While the term Customer Success may have been used for the first time back in 1996 to name a department committed to helping customers be successful using Vantive’s CRM, Customer Success as a holistic approach to developing loyal customers is still evolving. Where on the evolutionary curve it falls is up for debate. Even though many of us in the industry (purveyors of Customer Success solutions) may wish for us all to be on the cusp of optimization, we see 2018 as the Year of Adoption.
Indeed, people are talking about Customer Success more than ever. Enterprise organizations are placing a priority on solving real problems around how they manage their customer relationships. However, we aren’t quite optimizing customer success organizationally. Optimization can only happen AFTER an enterprise (in its entirety) embraces the real value of customer retention and the work required to do this right. While the right technology will help with adoption (and ultimately, with optimization), we see 2018 as the year where the kinks of gaining internal traction are ironed out, and enterprises adopt a Customer Success mindset across the organization – from how call centers interact with customers to how account management is defined, to how customer feedback is processed. In spite of a strong desire within the Customer Success industry for this year to be the year of inflection where Customer Success gets fully honed across the subscription economy, we really aren’t quite there yet.
That said, we are not starting from ground zero. We have tremendous momentum. If we think of 2018 as the Year of Adoption (rather than optimization), we see real opportunities that will contribute to an actual boost in the subscription economy. With the end goal of seeing Customer Success rise above a department or function, and absorbed into the fabric and culture of the organization, Adoption will witness strides in Education, Process and Technology.
Remember when Social Media was just a way for people to share pictures, thoughts, and reviews? Before businesses recognized its potential (and importance) in marketing? In some ways, Customer Success today may be about where Social Media was a few years back – a hot idea, but confusing to figure out how to incorporate into existing business models. Just as Social Media is more than opening a Hoot Suite account and scheduling posts, Customer Success is more than Net Promotor Scores and QBRs.
The charge for those who already know this, and passionately believe in the value of an enterprise-wide Customer Success approach to business, is to align both C-suite and supporting teams with a Customer Success charter that changes the fabric of the organization. This is done through painstaking education which incorporates:
- Purpose and Vision
For 2018 to be the Year of Adoption for Customer Success in your organization, businesses will know why it’s important. If there’s not a champion for the vision of a Customer Success-centric organization, those organizations will continue to strive for adoption.
Why is Customer Success important to the future of your business? (Hint: when chartered beyond a small team of account manager/tech hybrids, the potential of realizing actual value from existing customers is fully unlocked.)
- Awareness and Alignment
We meet plenty of Customer Success teams who have been “chartered” by their C-suite, and, yet, the rest of their organization doesn’t know (or embrace) what they do. Education will happen both vertically and horizontally as Adoption unfolds.
What is the vision for Customer Success within your organization, and how are business units incorporating that vision into their approach with customers?
In addition to creating alignment through education, Customer Success advocates will continue to determine and internally “sell” processes to foster Adoption across the enterprise. Customer Success is the cornerstone of customer management (and the creation of loyal customers). Therefore, the CS team has the responsibility for validating that all customer-facing processes are effective.
This begins with defining your customer lifecycle and then establishing buy-in from each customer-facing team within the company. It could include collaborating with the sales teams to define offerings and best practices for handoff. Or, perhaps, its working in tandem with marketing to define meaningful content for your existing customers. However it’s gaining traction, leadership is key to enterprise-wide adoption.
Some examples of businesses who are effectively adopting customer-centric processes are:
- CISCO is adopting Customer Success organizationally by first understanding what the “uber challenges” are, and then identifying microstrategies from across the organization to build an enterprise-wide approach to working with customers
- The data quality division of Experian has a well-defined customer lifecycle model which relies heavily upon cross-functional project management. They are now evangelizing their approach across other divisions within the enterprise.
- With a distributed workforce, Yes Lifecycle Marketing is beginning to apply their CS customer centric practices across their organization (including technical operations, production, and professional services).
We’re the first to tout the value of tech in the full adoption (and ultimate optimization) of Customer Success. However, technology cannot be incorporated into a Customer Success deficit or void. If Education and Process haven’t begun, Technology is a poor investment, and will NOT foster adoption. However, having the right technology to compliment a well-chartered Customer Success can be the linchpin toward adoption (and even optimization).
The right technology will:
- Enable standardization of excellent customer experiences
- Glean informative data around work effort AND customer loyalty
- Compliment customer-facing processes (across departments)
- Automate defined customer success workflow to reduce downtime
Businesses that are ready to adopt technology to facilitate their Customer Success approach are seeing real wins in transparency and agility. For instance, the Bolstra platform has enabled our data quality customer to fully adopt a churn solution. They created a churn probability index that incorporates weighted factors (usage patterns and survey responses), and triggered activities to reach out to at-risk customers. No more being blind-sided by customers attriting without warning. Other organizations that are advanced in adoption are able to use our technology to reduce downtime by automating and streamlining CSMs workflow. The right CS platform can also be used for time-tracking. The data generated from our platform has helped all of our customers refine their capacity models.
There’s no denying the value of using technology to foster Customer Success adoption. We fully support this, and anticipate that technology will become even more integrated in 2018. That said, if you really want Customer Success to stick, Education and Process should come first.