Last week, a startup leader who I sometimes advise came to me with a problem he was having with his customer success team. In a nutshell, the problem was low morale and even lower productivity — and as a result, fewer successful customers.
When I asked him what his customer success team did, he told me: “Whatever it takes to make the customers happy.”
I admire his altruism, but that’s not how customer success works. It’s not 100 percent his fault. Product management language is, like most business jargon, full of terms that have a little inside-joke feel to them. I mean, it’s “customer” and “success” — how can it not be about making the customer happy? Feels like a gotcha.
But the problem wasn’t with the term so much as it was that “customer success” was being used to cover up flaws in the product. Ironically, these were flaws that should have been resolved by a proper customer success approach. So we dug into what customer success should and shouldn’t be.
Customer Success Is Not White-glove Treatment
For a little background, his company is building SaaS software to replace the transaction and execution for certain business services. However, their “make the customer happy” approach to customer success led them to create a team of several hand-holders for the users of their software for everything from onboarding to training to support and more. They labeled this team — you probably guessed it — customer success.
You can imagine what happened next. Whenever the customer needed to transact or execute a service, they called customer success, who would then, even after all the training and onboarding and support, put their own hands on the software to transact and execute the service for the customer. It didn’t take long before almost every customer was never using the software, just their new, on-demand concierge business services hotline.
This made the customer very happy, but the startup had essentially added an extra middleman to the middleman that their software was supposed to replace.
Customer Success Is Not Customer Support At All
Customer support is the part of your company most responsible for making your customer happy. But customer success should have little, if anything to do with customer support. So instead of integrating with support, do everything you can to de-integrate. Let your customer support team bend over backwards to make your customers happy. The job of customer success is to lead your customer down the optimal path to complete their tasks using your product. This requires your customer to learn a new system. That requires change. And change sucks. Customer success is painful — but long-term, it’s the better route.
Customer success, defined as achieving the most optimal usage of your product by your customer, can mean different things to different organizations, depending on everything from the type of product to the expectations of the market to the scope of the use cases. But it should never mean being everything to everyone.
Here are four areas that customer success should focus on, from the customer front lines backwards, and how each focus can eventually make your customer success team more successful. Which, not-so-ironically, will also make your customers happy.
4 Areas Customer Success Teams Should Focus On Instead of Customer Support
Taking one step back from the customer front lines, engagement with the product is the primary responsibility of customer success. When engagement is high, the more your customers are using your product properly, the better off they will be. The key to better engagement is better UX and UI. When these are done poorly, friction within the product wastes the customer’s time and creates a negative customer experience. Then your customers don’t use your product, or they find a workaround.
Rather than your customer success team becoming the human version of that workaround, they need to be committed to improving UX and UI, removing any and all friction whether the customer is complaining about it or not.
If engagement is the first step in increasing the lifetime value of the customer to your company, retention is the next step. Think of those two concepts this way:
Definitions: Engagement vs. Retention
- Engagement is about the customer using the product longer and more successfully whenever they have a reason to use it.
- Retention is about creating more reasons for the customer to keep using your product down the line.
Your tech team will want to build all sorts of cool new features for your product; whether those features are reasons for your customers to use your product is anyone’s guess. Your sales team (and your investors) will want you to add more features that are easy to sell — whether those features will provide value to your customer or not. Your CS team has to champion your customer and provide utility and value for the customer — and thus extend the lifetime value of both existing and new customers.
When your customer is successful performing their tasks with your product, they’ll take on more tasks. Furthermore, the nature of your customer’s tasks may change and expand over time, and your company needs to be on top of what your customer is doing: how their task list is growing, how they’re changing, and how your product helps them with those changes and that growth.
So customer success should not only be experts at what you do for your customers, but also become experts at what your customers do for themselves. What customer success learns about the roles of the customer is what needs to be built back into your product — which makes a nice virtuous cycle with the retention point above.
Most of the time, your company and your product aren’t just helping your customers with their tasks, you’re changing the way those tasks are performed. When this happens, sometimes you’ll invent what your customers need before they know they need it.
The first three areas of focus should help the CS team anticipate those changes.
- Engagement achieved by leading customers to more efficient usage of your product.
- Retention achieved by helping customers to get more done using your product.
- Learning better ways to do their job that are only possible with your product.
Then, as your team discovers those new and better product evolutions, they need to create the transitional bridge for your customers to see the value of those changes for themselves.
Making customers happy is a great thing. Just make sure you’ve given that responsibility to the right team, and given each team the proper strategy and tools they need to accomplish the right goals.