Love thy customer

by | Jul 3, 2023

We’ve been chatting a lot lately about what ‘Customer Success‘ really means and looks like in action. A lot of companies and partners we work with now have entire teams dedicated to this functionality and purpose but there seems to be a lot of variation in what is on offer to the customer in this context and what ‘good’ looks like.

Naturally, one of the first things we did to explore a little more, is to ask the big bad internet for its definition. In old school tradition, we asked not ChatGPT or Bard but good old Google. Here’s what came up.

“Customer success is a business strategy that focuses on helping customers achieve their goals using your product or service. It is a proactive approach to customer engagement that goes beyond simply providing support when problems arise. Customer success teams work closely with customers to understand their needs, identify pain points, and develop strategies to help them succeed.

There are many benefits to implementing a customer success strategy.
For example, it can help to:

  • Increase customer satisfaction and retention
  • Reduce customer churn
  • Improve customer lifetime value
  • Drive upsells and cross-sells
  • Generate positive word-of-mouth
  • Build a strong brand reputation

Customer success is an essential part of any business that wants to build long-term relationships with its customers. By focusing on customer success, businesses can create a competitive advantage and achieve their business goals.

Here are some of the key activities that customer success teams typically perform:

  • Onboarding new customers
  • Providing training and support
  • Identifying and addressing customer pain points
  • Measuring and tracking customer success
  • Developing and executing customer success plans
  • Collaborating with other teams within the organisation (e.g., sales, marketing, product) to ensure that customers are getting the most out of the product or service
  • Building relationships with customers and becoming a trusted advisor

Customer success is a complex and challenging field, but it is also incredibly rewarding. By helping customers succeed, customer success teams can make a real difference in the lives of businesses and individuals.”

What I’m wondering is how easy businesses find it to move from what is, historically, a self-centred, own gain, more traditional approach to sales and commercial achievement and more towards this focus on “helping customers achieve their goals.”

Can this Yin and Yang really and authentically co-exist to the benefit of all?

Company Culture

If I was to create an interpretation of customer success based on my own experience, I have found it to be a leading indicator of a company culture – a true reflection of how a seller perceives its customers and itself as a business.

So whilst the above definition is undoubtedly true and offers some nice bullet points for easy reference, for me, it misses out on the real value of customer success activities, and what it communicates about your company ethics.

I’ve seen a real-time evolution in terms of customer success in the last three decades that I’ve been interacting with customers. Admittedly that is a long time (and now I feel quite old).

It used to be a purely reactive support process. It was called ‘customer service’ and if you had a problem with the product or service you picked up the phone and provided you were paying the support fee you’d get some help, nothing more sophisticated than that.

The first change was based on an effort to reduce churn. Sellers were incentivised with a bonus component based on the renewal of support fees. Historically, this was often a quick call ahead of the invoice being sent or a call post invoice to ensure it got paid. At least the customer was hearing from someone right?

Realising that these small gestures were not really enough, there was then an attempt to set up teams that would actively involve themselves with dissatisfied or otherwise struggling customers to get them back on track. This extended aftercare by signposting training resources or involving SMEs.  While this was the progenitor of the modern customer success team, it was still dependent on customers self-referring or being flagged by sellers as needing some tlc.

Many organisations are still stuck at this stage. For sure, it’s better for the customer than it was. There’s no longer a brick wall they run into when the support team has exhausted all options. Other teams are now more involved, such as product development, who have access to knowledge and learnings to build into product iterations to continue to enhance customer experiences.

But what’s next?

On the bleeding edge, we’re seeing some very advanced teams using data, analytics and dashboards to monitor customer experience and take a pro-active stance on customer success. Becoming involved early in the customer onboarding cycle and staying in the loop throughout the customer lifecycle.  Churn becomes almost non-existent and satisfaction scores are through the roof.  How to do this well deserves its own blog or even a series.

But the most important takeaway for me is what I started with, how seriously you equip yourself to deliver customer success tells the world a lot about how you perceive your customers.

Best way to sell something: don’t sell anything. Earn awareness, respect and trust of those who might buy. You need to see things as they are, not worse than they are, then see them better than they are, and make them that way.
Jordan Belfort

While we recognise that not all business pursuits of the Wolf of Wall Street were entirely on our business moral track, this quote rings true when exploring this concept and meaning of driving success with and for our customers.

Long term investment

At Sales Engine customer success is a continuing journey. It’s when both parties have a clear sense of achievement. One that is both tangible in sales performance and numbers, but also evident in evolving trust-based relationships. We take time to nurture a mutually strategic investment and exchange that allows us to support customers in revealing, planning and realising their commercial and professional ambitions. Companies that work with us see this through not only through roadmaps like our Sales Maturity Curve and our integrated approach to People, Processes and Tools, but also the insight we share, the people in our team, our approach to collaboration versus siloed teams and introducing repeatable, tested methodologies versus isolated, often unachievable goals.

Customers can tell how seriously you take their success. They know a token gesture when they see one and they also recognise genuine care and investment in supporting long-term relationships and the associated achievement.

A question anyone with customers must regularly ask themselves, is not what they can spend on your product or service, but whether you afford not to invest in their success?

We would be really interested to know your thoughts on this and what you do as a company for your customers, or what you as a customer or client, expect from your suppliers.

Answers on a postcard (or email) to