The Practical and Impractical Mandatory Reading List for Customer Success Leaders / by Joseph Palumbo

I’m an avid reader. And I’m also an avid recommender of books. Especially when it comes to Customer Success.

More often than not, when posting on Customer Success forums or talking Customer Success with colleagues, I’m referencing parts of one or more books I’ve read and incorporated into both my personal and professional life.

There are a number of books that contain the knowledge, insight, and motivation that I use on a daily basis, especially when it comes to the discipline of Customer Success. So here is my abridged list of the practical and somewhat impractical books that I consider mandatory reading for any Customer Success Manager or Customer Success Leader.

Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue by Nick Mehta

I consider this book the “Bible” of Customer Success. In addition to giving the backstory of how Customer Success was first conceived at Salesforce and why it has been critical to their success and growth, it provides a decent up to date summary of how to enact a strong Success Program as well as to gauge effectiveness.

More importantly, as I’ve stated many times before, it impresses the fact that a Customer Success program is largely ineffective if not operating within a customer-centric company.

If you’re looking for a primer to get you up to speed on where Customer Success came from, where it is currently, and where it’s going (AI is an important topic), this is the book for you.

Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

In my opinion, the Heath brothers have written some of the most important books for anybody who relies on communication and presentation in their field. It’s shocking that so many don’t know about their books.

I read this book almost 10 years ago and I’m confident that I use what I learned in this book almost on a daily basis. In fact, this book has arguably been one of the biggest factors in my professional and personal success. It is also the basis of my belief that communication is the currency of Customer Success, and if that is true, this book will help you raise the value of your communicative currency.

Ultimately, this book uncovers why certain ideas “stick” and others are quickly forgettable. A big part of Customer Success is empowering customers through new ways of thinking or approaching old problems. This book shows you how to construct your communication, whether through phone, email, or presentation, in a way that ensures the key message points will resonate and lodge in your audience’s mind using some simple and practical methods.

The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Done Right by Atul Gawande

Useful for both individual contributors and leaders, this book helps you effectively design, document, and execute on scalable, repeatable processes. This is important because in my experience building a process-driven team makes it immune to the loss of people, especially top performers, as well the inevitable changes in your business landscape.

Customer Success Managers spin a lot of metaphorical plates and typically have a much wider definition to their roles within a company. Ensuring that CSMs have clear objectives backed by concise processes to guide them to consistent success is an important foundation on which to build an effective team. This book demonstrates the importance of simplifying (one of my favorite things) the processes and function which get the job done.

As a bonus, the concepts and practices presented in this book are sure to benefit you on both a professional and personal level.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath

Customer Success strives first to retain customers and to grow revenue second. But I’ve seen a lot of companies achieve these first two goals while their customers remain largely unhappy or unsatisfied with the overall experience. That’s a time bomb waiting to go off on within your customer base, and ultimately your bottomline.

Chip and Dan provide a plain English explanation as to how people remember an experience as being largely positive or negative. It essentially comes down to how our brains organize the various parts of an extended experience. An example used in the book is a day trip to Disneyland. In short, and somewhat over simplified, the brain remembers either the first or last part of the total experience, and either the highest or lowest point that occurred in the middle.

Equipped with this knowledge, as well as an extensive list of other behavioral patterns found in this book, you’re much better equipped to engineer a customer journey that is poised to build an installed base of “Promoters” by manufacturing moments that ensure critical touch points are seen as both memorable and positive in your customer’s eyes.

The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

Over the years I’ve run a number of Customer Success and Support teams of all shapes and sizes. And I like to think that most of my team members think positively of my management style. Why? Because I encourage them to work smarter, not harder. To find a workflow that capitalizes on their individual strengths while mitigating for their weaknesses. Because that’s how I always try to work and it works for me.

The 4-Hour Work Week is a guide on how to make the most of your work day by finding the most effective way to get your job accomplished. It’s also full of examples of why bucking the corporate norms can yield amazing results. Just because something as always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do it.

Ultimately this book delves into how to start a passive income business, which is less interesting and useful to me, but even in those cases it still shows how to instill efficiency in common workflows and tasks. This book really opened my eyes as to how to look at old problems in a new light and gave me the encouragement to try to some uncommon solutions which have paid off significantly.

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden

While not directly related to Customer Success, this book is the sulfur head on the match that can light the way into some unconventional but innovative strategies that differentiate you and your company.

Paul Arden’s book is bursting with motivational insights that will inspire and empower a Customer Success leader to take the big gambles necessary to catalyze the change necessary to build a customer-centric business, not just a business with a Customer Success team.

I’ve taken some big gambles in my life and career. Some have paid off, some haven’t. But that’s life, isn’t it? I’ve never regretted the decisions I’ve made because even the ones that didn’t work provided the experiences which cultivated better ideas. And that’s really what this book is about, the cost/benefit analysis to taking some calculated (and not so calculated) risks that can yield eye-opening results.

The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World by Fred Reichheld

And rounding out my selection is the book that kicked off the fascination and devotion to Net Promoter Scores, a way of measuring customer sentiment in a way that promotes deeper engagement with customers and strategic focus inside any company.

I’ve used NPS for the last 5-6 years. I like the simplicity and, to some degree, the flexibility it offers. My only complaint about NPS these days is that so many companies use it that I think consumers are becoming immune to these flood of “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate us” emails.

But what I am sure of is the almost immediate feeling of deeper connection with customers that come with setting up well-planned and well-executed NPS program. One of my first initiatives in my current company was to kick off an NPS drip campaign to all of our customers. Survey responses are piped into a Slack channel for anybody to see. Within the first month of the program I received texts, emails, and IMs from almost every executive leader in the company that went something like this: “I can’t stop looking at that slack channel, I never knew our customers felt this way.”

And that is often the case. Many companies operate in blissful ignorance of what customers truly think or want. Using a program like NPS to install a persistent pipeline of customer feedback provides the insight and engagement (assuming you’re closing the loop as prescribed in this book) that can correct the course before it’s too late.