Explicit Type

What is Customer Success?

08 Apr 2019 | 6 minutes

This post was the basis of my 2019 Elevate Summit talk, “What is Customer Success, Anyway?”.

Without a doubt, if your organization doesn’t have one already, you’ve either thought about starting a Customer Success department or have at least heard about it’s benefits. Chances are if you’re in the latter two categories, you’ve heard more than a few different opinions about what Customer Success is and how it fits into your organization. While CS means different things for different companies, there are a few things that hold true no matter what your industry or size. This post is designed to be a primer of what Customer Success is, is not, and some specifics of what it could look like at your organization.

Note: There is an unending supply of resources (and opinions!) about what Customer Success is, but this post is an introduction to the high-level concepts. If you’re looking information beyond this post, my two recommendations are Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue by Nick Mehta, Dan Steinman, and Lincoln Murphy, and Farm Don’t Hunt: The Definitive Guide to Customer Success by Guy Nirpaz.

Customer Success was conceived of by Salesforce not that long ago. Being one of the first subscription-as-a-service organizations, Salesforce was one of the first companies to have to battle seriously with month-over-month churn threats. To combat this threat, Salesforce enacted an entirely new philosophy - a company-wide focus on (at least) reducing churn and (at best) increasing growth for their customers. Customer Success, therefore, was born from recognizing that in today’s environment, the customer is more powerful than ever. They can leave at the drop of a hat. To survive, your company must listen to your customers’ voice and deliver what they want and need.

At the highest level, Customer Success is perfectly named. Customer Success’ single purpose is to ensure the success of your customers. If your customers succeed and grow with you, you succeed, too. If you enable them to make money, you make money. Simple. Said another way, a Customer Success team exists to align your goals with those of your customers. If your goals and your customer’s goals align, it provides the best chances for mutual success. Efforts to reduce churn or increase customer spend through proactive outreach is within the purview of the Customer Success team.

To ensure success, Customer Success departments have several activities, responsibilities, and iterative tasks, all designed to make sure your customers are having their voices heard and their problems solved. This can include everything from on-boarding customers to regular conference calls, all designed to lower Customer Effort, improve the customer experience, and make your customers’ voices heard. They provide proactive support for your customer base - solving problems before a customer is fed up and becomes a churn threat. Typically, these responsibilities are differentiated based on what type of customer category they fall into (as described in the aforementioned Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue):

High-Touch customers are the smallest group of your highest-spending customers by MRR (monthly recurring revenue) and have primarily one-on-one communication with your Customer Success team. They get the highest, most personalized attention with activities including a comprehensive, thorough, and personalized on-boarding, monthly status meetings, quarterly Executive Business Reviews, early access and influence on your product roadmaps, and on-site visits.

Low-Touch customers are a larger group of your medium-spending and well-known customers and have a blend of one-to-one and one-to-many communication. Low-Touch Customers receive “just-in-time” Customer Success, meaning Customer Success reaches out at critical points in the Customer’s lifecycle; spending just the right amount of effort to make one-to-one interactions valuable to both your company and the Customer. Low-Touch Customers receive slightly less personalized attention including a packaged on-boarding, as-needed Executive Business Reviews, inclusion in product and service surveying and feedback solicitation, and regular automated health checks.

Tech-Touch customers consist of your remaining customer base and have 100% technology-driven, one-to-many communication with zero hands-on intervention. Tech-Touch customers receive an automated, email-based on-boarding, educational, collaborative, and upsell-focused one-to-many communications, and untargeted inclusion in product and service surveying and feedback solicitation.

Regardless of the cohort your customer falls into, one thing remains the same: a Customer Success team’s job is to make sure that the customer’s voice is heard, that their problems are being addressed, and they are taking advantage of everything you have to offer.

At some level, it is your entire organization’s responsibility to ensure your customers’ success. Therefore, for every blog post about what Customer Success is, there is a recommended organization structure for where your Customer Success department exists. CS shares responsibility with Marketing, Sales, Business Development, and Support, among others, but regardless of whether your Customer Success department is independent, under Revenue Operations, Support, Marketing, or just used as a company-wide philosophy, in an ecosystem where customers have an infinite choice of vendors, it’s imperative to implement in your organization.

Hopefully, this post has served as a high-level overview of what Customer Success is and why it exists. Customer Success, though, is a fluid ideology, open to many implementations and constantly changing, which is one of the things that makes it so interesting. I hope to write more about CS in the future about the details which make this philosophy so powerful and important.

Customer Success

I'm Rick Myers, Senior Director of Customer Support at Akamai. Before we were acquired, I was the Vice President of Customer Support & Success at Linode. I also serve on the Board of Directors and chair the People Committee at Hopeworks. Before Linode, I worked at Apple. You can follow me on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn, or send me an email.

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