Three years ago when I was working in London, I met a well-known tech guru. When I told him I ran a customer success team, he replied, “Customer success! That’s such a cute term!”
The CS field has grown and evolved rapidly, both in size and impact. I spoke last week at the Totango Customer Success Summit, among more than a thousand CS professionals who don’t consider their field to be any cuter than, say, sales or marketing when it comes to ensuring a B2B company’s overall success. Even in the era of VC money and unicorns, no business can survive if it can’t keep customers happy, drive adoption and usage, support customer business objectives and ultimately manage churn while increasing retention and upsell.
As a relative veteran in the space, with 15 years of running customer-facing teams and five years in a direct CS function, I’ve seen some of the typical pitfalls faced by CS professionals and the ways they can be avoided by focusing on three fundamentals.
1. Understand your customers’ pain
Leadspace is growing and changing, with our customer base doubling in size year-over-year. Our first customers were early adopters, going deep in their discovery of Leadspace’s capabilities. They were open to new options and exploring where our platform could take them. They’ve been pivotal to our business, requiring a type of support that was more technical in nature as the customer explored the options available to them around each feature.
As we grew, we began to engage with a new type of customer, a customer that could better be defined as the “early majority.” These customers aren’t as interested in exploring the capabilities of a platform or being the first in a new arena. They have business pains they’re trying to solve as quickly and effectively as possible.
You need to understand what your customer cares about if you want to provide them with the type of service they need. Customers choose to partner with you because they have a business pain, not because they want to learn a cool new technology. Do you know what that pain is? Does your team? Is your success plan for that customer built around solving that pain? How will you know if you’ve done it?
2. Manage to your customers’ business objectives, not your own
Once you begin to work with the early majority, your engagement model has to change. They care about ROI; if they put a dollar in, they want to get at least two dollars out. They don’t want to take time to learn a whole platform if just a few features will meet their needs. And they’re definitely not interested in learning about your platform just to satisfy their curiosity. They want results, with as little time investment as possible.
Can you quantify the value you are providing to your customer in the terms they use in house? Are you arming your customer champion with the data and metrics they need to prove your value to her boss?
The most important information you can get from your customer is a clear understanding of their business objectives, and what “good” looks like. Our CSM team started by digging in on every customer call to better understand the reasons customers were using Leadspace and what they hoped to accomplish.
We used the “Five Whys” model. When a customer gives you a goal that’s really just the use of a feature, often you can get to a real business pain or objective by asking why they want to use that feature, and then continuing to ask why.
Customer: I need leads.
Customer: Because I need to fill my funnel.
Customer: Because I am struggling to bring in enough leads to meet my quotas.
Customer: Because I have an aggressive sales goal of 40% growth this year.
Knowing that your customer champion has a 40 percent growth target on her back changes the way you engage with that customer, the support you provide and they way you report your success. (Note: You don’t always need to use all five “whys.” And obviously this isn’t meant to be annoying.)
3. Don’t wait for a quarterly business review
When you know your customer’s true goals, every check-in call can start with a review of progress against those goals. Instead of, “So how are you? Do you have any questions?” we start by looking together at the customer’s Salesforce dashboard to see how Leadspace leads are performing and if the customer is on track to meet that 40 percent growth target.
We try hard to make our champion look like a superhero, calling out wins they might not even have noticed. Often it can take time to get the data needed for these insights, so tracking progress in scheduled calls and creating the story for the executive business review call makes them more effective and provides real value.
In a future post, I’ll explore some of the changes in mindset we experienced—both among our customers and our CS team—in rolling out these fundamentals.