Customer Success In 3 Steps / by Joseph Palumbo

Simplicity is at the heart of everything I do. I truly believe a job is only as difficult as we make it, so why not make it as simple, yet effective, as possible. In other words, work smarter, not harder. 

This is a unique challenge when it comes to the discipline of Customer Success, because while the  underpinning mechanics of Customer Success can be simplified, the thinking, strategy, tools, and challenges are constantly changing. 

A quick search on Amazon will reveal many books about Customer Success, and more coming out each day. I've read most of these books and all of them offering something of value when it comes to evolving your organization into a customer-centric company focused on solving the customer's problems, but among all of these books, there is a high degree of redundancy. 

So while I'll never deter somebody from learning as much as they can about this vital aspect of modern business, I can save you some time. 

The fundamental process of building, running, and growing a simple, yet effective Customer Success organization can be distilled into a 3 step process. I've used this process with the last few Customer Success teams I've built and run, all will stellar results. 

The Process

1. How does the customer define success? 

People and organizations do not buy technology for the sake of buying technology. They are trying to solve one or more business, technical, or organization problems. The job of the Customer Success Manager (CSM) is to learn what these problems are and what are the desired outcomes of their client. In other words, what are the metrics that the customer will ultimately decide if the purchase or partnership with your business has a good return on the investment. 

Sounds easy enough, right? Not always. The challenge with this step is that your customer might not always be able to articulate the underlying problem(s), or the desired outcomes in an objective way. 

In my experience, determining the "problems behind the problem" can take time. And building a framework outlining the customer's desired outcomes (increased revenue, cost savings, workflow efficiency, etc.) can take multiple conversations in which priorities and key performance indicators are tweaked and reorganized. 

That's alright, take your time, because helping the customer define success for their team, department, or entire organization is a tremendously valuable exercise for them and is a powerful demonstration of your team's commitment to their long-term success. 

2. Build a strategy to deliver these outcomes 

Once you and your customer have outlined what success means to them, including how these metrics will be measured, and what their goals are, the CSM's job is to build a strategy to help them achieve these goals using your company's products and services. 

For example, I currently work for a company that provides cloud hosting to companies with large, sometimes complex web sites or applications. In most cases, while the customer came to us for web hosting, they're really looking for better performance, mission critical uptime, cost optimization, or better efficiency for their developers. 

While the engineering and support teams focus on migrating, launching, and operationalizing their web presence, the Customer Success team ensures that we're aware of and are working towards hitting these ancillary metrics that will ultimate create and drive value for the customer. 

It's important to note that when building a Success Strategy for your customer, you must have agreement on what metrics matter, how they will be measured, and how will we know when we've succeeded. The ambiguous goal of "a faster website" is a difficult target to hit. But the goal of 30ms full page load times in the United States and Europe let's your company know exactly where they stand on delivering the desired outcomes. 

3. Execute on the plan with a shared responsibility model

Once you understand how the customer is going to measure the return on their investment in your product or service, and you have a plan in place to help them achieve that goal - execute on the plan using the 3 Cs. 

Communication, Collaboration, Coordination. 

In most cases, it's impossible for a company to deliver the specified results without cooperation from customer. A critical component of step 3 is to outline and implement a shared responsibility model. This model will clearly outline the responsibilities of you and your customer to achieve the stated objectives. 

The first three months after a strategy has been outlined, CSMs should have Monthly Account Review calls with their customers to confirmed desired outcomes, ensure they're watching the correct metrics, and to start identifying areas for optimization. Once the needles are moving in the right direction, CSMs will usually shift into a Quarterly Business Review (QBR) to ensure that they are delivering on the customer's definition of success. 

Of course, it goes without saying that if you're not achieving the desired results, it's time to go back to the drawing board and re-design the strategy.