I have spent most of my career working for global companies and managing global teams. I am grateful for the opportunities and am even more grateful to work with such diverse teams. I have learned that Customer Success is not equal (nor should it be) in how it is executed in different countries. You have to take a slightly unique and deviated approach for each country. There are cultural differences, language barriers (the slang used) and differences in how businesses work in general. It is not a “one size fits all” way of approaching customers.
Early on in my career I traveled to another country to talk to users of my company’s product. What I learned on that trip is how we were expecting our customers to use that product was totally different than how it was used. Matter of fact, right when I landed I saw ads for our product in the airport that didn’t fit in with how we were positioning our product back in the United States. They were using it in a way they culturally used similar products. We missed the mark in trying to get them to fit into our culture rather than fitting into theirs. This is the true start of my realization that we need to keep in mind different cultures with approaches and how we interact.
I found expectations to be the same in Customer Success. At times in global companies we expect customer success to have a playbook that is very uniform for all countries. Many times global customer success teams are managed from the U.S. That makes it very challenging for CSMs around the world to take an approach they know is best when they are being told to work a certain way. It shouldn’t be the case. I spoke with ten Customer Success professionals around the globe (many of whom I have worked with in the past) about the differences they see in their countries.
I asked each CSM the same question: “What is different in the way Customer Success in your country is approached or managed from the other countries?”
Amit Chakraborty (Regional Manager, Customer Success at Axway) – “Australia has a culture of ‘mateship’ – which is different from the more ubiquitous word “friendship’. While the latter embodies a bond of affection and largely unfettered by a sense of obligation, the feeling of mateship has its roots in partnership in the face of adversities. It was necessary to work in partnerships at the outback where it is dangerous to attempt things on your own!”
“When we think of Customer Success in the Trans-Tansman region, it is this feeling of mateship based on mutual trust and loyalty that permeates the realm of vendor and customer teams.
You don’t necessarily have common interests in arts and sciences like friends typically do, but you expect a mate to stand by you and get the job done!”
“You acknowledge the need to collaborate, and seek to establish symbiotic relationships with your partners and vendors. You realize the market pie is big, and willing to break bread together as mates on equal footing to deliver value for your stakeholders.”
Walid Hajeri (Principal Customer Success Manager at Axway) – “I would say that France’s customers enjoy particularly human interactions (e.g face 2 face over phone, and phone over email). There’s a strong interpersonal factor in building a lasting commercial relationship here. This is also a characteristic which is shared with Southern Europe customers.”
“On the challenges side, in France we tend to be quite direct when issues arise hence it’s important to prevent those situations and have a “thick skin” during the storm… Regarding upselling/cross-selling, decisions tend also to take longer than in the UK. My guess is that we’re in Descartes country and people like to have a high level of certainty before committing on a new purchase, so building trust and reassuring potential buyers is key. A last thing about NPS scores… getting a 10 out of 10 in a survey is not super common in France. I often joke about this, but most professors educated us this way : ‘perfection does not exist, this is why I can’t give you the maximum mark despite your work being excellent’.”
Andreas Wackler (Principal Customer Success Manager at Axway) – “Our role as Customer Success managers is about helping our customers to gain as much value as possible. Their expectations are simply to meet goals and business outcomes with minimum efforts and pains.”
“The customer success concept is fairly new in Germany. It often requires additional explanation, as well as, a distinct description of the role itself. It isn’t unusual that there’s some reluctance at first as customers tend to think you’re just another from an Account Executive who wants to sell something.”
“Unlike other countries, German communications are very direct and explicit. Customers formulate important statements directly and openly which can sometimes feel like a slap in your face. Business relationships are based on mutual advantages with the central focus on tasks. Delivering on those as promised are key.”
“In Germany we value order, privacy and punctuality. Appointments need to be conscientiously planned. Surely, you want to show off your good manners right?”
