Top 10 Myths about Customer Success — Busted! 💥 ft. @Wootric

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Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazdesky).

We’ve seen so many myths out there about how best to do Customer Success, propagated by well-meaning CSMs and business owners who are trying to translate what worked for them into what will work for you. And we’ve also seen advice that may have worked in the past, but is obsolete for 2017. We’ve rounded up the worst offenders, with a weather eye to those that are just plain counter-intuitive.

Myth 1: Customer Success is a SaaS Thing

Customer Success is quickly gaining ground, especially (but not only among) SaaS companies. If it’s one myth we’d like to bust right from the start, it’s that customer success is only for SaaS. It isn’t. Because every business has a customer who wants to succeed, and it’s every business’s duty to help make that success possible. That said… when your business is subscription-based, you won’t succeed without ensuring your customers succeed first.

Myth 2: You *MUST* Follow These Best Practices

Best Practices are the best — we’re fans. But, when it comes to what works best with your specific customers, there is no ‘one size fits all’ playbook. Customer Success is a foundational ideology, not a recipe. Your Best Practices will be 100% unique to your company, formed around helping your target audience achieve their ideal outcomes. In fact, Lincoln Murphy suggests having a separate playbook for each customer segment (that grows as customers expand their use of your products) and each cohort (identified based on success potential and current success vector).

Myth 3: You Can Boost Customer Loyalty by Hacking Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score is a Success power metric because it can work as a leading indicator of retention. Unfortunately, sending NPS surveys when a customer achieves success milestones to boost NPS is a real trend in Customer Success — and can be a real problem.

The idea behind this trend is that by asking customers who you know just had a positive experience to confirm it via a survey, it reinforces that positive association in their minds and memories. But, unless you create a special segment for “positive reinforcement” responses, they will wreck your NPS program’s ability to function as it was meant to.

Companies that do “drip surveys” or survey at journey points may get an NPS than more accurately reflects day-to-day propensity for evangelism (and likelihood to continue using your product!)

Some Customer Success departments are creating modern systems around NPS that ensures that all stakeholders — Product, Sales, Support, Marketing, C-Suite — take action based on customer feedback. If you only survey upon success, you are missing out on the early warning that a detractor response can provide, and other time-sensitive indicators of retention and churn.

Get the ebook, The Modern Guide to Winning Customers with Net Promoter Score. Learn eight ways successful companies are leveraging Net Promoter Score for customer loyalty and growth.

Myth 4: You Should Focus on Offsetting Churn

There’s a belief out there that you can offset churn with upsells, but if you follow the logic, that’s clearly crazy-talk. Yes, mathematically, you could make up for loss of revenue due to churn by upselling existing clients. But in reality, if customers are churning, you’re not doing what it takes to help them succeed (or they don’t have success potential in the first place), which you’d need to do for upsells anyway. Clean up your sales funnel so you’re attracting and converting only those with success potential, then help them achieve it. Only then will you get those upsells — and oh, they’ll stop churning, too.

Myth 5: Churn Isn’t Your Fault

On a related note, let’s talk more about churn. Sure, there are customers who leave for their own personal reasons — something has changed on their end over which you have no control. But that’s relatively rare. Far more likely is that there’s a poor product-consumer fit (ie. they’re unlikely to succeed with your product) or they’re not achieving that all-important desired outcome. Both of those are your fault.

Customer Success is in charge of crossing aisles and working with marketing and sales to ensure that the customers who make it all the way through the sales funnel to conversion are, in fact, likely to succeed with the product.* Only then can Customer Success do “their” job and give those customers everything they need to get the outcomes they want.

*You may need to have a hard conversation with your CEO if they’re running on the belief that “my product is for everyone!” It isn’t.

Myth 6: There is an Average Customer Success Practitioner Coverage Ratio

How many accounts can each customer success manager handle? On average? You’d think there would be one clear answer, like 42. There isn’t. But there’s this equation floating around, “1 CSM per $2M/ARR,” that sounds reasonable until you start thinking of all the ways in which it doesn’t work at all.

For example, when CSMs are on high-touch cases, like onboarding, trouble-shooting (or, preferably, trouble-scouting and proactively solving), or helping customers reach meaningful milestones that set them on track for upsells… oh wait, that’s practically the entire job description right there.

That ratio also only works for SaaS companies (ARR means “annual recurring revenue”), and as we’ve said, customer success isn’t just for SaaS.

And, lastly, that ratio is a direct carry-over from account management, which customer success is not.

When finding your own ratio, look at your customers first. Which segments need a higher-touch approach? Start by identifying those, tracking the time it takes to do the job right, and developing efficiency measures from there. Find a deeper discussion of customer segmentation here.

Myth 7: You Must Save Every Customer!

When you commit to customer success, part of the deal is to take a long, hard look at which customers are likely to find success with your product, and which aren’t. Then, you have to be willing to let the ones who aren’t go. And you have to be brave enough to not take any and all business that comes your way — only those who are likely to be successful with what you have to offer. It’s a short-term sacrifice for a long, long term of success-driven growth.

Myth 8: It’s All About the Buyer’s Journey

The idea of the “buyer’s journey” was an improvement over the old “sales cycle.” The change in vocabulary usefully indicated that buyers begin long before they reach your website, your product page, or your shopping cart. But we might be ready for a new piece of verbiage to add to our lexicon: the “adoption journey.” The “adoption journey” covers the ground after the consumer has purchased, following their lifecycle to improve retention through customer success.

The core question the adoption journey addresses is: How can we help the customer understand and use the product to achieve their goals AND build a delightful, long-term relationship in the process. Functionality and success meets delight.

Myth 9: Customer Success ≠ Self Service

Many people think that Customer Success needs to be high-touch all the time. But that’s missing the point. The point is for the customer to be successful, and sometimes what that customer needs to achieve success is to find their answer on their own, quickly.

In fact, Customer Success and AI-improved self-service work really well together, as customer support becomes increasingly automated and smarter chat-bots solve problems more efficiently than ever. One prediction we had for 2017 is that AI and machine learning will help businesses prioritize conversations with customers, funneling those who need a customer success agent directly to the right source.

Myth 10: Track Your Success Milestones

Milestones matter — they’re not going away. Milestones are how we ensure that we know, and the customer knows, that the customer is making meaningful progress towards their desired outcome. Milestone tracking (and celebrating!) reinforces the positive beliefs the consumer has about the product. In effect, you’re reminding them why they bought your product or service in the first place.

But there’s another kind of milestone that is tracked all too often: Your milestones. If you think Success Milestones look like this, you’re doing them wrong:

Trial ➔ Sale ➔ Onboarding ➔ Use ➔ Upsell ➔ Renewal

This tracks your success, not your customers’ success. Their success might look more like:

Buy product ➔ Send emails people love in less time ➔ Garner a reputation as the go-to ‘get-it-done’ person ➔ Win that promotion

As Customer Success Manager, it’s your job to know your customer’s milestones, and help them keep track and stay on track. Don’t worry — when you do it this way, you’ll make your milestones too.

Success in 2017 Comes Down to…

Really, all of this adds up to one Golden Rule: Effective, growth-stoking Customer Success has to be all about what best serves your ideal customer. Any deviation from that, and you’re stunting your ability to grow.

I’m available for a limited number of SaaS consulting retainers, writing engagements, and I offer Twitter curation + growth (500–1,000 or more followers / mo.) with an authentic approach so that your feed doesn’t look like everyone else’s.

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