When the topic of Customer Success is discussed, the conversation is usually centered around adoption, churn, customer health scores, metrics, and automation. It’s naturally framed from the vendor’s perspective. Most companies view themselves as customer-centric, but have we really thought about how Customers view Customer Success and how they measure the Customer Success love they get from their vendors?
A trusted relationship between a customer and a vendor exists when the customer believes that the CSM is helping them use the product to the maximum potential and is not just interested in increasing profits. This is the reason why it’s important to bring inside-out and outside-in perspectives together to drive customer outcomes. Outside-in perspectives is when we go beyond the customer survey response and dig in to really understand the customer’s aspiration along with their expectations and experience.
Let’s make an attempt to go to the other side and put ourselves in the customer’s situation and we may get surprised by what inverting our perspective can lead us to. Customers are not in the business of using our product, they have their own business to run, functions to manage, and activities to perform. All this was already happening before they purchased the product. The promise of any product is that life will become smoother once the true potential of the product is realized.
In the early phases of the customer lifecycle journey, the customer evaluates whether the product’s continuous usage is justified in lieu of the effort to implement/use the product. So the customers evaluate the ‘customer success’ delivered to them in terms of how the vendor is helping them to get to that value/outcome. Customers keep evaluating two things on a regular basis – is the product UX a good experience and is engaging with the CSM (vendor) a good experience? A product that’s intuitive, easy to navigate and provides instant gratification at different points goes a long way in ensuring that this happens. When it doesn’t, change management is required to avoid issues. CSM engagement is even more crucial in terms of overall experience as a customer can be patient with an underperforming product provided CSMs are delivering on the expectations.
Notice in the diagram above that the customer perspective is optimized when the vendor perspective is well structured and managed and delivers on the customer expectations.
A capable CSM can help shape customers’ view of Customer Success into a positive one, and many software vendors do not have experienced and trained CSMs. When a team is understaffed or lacks experience, that has a huge impact on how these CSMs engage with accounts and most of the time engagement is superficial.
It’s very important that CSMs have the ability to bring product knowledge and domain expertise to their customers. It is equally critical that the CSMs develop a deep understanding of each customer and their objectives and expectations. The best-in-class CS teams are able to convert customer problems into engagement opportunities to coach and share best practices. They become trusted advisors. The CSMs are able to elevate the experience by bringing the right expertise from product, engineering, or services to address the issues. It’s well known in the industry that the customer’s regard for the vendor’s Customer Success initiative goes down when presented with additional costs for services or expertise. This is problematic. Skilled CSMs know how to lead with different options and values and not to present the cost directly in order to get the customer’s buy-in on an approach that will ultimately make the customer most successful.
Once you have an approach that resonates with the customer, the cost becomes palatable. The cost should be all about optimizing the customer’s product investments and scaling the outcomes to new levels. One thing to keep in mind is that when a customer says we have a good CSM but the product needs to improve. It is not just on the product, it may also be that the CSM is not having an appropriate value conversation with the customer.
The best way for vendors to influence how Customer Success initiatives play well with the customers is to map out the customer objectives and needs, and then figure out which initiatives deliver the highest returns. If you as a vendor are able to demonstrate value and have conversations around value frameworks, then customers will be positively oriented towards the Customer Success activities.