Is Your Customer Success Strategy Designed to Win?

I recently had an epiphany while reading a post about the differences between the playing strategies of amateur and pro tennis players. I know this may seem random but what can I say? I read a lot seemingly unrelated stuff that turns out to be not so unrelated to Customer Success.

In this case, what really struck me was the conclusion that the most critical difference between amateur and and pro tennis players boiled down to the fact that amateurs play to minimize their mistakes while pros are focused on winning each point.

So what does this have to do with Customer Success? Everything. Consider for a moment how we play the Success “game” today. We play to minimize.

We work to minimize our churn risks, reduce escalations and generally do whatever it takes to keep customers in the “boat” — to prevent them from leaving. In other words, we seek to minimize mistakes. When you consider things in this light, we’re playing the Customer Success game more like amateurs than pros.

I know, I know. Hear me out. When I throw out a polarizing statement like, “We’re playing like amateurs,” what I’m really trying to do is to draw your attention to the intention in your current strategy.

I want you to consider the way you’re currently playing the Customer Success game. Most of the strategies and advice that I’m seeing “in play” aren’t focused on winning. At their core, these strategies are all about minimizing, forestalling or avoiding the loss of customers. We’re like the amateur tennis players: we’re too focused on not losing to truly win.

Built to Not Lose

Today’s Success game seems to be focused on an M&M strategy — minimize and mitigate. There’s an almost obsessive focus on mitigating downstream elements when we should be looking upstream at prevention and/or complete avoidance of the issues. Why are we fixating on the target instead of rooting out the source of the problem? The old saying “the best defense is a strong offense” can and should apply.

Consider that, on the whole, the current Customer Success playbook is heavily focused on lowering churn, resolving retention issues and determining how to recover from some misstep that occurred during Onboarding or the Sales process. Notice anything about all of these? They’re all about minimization and mitigation.

The bulk of today’s Customer Success strategies are built from the ground up focused on not losing. This is not something I say merely to be controversial; it’s just a matter of fact. For proof, you have to look no further than Customer Success’ origins and the drivers that brought Success into being.

Success was built on a foundation of not losing. Our origins make total sense when you consider that most businesses only embraced Customer Success when they had to. Most companies didn’t start out designing for Success, they either brought it in after they built a base or retrofitted it into their operation after they had one too many “Oh sh*t!” moments and had to do something to counter issues like high levels of churn or challenges with the monetization of their customer base.

The origins of Customer Success really highlight the challenge when you consider that the catalyst for bringing Success into being in a lot of cases was a desire to mitigate the truly bad — to make it acceptably less bad — not to change the dynamic of the game. Because of this, Customer Success can often feel like an emergency room: you’re fighting so hard just get a patient stabilized that there isn’t time to think about what should have been done to prevent the situation from ever happening.

Instead of waiting for that heart attack to occur and the resulting triple-bypass surgery, why don’t we get ahead of things and get in there with the Customer Success equivalent of diets, exercise and vitamins? A winning strategy attacks the smaller, root issues at their source rather than waiting for them to fester into something dramatic and systemic.

Changing the Game

Seeing organizations start to invest in Customer Success earlier and earlier is, in many cases, a good indicator that progressive companies are considering how to make the strategic shift from not losing to winning. That said, investing earlier is not enough, we need to change the game; we need to shift the paradigm.

A major part of this paradigm shift is a fundamental change in focus, a move away from fixating on what we can do to improve things that are happening at the tail end and toward looking to influence what is occurring at the tip of the spear so that we can avoid entire classes of issues.

This transition is critical if we are ever to get out of the constant TMS (triage-mitigate-save) loop. In order to break this loop, Customer Success needs to be able to start shaping and influencing what happens during the initial portions of the customer lifecycle so that we can start to focus on delivering more successes, instead of saves.

Is your Success strategy built to win? Let us know what a winning Success strategy looks like in the OUTCOMES: The SuccessHacker Customer Success Community.

Originally published at on December 9, 2014.

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