Jun Koremura (Regional Director of Customer Success, Japan and APAC at CircleCI) – Although Customer Success is relatively new in Japan, it has been getting known in the last couple of years. Japan’s very first big, paid conference for customer success called Success4 was in 2019 and that can be considered as a turning point in Japan’s Customer Success scene. Now, many companies have started building their own customer success team.
In Japan, there is a deep-rooted culture called Omotenashi, meaning to wholeheartedly look after guests. Customer Success concepts and this culture are a good match so I believe Customer Success in Japan will grow more and more in the next couple of years. As you can imagine with this culture, many companies in Japan weigh high-touch more than tech-touch but tech-touch or data driven approach are equally important so it is a challenge for many to implement and execute such approach as well.
Walid Hajeri (Principal Customer Success Manager at Axway) – “My customers have been based so far mainly in France, UK, Southern Europe and Middle-East (GCC countries). The way we’ve been always told to manage customers is never differentiated by country, however as a CSM I often deal with cultural differences between those countries, which ultimately prompts me to adapt. Every customer is different.”
“However, I noticed that customers from the Middle East generally have higher expectations on availability of the CSM. Communications can happen at almost any time, on any channel (e.g WhatsApp). You also feel people there are used to being offered a high level of service and don’t hesitate to aim for the best, both product & service-wise. My assumption is that people there are used to a 5-stars type of service in their everyday life (shopping malls, etc.) and hence the bar gets raised also in their professional life. When proposing a solution that involves undertaking cumbersome tasks, it’s often wise to propose both enablement options (training, etc.) and also full service consulting, the full service option being often chosen.”
Vincent Manlapaz (Thought Leadership at Medallia, Customer Success Author) -The Philippines business model is one of the reasons why some roles such as customer success (CS) have been known late or entered with uncertainty.
When large companies outsource their jobs to the Philippines, it comes with a high risk since you have to train employees to do a job well. That is the big question for most leaders. How to do it right? Another concern is the talent you’d like to hire.
It is both a challenge and an opportunity. Those in sales, account management, business development, product support roles immediately roll into this role (CS).
Since we don’t work directly with the company that hired us, agent or team performance is measured and monitored through traditional metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS), IR, and CSAT. Sometimes NRR or ARR become incentives metrics.
With regards to role perception or identity, we share what others have said about this role. CS is the fuel that drives the connection and eliminates misconceptions. This team is committed to delivering outcomes that customers consider to be their holy grail. More than role, it is the beacon where the rubber (success) meets the road (customer expectations).
Andrei Mercore (Service Success Manager at Software One) – As is the case for the other countries around the globe, where Customer Success is a fairly new concept, in Romania, professionals are rather intrigued by this methodology. In the past 5 years, since working in various IT companies, I’ve noticed a lot of organizations switching from a Service Management or Delivery Management approach into an integrated Customer/Service Success Management. This brought new opportunities to young professionals with varied language, IT or soft skills to develop themselves and have the opportunity to grow along this customer success approach. However, before Customer Success, professionals in my country were asked to be analytical, experienced in various products, services or tools , have great customer relationships etc. depending on the job role. Now of course, with Customer Success they can showcase all these skills in one complex but fun job and have great visibility. To this extent, because of the previous need to be competitive and experienced on the job market, I think professionals in my country have a more methodical approach to providing Customer Success. We tend to be more analytical and help the customers have a larger view on their success from a business and product perspective. After all, in the age of information, knowledge (data) is power. Having data, you have information. Having information, you have tools, having the right tools, you have the power to transform your success into a permanent state of mind.
George Ghetu (Customer Success Manager EMEA at Axway) – There is no one size fits all when you are talking about delivering CSM services to customers across the globe.
