6 Keys to a Customer Success “Method” that works

Having a framework for success that can be used to help customers adopt new tools or processes is important. The key is having one that works because it is simple and adaptable.

Customer Success Management requires a method, much like using a recipe: it is a mix of science and art. Science and art and bit of experimentation should result in a method to deliver success experiences that can evolve as need be. This article will focus on the importance and 6 criteria to having a consistent method to drive customer success and how after being adopted it should take its own personal form. It is aimed at anyone who is helping their customers or themselves adopt to change.

Back in 2005, I had the pleasure of managing a team of experienced and smart Customer Success professionals, at salesforce.com. I was very passionate about making the “way we worked with customers” as consistent as possible. At the time, our customers had very different experiences based on each person who was working with them. The consequence; customers started to have “favorites” and even worse, their desires of how we should provide service to them became very much tactical and not the strategic type of experience we had hoped for. I wanted all my customers to feel that “love” for the Customer Success Program, regardless of who got to work with them. I wanted them to value the program for how it helped them become leaders of change. I wanted to have a method from which to anchor that sentiment. This is the reason we as Customer Success Managers, or anyone for that matter who works with getting someone to adopt something new, pour our heart and soul into what we do. We want our customers to love the experience they are about to embark upon so that they can be fired up and in turn be catalyst to change.

We had to find a simple and consistent way that every customer felt they were getting “value” every time they had an interaction with us. Using a common framework — a simple Method became a bridge to end.

We developed a CSM Methodology, also known as, The Pillars of Success. The methodology helped all the customer facing teams speak the same language around customer success. More often than not, customers were familiar with the principles of our methodology and appreciated that we had a framework from which they could get started. It became a great way to “gain trust.”

In addition to gaining trust, the secret to an excellent Customer Success Program is to know that the Customer owns its success. They do all the hard work that will pay off; like an athlete in training. Getting customers to adopt a particular methodology for managing their adoption journey is an art in itself. Customers will value having a framework for reference, they will value help as they think of how they can apply it but it will be a challenge getting them to actually adopt a methodology to manage their own change. For example, there are companies like Influitive, who understand this challenge so well, they have gone as far as assigning a project management application license to their champions to ensure they can track and create accountability for ensuring the steps on their success journey are adopted right from the bat. I know this because I am one of their customers and it works.

The art of using a methodology of success is in HOW it gets adapted so it will work best for that particular customer/situation/company culture etc. It should not be dictated or prescriptive but simple and reliable so it inspires confidence in the path it leads. The Customer Success Manager becomes a customer’s Coach and their Student at the same time. Many success practitioners consider this “letting go of control” which I believe is essential to a healthy customer relationship. The customer is the driver, we their co-pilot, as such, we maintain focus on expectation setting and managing a methodical approach to their success.

Having a methodology will help build consistency and help deepen the relationship with your customers. So, what are the key elements for building an effective Customer Success Management Method? Let’s start with the following:

Vision

Most methodologies (even the non-methods) have key elements of things that MATTER and that have VALUE to the journey. One of these being the importance of having a vision of WHY you are doing this (work/change) in the first place. The next steps vary slightly based on what you are changing or implementing. Having a Vision and knowing why makes everything fall into place.

Executive Sponsorship

Active and visible Executive Sponsorship is the key to leading by example. It is a critical ingredient that helps inspire the desire to follow into the change. It is also important to note that sponsorship is not just from the C’level but also from direct supervisors who are, in a way, the executive sponsors within their teams. A Direct Manager yields the power of action or indifference. Sponsorship is never static, it needs nurturing and tending to so it can add value and not hinder the process of adoption.

Measures of Success

How will you know you have accomplished your goals? What does success look like? Success Criteria, is crucial to validate the journey embarked upon. It is not just about metrics, but the questions these hope to answer and the stories of value captured. Quantitative and qualitative measures help adapt and adjust the efforts around adoption so that they are still fulfilling the Vision they aspire to. Measures of success steer customers in the direction they want to go.

Change Management

“In the end, people are persuaded not by what we say, but by what they understand.” John C. Maxwell. This is the key to developing an Adoption Practice. Your change management plan should consider: Use Cases of Adoption, Training, Communications and Governance woven into a sustainable practice. This is where the art and the personal touch of ‘season to taste with a dash of fun’ really becomes your differentiators. How does you customer communicate internally? How (and if) do they deliver training to their users? What elements of governance do they need to consider and build into the practice? How can they create a relevant program from which the initial effort can be sustained and be iterated upon? Here is where concepts and programs around “Champions, Ambassadors, Evangelists” surface. This is where stories about A-Ha moments become catalysts to change and where intrinsic motivation adds more value and momentum.

Integration

Integration means weaving what’s new into people’s way of getting work done and the systems they use do to this. If you want the technology you are introducing to be successfully adopted, it must be woven into people’s routine. This is where the change/technology introduced graduates to a business critical status.

Validation and Iteration

Marathon races have a water station every 3 miles or so; without these stops many runners would never reach the Finish line. These stations are analogous to milestones in a Journey to change. A Customer Success Method should include phases in which to stop, evaluate results, assess change and impact at many levels and determine next steps forward. By creating frequent moments for validation and iteration the process itself can be kept simple and effective while providing real value to the people adopting the change.

These are guidelines that frame a method. After 10 years as a Customer Success leader and practitioner I know that process is a friend. I have learned that it is important to let customers figure things out while encouraging them to do the same with their users. Listening and adapting are the secret to applying a method that works.

Why should any Customer Success Manager adopt any methodologies at all? if, after all is said and done, it’s the customer who is responsible and accountable for their success and they may or may not use any of it. Why make work when we cannot control its outcome?

Trust.

One key reason is Trust and it is not gratuitous. The key to having a method is that you hand the customer a way of doing something and build up their trust and confidence in their own ability. It is not about them trusting us; we do that by leading by example, being open, advocating for them. It is about them trusting in themselves and their users. Trusting a method that allows for serendipity and experimentation. A method is the quality that creates the conditions for success — it has a proven track record — it makes people feel they have safety in their approach and, as a result, they can experiment beyond it.

A Method is a way to build trust that embarking on the journey of change is worthwhile doing. A method helps the Customer Success Management experience be one that is worthwhile.

Try it.


I want to thank #oneseteve; my #wondertwin Steven Nguyen, Emma Stephen and Stephen Danelutti for their feedback and ideas on this piece. I finally published it! As the method itself, i know it can continue to be improved upon.