A model for Customer Success

What are the pieces and how do they fit together?


Want to understand what ‘customer success’ means in the world of software as a service? Take a look at this post first

The discipline of customer success works best when it is embedded into every aspect of the organization, supported by a clear executive level outcome owner (often the Chief Customer Officer). The key inputs, dimensions and outcomes of the discipline are shown in the following diagram and explained below.

Inputs, aspects of the customer success discipline, and the outcomes it produces

Getting the right inputs — sales and marketing

The approach for setting customers up for success starts right at the beginning, in how the product is positioned both before and during the sales cycle. The earlier the conversation about success is had, the easier it is to support the customer in being successful in the longer term.

  • Marketing would be ideally focused on the customer outcome and towards the audiences who are likely to be able to sponsor and ‘buy into’ that outcome. This way the conversation gets off on the right foot.
  • Sales discussions would continue that conversation, building on the desire to get to the advertised outcome and helping the prospective customer understand the role of the product and supporting organization in helping them achieve that together. This would include positioning the customer life cycle services and associated paid services / partnerships available in the right way to set the customer up for delivering the outcomes that they desire, and challenging the customer in the right way should their expectations be unrealistic.

In early enterprise start-ups, there is a natural tendency to deviate from this outcome focus in order to generate initial business, but customers acquired through this route are unlikely to become your key references and advocates in the future.

Managing the customer life cycle — the customer success discipline

Once the customer has begun their journey to success, the customer success discipline assists them across a number of different dimensions:

  • A reliable, well supported product is essential. You can’t have a discussion about outcomes if the product doesn’t work or issues aren’t fixed quickly.
  • Good Customer Intelligence is key. At the heart of this is easily available usage data for the product. Engagement with the product is generally a good indicator of whether outcomes and value are being realized. Add to this customer signals from external social media, in or out of product surveys and other methods for gathering the ‘voice of the customer’ and you’ve got a rich base of information on which to inform decisions on where to focus customer success efforts as well as drive the direction of your product.
  • A strong self help program, focused on helping the customer achieve the right outcomes, will help your customer success program scale. Try and help customers do things themselves wherever possible and regularly gather and review evidence on what customers are using, what’s not being drawn upon and what’s being demanded by the customer community. If the self help materials can be incorporated into the product somehow, then even better.
  • Customer communities are the single strongest source of customer self-enablement that can exist. If you invest significantly in helping customers connect with one another to help each other towards the same outcome, the benefits will be significant. Don’t be afraid of getting customers to talk to one another — you’ll learn a lot from the experience, most significantly where you can be of more assistance.
  • Investing in resources that can help with impact or triage activities (often known as Customer Success Managers or CSMs) will have a disproportionate impact on your customer success efforts. “Impact activities” are those things you make a decision to invest specific CSM resource into, because you know they’re going to have a decent return on customer success. These could be anything from success planning with a key customer, to supporting a launch/on-boarding session, to running an event where multiple customers with the same challenge meet to discuss and resolve. Investing in this capability gives you the ability to be flexible in responding to what your customer base and data is telling you is required, in a way that scales better than just adding a new CSM per X customers.
  • The reason why I think it’s useful to separate them out this way is because otherwise you might for example decide to put all your customers through the same, standardized on-boarding process, where the higher impact activity for your customer base might be to work with them as a group.
  • Having access to additional support through paid services, to meet the need for customers who require further help beyond your customer success efforts, is a worthwhile investment. Depending on the model you choose, this will generate additional revenue for yourself or create a valuable partnering proposition. Make sure the paid services offered are again focused on helping the customer deliver the outcomes that you are both looking for.

What are the outcomes for an organization?

Focusing on customer success has a number of positive outcomes for any organization, including:

  • Reduced customer churn. Customers who are successful are less likely to leave.
  • Upsell or cross-sell through increased product usage. Successful customers buy more things.
  • Greater customer satisfaction. Successful customers are happier.
  • New customer acquisition through referrals. Successful customers tell others.

One key thing to note is that these are all lagging indicators that result from a focus on helping the customer achieve the outcomes your product promises. So focus your organization on success, rather than churn reduction, and you will see churn rates reduce as a result.

What are your approaches for customer success?