There’s a common misunderstanding surrounding ‘customer success’, particularly in emerging markets like Australia. Customer success management (CSM) isn’t a passing fad, cooked up by developers or Silicon Valley executives, and it’s not the same thing as customer service. Customer success managers require an in-depth knowledge of a client’s industry and exceptional product knowledge to proactively increase a customer’s lifetime value, including on-boarding, training, expansion and renewal.
“The whole customer success manager role is fairly new to Australia,” says customer experience consultant, Keira Lewis. “It used to be a more traditional role, like sales or account managers, who dealt with customers one-on-one. Now, customer success managers are purely there to build relationships with the customer and promote customer retention.”
Jeff Bezos has called customer success the “secret sauce” of Amazon. In fact, Amazon’s Web Services (the company’s B2B cloud service, built around customer success management) accounted for 40% of Amazon’s entire revenue in Q1 last year. It’s also the fastest growing job in Australia, with almost ten-fold growth between 2013 and 2017. Where customer service was reactive – solving client problems ad hoc as they arose – customer success is proactive. It’s a business-wide philosophy that spans marketing, product, sales, administration and IT. And like most business-wide philosophies, it’s tricky to implement correctly.
So how do you re-model your business around CSM? And what are the common traps?
Pull in the same direction
Like any new business methodology, whether it’s Agile Innovation or Design Thinking, implementing customer success management comes down to organisation-wide engagement. “A major hurdle I found in my career in CSM was getting all parts of the organisation aligned,” says Keira. “This doesn’t happen overnight. Customer success managers need to build excellent relations with internal teams, so that when changes need to be made, there’s no push-back.” This is usually the first step on the CSM journey – setting up internal processes and educating staff on the important of a customer-first mindset.
Advance in stages
Customer success isn’t really a ‘quick fix’ for business problems. It requires significant investment. And some companies can feel daunted by the process, particularly if they’ve never dabbled in data-driven customer insights before. Gainsight recommends a ‘Maturity Model’ of adoption. Start with the absolute basics – an escalation process for customer complaints and common problems. Then move on to collecting customer data, based on that negative feedback. For that you’ll need a dedicated team of data analysts, UX and CX professionals. Use your raw data to implement changes, iterate your product and test the results. Repeat this stage many, many times.
Siloed departments are sort of the death of customer success management. CSM only works when all parts of the business are feeding back and learning from customer data (marketing teams, in particular, are often resistant to the CSM methodology). If your marketing, sales and IT teams aren’t communicating properly, the product and the customer experience will suffer. The business becomes inward-facing and inefficient. The trick is to get every department working along the Customer Lifecycle. Create org charts that put the customer first, rather than management egos. Build cross-department teams that promote diversity. Design budgets and cost metrics around customer outcomes, rather than business outcomes.
Hire the right people
When you’re building your CSM or Insights team, look for certain personality traits that are indicative of success. Stephen Noone O’Connor, global director of customer experience at Vend, suggests five key traits for any budding customer success professional: adaptability, resilience, empathy, time management and industry experience. Keira Lewis agrees that soft skills are underrated in this field. “To be successful in the CSM sphere, you need to like people. That’s the number one key to this role. You need compassion and empathy and an ability to see things from the customer’s point of view, as well as the authority and confidence to actually influence your organisation.”
A lot of organisations don’t get full value from their CSMs, because they don’t define the role with enough clarity and there can be overlap with traditional roles in sales and marketing. Sometimes this has to do with under-investment: companies create the role of customer experience leader, without any real strategy or definition in mind. The trick is to work out, concretely, how customer success will contribute to the growth of your organisation. Map out how CSM professionals will interact with other departments, and where each employee sits along the Customer Lifecycle. This might involve a ‘unified go-to-market’ structure, where sales, customer success and marketing all report to the same manager, to increase the likelihood of collaboration.
Invest in your staff
The rise of SaaS companies, and CSM in general, has created a massive skills shortage in this space. Finding qualified customer success managers is hard, especially when the job requires key skills that span marketing, sales, technology, leadership and business strategy. Keeping them is sometimes harder. Experts recommend building a CSM ‘talent engine’, where you attract top talent through data-driven recruitment, invest in staff training and development, and create meaningful career paths within your organisation. This will help mitigate against staff attrition and turnover. You can also consider upskilling existing employees, through online CSM graduate certificates or short courses. “As customer success managers are still fairly new to the space, experience with strategy and customer management is good, but not required,” says Keira. “Soft skills in problem solving, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution and leadership will also go a long way.”