In Romania we are lucky, lucky that in the last 20 years or so there was a boom in the market. All the big names in the industry opened huge offices to deliver all kinds of services to their customers, so, young Romanians, with good language skills, had a lot to learn in terms of dealing with people from various countries. No two people are ever the same but when you are adding to that, cultural traits, well, it makes it even more challenging (please note I used “challenging”, not “ difficult”, because I love a good challenge 🙂 ).
Talking about being a CSM in Romania, I think that a good CSM needs to have strong principles and live by those. In addition, you cannot succeed in this line of business if you are not persuasive, adaptable, flexible and possess a high level of diplomacy.
If you can tick the “boxes” above you can consider starting your CSM journey in a multicultural market, across the globe and you’ll be fine dealing with different people from different countries. You will feel them, adapt while you are talking, pretty much know what you can expect even before starting a meeting and prepare accordingly.
Paula Guinot (Customer Success Director at Bloobirds) – The customer success concept is pretty new in some industries here in Spain, they are more familiar with the account manager, they need us to be reachable because we are here to help them.
Here in Spain, we have to create a relationship of trust. It is always a high-touch relationship, they appreciate a session in person rather than a video call. Even though we structure the sessions, they always tend to take longer because they always take the opportunity to ask their questions or to take an in-depth look at a subject.
Steve McDougal (Director of Customer Success at Genesys) – Customer Success in the UK has rapidly exploded. The market has pockets of maturity and immaturity. Sometimes it’s confused with Account Management or a version of Customer Support or Client Services.
In the UK there are several models and variants of CS. Some CS have numerical targets and quotas, some have upsells, some have renewals and some have an element of consulting and professional services. It has multiple facets and identities.
What UK customers really appreciate are the following qualities in a CSM: being responsive, empathetic and being able to truly understand their pain points and challenges. They also appreciate openness and respect and highly value trust (if you cannot deliver something then be honest) and the willingness of the CS to be proactive and go the extra mile especially when things go wrong!
The UK customers are also a bit complicated in that often the Brits don’t say what they really mean so as a CSM you need to be able to detect the under current of the conversations and respond accordingly! “I am slightly concerned” = “I am extremely concerned”. “Can you kindly please update me on what’s happened” = “ What the hell is going on”. “We think that there is value here” = “ This is very interesting”.
The ability to engage in small talk is a huge advantage especially about how their weekend was. Questions like did you watch football last night?, and of course the ability to indulge in conversations about the unpredictable weather! Also when we return back to face to face the Brit clients love love love socializing with their CSMs in the Pub.
The classic approach of the UK CSM is to keep calm, carry on, under promise and over deliver.
Brian Sam (Senior Customer Success Manager at LinkedIn) – In North America, we are focused on achieving customer’s business objectives and goals, providing the best possible customer experience, implementing consistent service tiers and providing success at scale aligning with business success metrics and measurements. Customer Success is a little more sophisticated and process oriented in the U.S. In a very collaborative environment, many cross functional partners work together to support the best interest of the customer. In forming this ‘pod’, we align the many objectives of the customer across the different lines of business in a cohesive solution approach. Our closest relationship is with our sales partners working seamlessly together to support our customers. Customers view their relationship with Customer Success Managers as a partnership. Customer Success Managers serve customers with education advisory, product advisory and optimizations, metric driven recommendations, and overall best practices.
You can clearly see while there are a lot of similarities there are equally many differences and levels of sophistication and maturity. I believe as Customer Success evolves it should take into account these differences and adapt to the many countries and cultures around the world. It is exciting to think that not too long ago this was even a new concept in the U.S. and now it is exploding all over the world.
As a manager of a global team your goal is to be versed at all the differences in the locations of the teams you manage. Learn from your team and adapt to the countries represented. As a CSM your goal should be to educate your manager on how things work best in your country in order to best serve your clients.
I have truly valued all the knowledge gained over the years and feel not only grateful but very educated. It has always been an honor for me to manage these teams and how respectful they were and open enough to educate me. I truly believe the clients benefited and even enjoyed when I knew the differences in their country and adapted.