying in our comfort zone.

Courtesy of Deposit Photos

With our Covid-19 impacted environment, our adaptation process has been more in line with the instinct-triggered adaptation of our friends from the animal kingdom. Like the peppered moths of my native England, we humans face the challenge of adapting quickly to our accelerated digital environment in order for our business to simply survive. We need to rapidly “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 evolution! With remote working practices and collaboration for example, we’re still learning about the tools but also acclimatizing associated best practices, code of conduct, new routines and associated soft skills.

Customer success is a role to partner our fellow human beings to acclimatize as quickly as possible to our new surroundings and rise to the new challenges of a world propelled more than ever by technological and digital innovation to overcome a global crisis: whether that be to facilitate remote collaboration, to foster online payment, to facilitate eCommerce transactions, to produce vaccines and monitor their supply chain, distribution and impact, to use 3D printing to produce medical supplies, to use AI to monitor and anticipate important data including the spread and behaviour of Covid-19 around the world … and the list goes on.

Courtesy of Deposit Photos

As we embrace 2021, I’d like to congratulate all the companies, all their customer success staff (customer success teams and all roles of the company) that have adapted and delivered their offerings (digital and non-digital) to help their customers and their own companies to survive and even thrive over the past year. I’d also like to send thoughts to those companies, customers and staff in verticals that have been directly negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“Adaptus Rex” joins me to wish you all the best for 2021 with joy, health and continued business adaptation, evolution and success!

 

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinAs 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.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin